Misery – Broadhurst Theater (New York, NY), 12.15.15


Given all my recent health issues, it seemed apropos that my first big trip since I’ve been off crutches was to see the Broadway adaptation of Misery, since the breaking of ankles is kind of a prominent plot point. If this didn’t give me PTSD, probably nothing else would.

I had been hoping to see the stage version of Misery since I heard it announced; this had less to do with any deep held passion for the original Stephen King book or the later film adaptation – though I enjoyed both of them – and more to do with the fact that I’ve had a crush on Bruce Willis since I was about ten years old. For the chance to be in the same room as him I probably would have been willing to sit through just about anything, so it was an added bonus that he was starring in a play that actually interested me. Even better was the person he was co-starring with – the great Laurie Metcalf, who, depending on your age, you either know as Roseanne’s sister Jackie on Roseanne or as Sheldon’s mom on The Big Bang Theory. I’ve always thought she was great, so the opportunity to see both of them on stage made this a no brainer. Despite the fact that I wasn’t sure if I was truly physically up to a day in the city (spoiler alert: I wasn’t), I planned a trip to go see Misery. The show is a limited engagement – only running through Valentine’s Day – so I figured it was now or never. Winter will arrive eventually and it’s a lot less fun getting around New York when it is a snowy, icy mess – even if you aren’t coming off a broken ankle.

I didn’t really have that high of hopes for the actual play as I wasn’t really sure how this story would transition from the page to the screen to the stage. Turns out that was a good instinct to have since while the play was in no means terrible, I don’t know if I would have been half as interested as I was without the two leads. What made the movie version of Misery so good was the intimacy and fear that it could slowly cultivate. By using camera angles and tight shots of the actors, Misery (the film) was able to create a feeling of claustrophobia for the viewer. You felt just as trapped as author Paul Sheldon in Annie’s farmhouse. Thanks to a mesmerizing performance by Kathy Bates, Annie is a formidable and terrifying force to be reckoned with and even if I didn’t find the big screen adaptation all that scary, per se, I did find that it could ramp up the tension and make you feel uneasy for the duration. There was a built in suspense to Misery (the movie) that Misery (the play) just can’t match.

For the uninitiated, Misery tells the tale of best-selling author Paul Sheldon, who is rescued by his “number one fan” Annie after a car accident that leaves him badly injured. Recovering in her remote farmhouse, Paul slowly discovers that no one knows where he is and that Annie has very little interest in him recovering enough to leave. Obsessed with his Misery book series and with a tenuous grasp on reality, Annie forces Paul to write a new story that rights the perceived wrongs of his last novel.

Of course, an issue with the stage production creating thrills and chills is that I already knew the story. It’s harder to create the same level of anxiety when people know all the beats that you are going to play. For the most part, the play follows the plot of the movie very closely. And yet it wasn’t just familiarity that eliminated any tension from this production; Misery the play was a much softer take on the story that seemed to look at its characters with bemusement rather than terror. I didn’t expect there to be as many laughs as there was in Misery, but in their inability to create the right atmosphere for the play to unfold, a lot of lines that might have played as slightly more menacing actually came across as more amusing. Annie from the movie haunted your nightmares; Annie from the play caused you to elbow your seatmate, roll your eyes and say “bitches be crazy.” There just isn’t the same intimacy in a play as can be created on the screen.

I thought that both Willis and Metcalf did a fine job, but since Willis wasn’t asked to show much of his range – as he has in some Wes Anderson movies or even in Pulp Fiction – you were never really that concerned for Paul. Of COURSE he’s going to escape this – he’s John McClane! The decision to have Willis play Paul as a stoic wisecracker was of course fun to watch as it was the most familiar version of Willis, but it also did nothing to add to the peril of the play. Willis’ Paul would occasionally grimace in pain, but for the most part he never showed any amount of fear about his precarious situation. A slightly more vulnerable performance might have done more to build the suspense. I was delighted to see Willis in person, but I think a slightly different take on the role may have done more to advance the story that they were trying to tell.

Metcalf, on the other hand, was handicapped more by her physical demeanor than her choice in performance. I was perfectly ok with her depiction of Annie as slightly more lovelorn than she was in the movie, though I do think that they did the character a disservice by not including more of her dark backstory. Rather, it was hard to believe the physically the slight Metcalf would have any chance at overpowering or even carrying the action star Willis. Bates was a presence on the screen, both in her performance and in her stature. It was kind of hard to take Metcalf seriously as a real threat. She did a very nice job with the various mood swings that Annie encounters, but I think she lacked the physicality that this role really needed.

What was perhaps the most surprising to me was the number of people in the audience who were clearly not familiar with either the book or the film, based on their reaction to some scenes in the play. Perhaps the most iconic moment in the movie is the hobbling scene, but when this happened on stage so many people gasped and reacted so much that it was clear that they had no idea what was coming. I found this extremely odd, since it seems to me the audience for a stage adaptation of Misery would be people who already knew the story, either from the book or the film. I think I may have even stage whispered “did no one see this movie?” to my friend as I was so surprised by the audience response. Those people were probably way more impressed by this play than I was. I also may have whispered “It’s hobbling time!” when Metcalf came out with the sledgehammer. I don’t think that’s a catchphrase that will catch on.

