This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

LET THERE BE LIGHT — THE FILMS OF JOHN HUSTON: HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON

HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON

A marine corporal (Robert Mitchum) and a Catholic novitiate (Deborah Kerr) are stuck on a deserted island in John Huston’s HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON

HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON (John Huston, 1957)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Tuesday, December 30, 3:45, and Saturday, January 3, 3:45
Festival runs December 19 - January 11
212-875-5050
www.filmlinc.com

In 1944, a marine corporal (Robert Mitchum) washes up on an island that has only one other occupant: a Catholic novitiate (Deborah Kerr) preparing to take her final vows, stranded there because of the war and the death of an aged priest. When the Japanese first bomb the island, then occupy it, the rugged Mr. Allison and the demure Sister Angela are forced to hide out together in a cave as they face both starvation and enemy capture. Adapted by director John Huston and John Lee Mahin (No Time for Sergeants, Show Boat) from Charles Shaw’s 1952 novel, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is a charming character study, a different kind of love story that develops within a lush, gripping Cinemascope WWII drama. Connecticut native Mitchum (Out of the Past, The Night of the Hunter), who is often shown bare-chested, and Glasgow-born Kerr (From Here to Eternity, Separate Tables), mostly hidden within her white habit (which stays remarkably clean through most of the film), are at their best as they reveal details of lives that are more similar than they initially imagine. (Kerr was nominated for an Oscar for the film, one of her six Best Actress nods, earning an honorary Academy Award in 1994, while Mitchum’s lone nomination was for Best Supporting Actor in 1945’s The Story of G.I. Joe.)

HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON

Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum, and crew members on the set of HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON on the island of Tobago

Huston draws numerous parallels between the institutions they have dedicated themselves to, the military and the church, each involving a strict set of rules and behavior, along with specific uniforms. But while Mr. Allison puts his belief in himself and his fellow marines, Sister Angela relies on a higher authority. Mitchum and Kerr, who evoke Humphrey Bogart’s resilient Mr. Allnut and Katharine Hepburn’s prim Rose Sayer in Huston’s The African Queen, went on to make three more films together, The Sundowners (another Oscar nod for Kerr) and The Grass Is Greener in 1960 and the 1985 British TV movie Reunion at Fairborough. Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is screening December 30 and January 3 as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center series “Let There Be Light: The Films of John Huston,” which runs through January 11 and consists of forty films directed by the master, from Across the Pacific and The Barbarian and the Geisha to Fat City and In This Our Life, from The Kremlin Letter and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean to Moulin Rouge and The List of Adrian Messenger, in addition to a handful of other works he either appeared in (Tentacles!) or that demonstrate his lasting influence (There Will Be Blood).

VIDEO OF THE DAY: THE HOLD STEADY

Who: The Hold Steady
What: Hold Steady bassist Galen Polivka’s Birthday Bash (and another holiday) in Brooklyn with the So So Glows
Where: Music Hall of Williamsburg, 66 North Sixth St., 718-486-5400
When: Tuesday, December 30, $35, 9:00, and Wednesday, December 31, $45-$75, 9:30
Why: The Hold Steady is still one of the best live bands around, and their most recent album, Teeth Dreams (Razor & Tie, March 2014), has them back in top form after a brief hiatus

THE CONTENDERS 2014: FINDING VIVIAN MAIER

Vivian Maier

Documentary turns the camera on mysterious street photographer Vivian Maier (photo by Vivian Maier / courtesy of the Maloof Collection)

FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (John Maloof & Charlie Siskel, 2013)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Tuesday, December 30, 7:30
Series runs through January 16
Tickets: $12, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk beginning at 9:30 am
212-708-9400
www.moma.org
www.findingvivianmaier.com