I’m glad I went to see the play and that I had kept my expectations pretty low. I don’t know that there is a stage version of Misery that could have worked successfully, but this version wasn’t it. While it was a thrill to see Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf in person, there was very little tension or thrills built into this production. It dutifully lumbered on hitting all the important plot points from the source material without much added excitement or personality. It was just kind of dull, which is the last thing I expected. Probably for the best that this is a limited engagement as this wasn’t worth tying up Willis and Metcalf for very long. Hopefully Willis’ second foray on Broadway will be a little more exciting than his first. Glad I saw it, but can’t recommend it.

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For – A Review


When the original Sin City debuted in 2005, it was like nothing that I’d ever seen before. With its stylized black and white palette interrupted by the occasional burst of color and its other visual effects, the film was like being fully immersed in a graphic novel. Add in its dark, film noir story and it’s no surprise that I was immediately in love. It was a totally different way to make a comic book movie and its slavish dedication to detail from the source material and its visual style has made many people cite it as the best adaptation in the genre. When someone mentions that they like Sin City, my radar is immediately up; I may have just found a potential friend. When I heard that they were finally making a follow-up nearly a decade later, I was excited – I still wanted to spend some time in Sin City after the original film and I was curious to see what they would come up with for the next installment.

My best guess is that if you liked the original Sin City that you’ll also enjoy Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, though to a lesser degree. While the signature look of the films is still utilized effectively and the second film boasts an all-star cast, the stories told the second time around just aren’t as compelling as the original. There’s a lot to like about the new Sin City, but in the end it does feel like a slightly faded copy of the original. It’s worth seeing and enjoyable, but not as impressive as their first attempt.

Of course, a lot has changed in the movie landscape since the original Sin City debuted; the style that was so fresh and innovative in 2005 has now been imitated in many other films. It’s still aesthetically pleasing and visually stimulating, but it isn’t as cutting edge as it once was. The addition of 3-D does help punch things up a bit – if there ever was a movie that was built to play with 3-D, it’s this one – but there is a familiarity to Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. If all there was to the film was the shock and awe of its cinematic style that might be a problem. But beyond the film’s visually dazzling presentation, there were interesting stories to be told and characters to meet in Sin City. That is still the case in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, though the fragmented narrative and the slightly less beguiling plot points hold the film from living up to the achievements of the first film.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a mix of the old and the new – while there are several familiar faces from the first film, there is also plenty of fresh blood. This is partially a necessity, since so many people from the film are no longer with us – either their characters were killed off or the actor portraying them passed away in real life (R.I.P. Brittany Murphy and Michael Clarke Duncan) – and partially artistic license to take the stories in new direction. Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson and Powers Boothe are all back, reprising their roles from Sin City; even Bruce Willis is back, though he is a ghost of his former self (literally). These are all welcome returns, especially Rourke who really is fantastic as psychopath Marv. In most other movies Marv would be the bad guy, but in the world of Sin City a big lug that generally tries to hurt people that deserve it makes him one of our heroes. Plus he doesn’t hit girls, which is an admirable quality in these parts – not just accepted behavior. Alba is given a slightly larger role in this film, but for those of you who are only interested in her dance routines at the club, she still does those in spades. There is plenty of gyrating and writing around on the stage to make you happy. Alba’s an undoubtedly beautiful woman and seems like a nice person, but I’m not convinced that she’s really that good of an actress; in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, they expand her role just enough to what she can handle. Powers Boothe is rarely not the bad guy and he’s as evil as ever in his second turn as Senator Roark. We spend less time in Old Town in the second film than we did in the first, so there isn’t a lot of screen time for Rosario Dawson. She still makes an impression however.

Joining in on the fun this time around are Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven and Christopher Meloni (yay!). While all of these people are fine actors, Brolin and Green acclimate themselves the best to the style of the film; they take to Sin City’s noir landscape like ducks to water. Brolin has the right hardened look and gravelly voice to immediately feel like he’s been part of this series since the beginning and Green is perfect as the femme fatale Ava. Green is stylized and filmed in such a way that you’d be forgiven for thinking that she stepped out of a 1950s gritty crime novel. You see a lot of Green in this film, both physically and screen time-wise; she’s nude a LOT in this film. Like – a lot, a lot. I’m actually not all that comfortable with how familiar I now am with her body after watching it projected on the big screen for much of the movie. It’s a little excessive, but it honestly didn’t feel all that exploitive given how it was shot; if I looked like she did and was shot as lavishly as she was, I’d have no problem with doing all that nudity either.

Gordon-Levitt does not fit in quite a seamlessly; he does a nice job and he can sell the dialogue but he’s not hardened enough to not stick out in this world a little bit. He’s just too pretty – a fact that they acknowledge since he’s referred to as “handsome” throughout the film. In a world like Sin City, the men all look like they’ve lived a life and his baby face betrays him. It’s not necessarily a distraction, but compared to Green and Brolin he is more of an outlier. Liotta, Piven and Meloni all do well in their supporting roles and Haysbert is a new face but playing an old character, filling in for the deceased Michael Clarke Duncan. No one can quite live up to the physical presence of Clarke Duncan, but Haysbert does a more than admirable job filling those (very big) shoes.