By their very nature, street photographers take pictures of anonymous individuals, capturing a moment in time in which viewers can fill in their own details. In the wonderful documentary Finding Vivian Maier, codirectors John Maloof and Charlie Siskel turn the lens around on a street photographer herself, attempting to fill in the details of the curious life and times of Vivian Maier, about whom very little was known. “I find the mystery of it more interesting than her work itself,” says one woman for whom Vivian Maier served as a nanny decades earlier. “I’d love to know more about this person, and I don’t think you can do that through her work.” In 2007, while looking for historical photos for a book on the Portage Park section of Chicago, Maloof purchased a box of negatives at an auction. Upon discovering that they were high-quality, museum-worthy photographs, he set off on a mission to learn more about the photographer. Playing detective — while also developing hundreds of rolls of film, with thousands more to go — Maloof meets with men and women who knew Maier as an oddball, hoarding nanny who went everywhere with her camera and shared little, if anything, about her personal life. “I’m the mystery woman,” Maier says in a color home movie. Her former employers and charges, including talk-show host Phil Donahue, debate her background, the spelling and pronunciation of her name, her accent, and how she might have felt about a documentary delving into her secretive life.

Street photographer Vivian Maier captured a unique view of the world in more than 100,000 pictures (Vivian Maier / courtesy of the Maloof Collection)

Street photographer Vivian Maier captured a unique view of the world in more than 100,000 pictures (photo by Vivian Maier / courtesy of the Maloof Collection)

Maloof also discusses Maier’s work with such major photographers as Joel Meyerowitz and Mary Ellen Mark. “Had she made herself known, she would have become a famous photographer. Something was wrong. . . . A piece of the puzzle is missing,” Mark says while comparing Maier’s work to such legends as Robert Frank, Lisette Model, Helen Levitt, and Diane Arbus. Maloof tries to complete what becomes an ever-more-fascinating puzzle in this extremely enjoyable documentary that gets very serious as he finds out more about the mystery woman who is now considered an important twentieth-century artist. Finding Vivian Maier also has an intriguing pedigree; codirector and producer Siskel (Religulous) is executive producer of Comedy Central’s Tosh.0, executive producer Jeff Garlin (I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With) is a comedian who played Larry David’s best friend and agent on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Kickstarter contributor and interviewee Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Lie to Me) is an Oscar-nominated actor who collects Maier’s work. Finding Vivian Maier, which has made the Academy Award shortlist for Best Documentary, is screening December 30 at 7:30 as part of MoMA’s annual series “The Contenders,” which consists of films the institution believes will stand the test of time; the series continues with such other 2014 works as Ava DuVernay’s Selma, Paul W. S. Anderson’s Pompeii, Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, and Alejandro González Iňárritu’s Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

JANUARY PERFORMANCE FESTIVALS

Who: COIL
What: Interdisciplinary festival featuring dance, theater, music, art, and discussion, organized by PS 122
Where: Baryshnikov Arts Center, Chocolate Factory, Vineyard Theatre, Invisible Dog Art Center, the Swiss Institute, Asia Society, Parkside Lounge, New Ohio Theatre, Danspace Project, Times Square
When: January 2-17, free - $30
Why: Dancers and choreographers Molly Lieber and Eleanor Smith in Rude World; Temporary Distortion’s durational multimedia live installation My Voice Has an Echo in It; Faye Driscoll’s extraordinary, interactive Thank You for Coming: Attendance; Alexandra Bachzetsis’s Diego Velázquez-inspired From A to B via C

Who: Under the Radar Festival and Incoming!
What: Interdisciplinary festival featuring dance, theater, music, and art, organized by the Public Theater
Where: The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., and La MaMa, 74 East Fourth St.
When: January 7-18, free - $40
Why: Daniel Fish’s A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again based on audio recordings of David Foster Wallace; Marie-Caroline Hominal’s The Triumph of Fame, a one-on-one performance inspired by Petrarch’s “I Trionfi”; Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: 1900-1950s; Toshi Reagon’s Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower: The Concert Version; Reggie Watts’s Audio Abramović, in which Watts will go eye-to-eye with individuals for five minutes

Who: American Realness
What: Interdisciplinary festival featuring dance, theater, music, art, conversation, discussion, readings, and a workshop, organized by Abrons Arts Center
Where: Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand St.
When: January 8-18, $20
Why: World premiere of Jack Ferver’s Night Light Bright Light; Cynthia Hopkins’s A Living Documentary; Tere O’Connor’s Undersweet; Luciana Achugar’s Otro Teatro: The Pleasure Project; My Barbarian’s The Mother and Other Plays; Dynasty Handbag’s Soggy Glasses, a Homo’s Odyssey

Who: Prototype
What: Festival of opera, theater, music, and conversation
Where: HERE, St. Paul’s Chapel, La MaMa, St. Ann’s Warehouse, Park Ave. Armory, Joe’s Pub
When: January 8-17, $22-$75
Why: The Scarlet Ibis, inspired by James Hurst’s 1960 short story; Carmina Slovenica’s Toxic Psalms; Bora Yoon’s Sunken Cathedral; Ellen Reid and Amanda Jane Shark’s Winter’s Child

winter jazzfest

Who: Winter Jazzfest NYC
What: More than one hundred jazz groups playing multiple venues in and around Greenwich Village
Where: The Blue Note, (le) poisson rouge, Judson Church, the Bitter End, Subculture, Bowery Electric, others
When: January 8-10, $25-$145
Why: Catherine Russell, David Murray Infinity Quartet with Saul Williams, Jovan Alexandre & Collective Consciousness, Marc Ribot & the Young Philadelphians with Strings, So Percussion Feat. Man Forever, Theo Bleckmann Quartet with Ambrose Akinmusire, and David Murray Clarinet Summit with Don Byron, David Krakauer, and Hamiet Bluiett

IDA

IDA

Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) learns surprising things about her family from her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) in IDA

IDA (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2013)
Cinema Village
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
212-924-3363
www.cinemavillage.com
www.musicboxfilms.com

Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida is one of the most gorgeously photographed, beautifully told films of the young century. The international festival favorite and shortlisted Foreign Language Oscar contender is set in Poland in 1962, as eighteen-year-old novitiate Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is preparing to become a nun and dedicate her life to Christ. But the Mother Superior (Halina Skoczyńska) tells Anna, an orphan who was raised in the convent, that she actually has a living relative, an aunt whom she should visit before taking her vows. So Anna sets off by herself to see her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a drinking, smoking, sexually promiscuous, and deeply bitter woman who explains to Ida that her real name is Ida Lebenstein and that she is in fact Jewish — and then reveals what happened to her family. Soon Ida, Wanda, and hitchhiking jazz saxophonist Dawid Ogrodnik are on their way to discovering some unsettling truths about the past.

IDA

Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik) and Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) discuss life and loss in beautifully photographed IDA

Polish-born writer-director Pawlikowski (Last Resort, My Summer of Love), who lived and worked in the UK for more than thirty years before moving back to his native country to make Ida, composes each shot of the black-and-white film as if it’s a classic European painting, with cinematographers Łukasz Żal and Ryszard Lenczewski’s camera remaining static for nearly every scene. Pawlikowski often frames shots keeping the characters off to the side or, most dramatically, at the bottom of the frame, like they are barely there as they try to find their way in life. (At these moments, the subtitles jump to the top of the screen so as not to block the characters’ expressions.) Kulesza (Róża) is exceptional as the emotionally unpredictable Wanda, who has buried herself so deep in secrets that she might not be able to dig herself out. And in her first film, Trzebuchowska — who was discovered in a Warsaw café by Polish director Małgorzata Szumowska — is absolutely mesmerizing, her headpiece hiding her hair and ears, leaving the audience to focus only on her stunning eyes and round face, filled with a calm mystery that shifts ever so subtly as she learns more and more about her family, and herself. It’s like she’s stepped right out of a Vermeer painting and into a world she never knew existed. The screenplay, written by Pawlikowski and theater and television writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz, keeps the dialogue to a minimum, allowing the stark visuals and superb acting to heighten the intensity. Ida is an exquisite film whose dazzling grace cannot be overstated.

THE INTERVIEW

THE INTERVIEW

James Franco and Seth Rogen share intimate moments throughout THE INTERVIEW

THE INTERVIEW (Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, 2014)
December 26-28, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater and Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144/165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway, 212-875-5050
December 25-31, Cinema Village, 22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave., 212-924-3363
www.theinterview-movie.com

The most infamous film of 2014 was released in theaters on Christmas after all, following the embarrassing hacking of Sony’s servers and George Clooney and the president sharing their opinions about violent threats from North Korea over a movie — and a stupid movie, at that. But as it turns out, The Interview is stupid fun, even if it does lose its way amid the bizarre absurdity of its final scenes. James Franco — we’re sorry, but we still can’t get enough of him — stars as superbly sycophantic celebrity talk show host Dave Skylark, who just happens to be one of reclusive North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s (Randall Park) personal favorites. So Skylark’s best friend and producer, Aaron Rapoport (Rogen), sets up a live interview with Kim, agreeing to the leader’s rigidly controlled set of conditions delivered by his gorgeous security chief, Sook (Diana Bang). When the CIA hears about the interview, they send agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) to convince Skylark and Rapoport that they must assassinate Kim for the good of the world. But their best-laid plans go awry when Kim charms Skylark as they embark on a brief bromance that threatens the bromance that already exists between Dave and Aaron. Codirected by Rogen and Goldberg, whose collaborations have also included Superbad, Pineapple Express, This Is the End, and other hits and misses, and written by first-time screenwriter Dan Sterling (The Office, King of the Hill), The Interview is, for the most part, a very funny, extremely juvenile comedy that never misses a chance to make a butt joke. With a little bit of Stripes here, a splash of Spies Like Us there, it follows in the tradition of crazy lowbrow military comedies that eventually go off the deep end but contain more than their fair share of laugh-out-loud silliness. Franco and Rogen, who have been working together since the days of the great Freaks and Geeks, are so much fun to watch as a duo that things don’t completely fall apart even when the script lets them down. Oh, and meanwhile, Eminem comes out of the closet, Rob Lowe reveals a frightening secret, and other celebrities show up as themselves in this bromantic comedy that nearly started WWIII.

IT’S ONLY A PLAY

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Producer Julia Budder (Megan Mullally) and Hollywood star James Wicker (Nathan Lane) are positively giddy at opening-night party for THE GOLDEN EGG (photo by Joan Marcus)

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 29, $72-$147
www.itsonlyaplay.com

Terrence McNally’s latest Broadway show might be titled It’s Only a Play, but oh, what a play it is. In 2012’s Golden Age, the four-time Tony winner (Master Class, Love! Valour! Compassion!) took us behind the scenes of the world premiere of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, and in 2013’s And Away We Go he took us backstage at six different shows in six different time periods. And now, in the Broadway debut of this uproarious comic farce, the inside-joke-laden It’s Only a Play, McNally invites everyone to the opening-night party of The Golden Egg. The festivities take place in the bright and airy bedroom of first-time producer Julia Budder’s (Megan Mullally) luxurious Manhattan townhouse. Designer Scott Pask (The Book of Mormon, The Coast of Utopia) has put the door to the bedroom at the top center of the stage, allowing each character to make a grand entrance — and exit. A who’s who of the New York scene is at “the party of the year for the play of the season,” all ripe for skewering, which McNally and three-time Tony-winning director Jack O’Brien (Hairspray, Henry IV) handle with outrageous grace, leaving no one unscathed, including the audience itself. As the play opens, former Broadway actor and current television star James Wicker (Nathan Lane) enters the bedroom seeking privacy as he calls California to find out the status of his series, Out on a Limb. He encounters Gus P. Head (Micah Stock), a wannabe “actor-slash-singer-slash-dancer-slash-comedian-slash-performance artist-slash-mime” who is taking care of the coats for the evening, which are being collected on Julia’s bed. The endless stream of rapid-fire jokes rat-a-tat right from the start. “What did you think?” Gus asks James about the play. “Wonderful, just wonderful,” James responds, not really meaning it. Gus: “Too bad you’re not a critic.” James: “Tonight everyone’s a critic. You haven’t seen the play?” Gus: “I’m temporary help. This is a one-night stand.” James: “Tonight is a one-night stand for a lot of people.” They are soon joined by aging doyenne Virginia Noyes (Stockard Channing), the drug-addled star of The Golden Egg; Sir Frank Finger (Rupert Grint), its avant-garde director who is tiring of being called a genius; Julia, who is eagerly waiting for the good reviews to roll in so she can add big-time quotes to the marquee; smarmy theater critic Ira Drew (F. Murray Abraham), who has his own agenda; and anxious playwright Peter Austin (Matthew Broderick), who believes in the continuing legacy of the theater. “We have a lot to live up to tonight,” he says ever so earnestly. “It depends on us to remind this city that there is more to Broadway than guest appearances or special effects and revivals or another play from London or another Disney movie made live. We are an original American play. We must make that count for something.”

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Cast, crew, and friends anxiously await the opening-night reviews for new Broadway show, THE GOLDEN EGG (photo by Joan Marcus)

McNally, O’Brien, and the outstanding cast make that count for a lot in It’s Only a Play, a tongue-in-cheek, and out-of-cheek, riotous evening of theater about theater. The play has been seen in various off-Broadway productions since its 1982 Manhattan Theatre Club premiere, with all-star lineups that have included Christine Baranski, Dana Ivey, Joanna Gleason, and Eileen Brennan as Julia, James Coco and Charles Nelson Reilly as James, David Hyde Pierce and Paul Guilfoyle as Sir Frank, Paul Benedict as Ira, and Željko Ivanek and Mark Blum as Peter. McNally continues to tailor the dialogue to fit his brilliant actors, such as this stinger from the end of James’s early soliloquy: “What’s the word for a mercy killing? Euthanasia? They do it for people, why not plays? But what do I know? What do any of us old gypsies know? I liked The Addams Family.” Lane, of course, played Gomez in that show, a musical adaptation of the television hit, so McNally will likely change that line when Martin Short replaces Lane beginning January 7. (In addition, Katie Finneran will take over the role of Julia, and Maulik Pancholy will play Sir Frank.) It’s a blast to see Lane and Broderick together again, having last lit up the Great White Way as a duo as Bialystock and Bloom, respectively, back in 2001 in The Producers. (As an added bonus, even Lane’s Harvey Fierstein references relate to Broderick too, as Broderick appeared as Fierstein’s adopted son in Torch Song Trilogy.) Abraham (Teibele and Her Demon, A Life in the Theatre) is deliciously droll as the none-too-beloved critic, Mullally (Grease, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying) is charming as the ditzy, wide-eyed producer, Channing (Grease, Other Desert Cities) is a joy as the bitter former star, Grint (Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films) is a barrel of energy as the crazed director, Broderick (How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, Brighton Beach Memoirs) is dryly effective as the serious playwright, up-and-comer Stock (The Capables, McNally’s And Away We Go) is appropriately quirky as the newbie on the scene, and Lane (The Nance, The Iceman Cometh at BAM next month) is, well, Lane as the Broadway actor who sold out to make it in Hollywood. “We need new faces in the theater. New voices, new visions,” Ira says. It’s Only a Play, which is rife with sensational double-takes at all the inside references and hysterical self-needling by its actors (it even pokes fun at The Elephant Man, which is at the Booth next door), might not exactly be filled with new faces and new voices, but its vision is more than welcome in its spectacular Broadway debut.

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