Like the last film, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is made of a series of stories that don’t necessarily intersect other than in location and theme. While the events in the first Sin City all appeared to take place around the same time, they play a little fast and loose with chronology in A Dame to Kill For. This is a little confusing, since there is no explicit indicator that at least one vignette takes place before the events of the original Sin City and other take place afterward; I found myself having to work to put some things in context. I don’t mind non-linear story telling – I actually quite enjoy it as a narrative device – but since there is such little connection between all these stories it is easy to briefly lose your place in the space time continuum. Or maybe I’m not as smart as I think I am (high unlikely). The end result is not only confusion, but the feeling that the whole movie is a little disjointed.

If I were renaming this film, I’d call it Sin City: The B Sides since the film feels a bit like using the leftover stories that weren’t quite good enough to make it into the first film. I don’t know that there was enough meat on the bone from the source material for a second full length feature. The stories are not evenly represented either; wisely, a lot more time was spent on the Brolin/Green story than the others since it is easily the strongest of the bunch. The Gordon-Levitt story isn’t fully developed enough and suffers from being bookended around the Brolin/Green story; I’d kind of forgotten about it by the time we returned to it. The Alba story also felt a little rushed and tacked on; perhaps with more attention or better pacing it would have been better, but by the time that story finally kicked into gear the film was kind of running out of steam. None of these stories were uninteresting, but they didn’t live up to the slick execution of the first film’s narrative.

I also felt that the writing wasn’t as tight in this film as it was in the second; perhaps because I was less overwhelmed by the appearance of the film, I paid more attention to the dialogue this time around, but there were instances where the noir banter and one -iners felt a little forced. The actors make the most of what they are given, but tonally there are a few scattered moments where it all feels a little too aware of itself and its genre – even bordering on campy. It’s a fine line between being authentic to the style and feeling like a parody of it and this film doesn’t quite walk that line as well as the previous installment.

Some other thoughts:

  • Lady Gaga has a very small role as a diner waitress and unsurprisingly she fits right into this world.
  • Not only have the upped the sex and nudity in this film, but there’s a lot more violence this time around. Sin City definitely was a violent film, but the second time out they decided to kick it up a notch. It’s more graphic (no pun intended) and while it didn’t bother me, it may turn some people off.
  • I was bummed that I did not get the teaser for The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino’s new film, before A Dame to Kill For as promised. I don’t know if that was because I saw the early screening last night, but I had been looking forward to it even though there is no actual footage from the film. Leaked footage of the trailer appears to be online (for now), so I was able to see it. If that’s the actual trailer, I’m pumped.
  • I re-watched Sin City this week to prepare for the new film – it had been a while since I saw it – and it still holds up well. You can see A Dame to Kill For even if you didn’t watch the first film and you won’t be too lost, but there are definitely nods to the first film that you won’t pick up if you haven’t seen it. They don’t do as much work on the returning characters either, so you may not get the best sense of some of them without doing the homework.
  • You guys – I actually sprung for 3-D for this movie. Like, I paid for it out of my own pocket! That a testament to how much I enjoy the Sin City movies. They employed it well in this film; I think it helps that it is already a dark film with a limited color scheme so that the 3-D doesn’t darken the visuals.
  • I know that the first film wasn’t a mainstream hit, but I thought it did pretty well. Apparently not as many people were looking forward to second movie as I was since there were less than 20 people at my screening last night.
  • True story – during a particularly creepy trailer for Annabelle (that movie looks crazy), I was suddenly aware of movement out of the corner of my eye. It was some dude who was slowly lumbering down the stairs – presumably to go to the concession stand or use the rest room. In any other circumstance that wouldn’t have even registered, but he inadvertently looked so eerie that it almost made me jump. Now that’s a trailer that can set a mood!

The second film in a movie franchise is usually weaker than the original and that is certainly the case with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. I still enjoyed it, but the fragmented storytelling was too unconnected to fully work and the stories were just not as interesting as the previous film. It’s a pale imitation of the first film, though I think fans will still be pleased to spend a little more time in the seedly underbelly of Sin City. Brolin and Green are especially welcome new additions and it is still a visual masterpiece, but it can’t hit the same heights as the original movie. I’m glad that we revisited this territory, but without an uptick in the quality of the stories I think that this is franchise that has exhausted its potential.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For opens nationwide today.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Snow Day edition

Another day, another snowstorm – I am really beginning to hate living in Upstate New York. It’s been a bad winter for everyone and the fact that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow is not a good omen. We’re getting up to a foot today and there are rumblings of a Nor’easter headed our way on Sunday. This may be the winter that finally breaks me.

Thankfully I am working from home today so I don’t have to go out in this mess and I am looking forward to participating in a conference call this morning while still in my pajamas. I feel terrible for the people who don’t have that luxury or who don’t have a very understanding boss and are bracing this weather to go into work today. Stay safe!

For those of you that are snowed in, hopefully my biweekly roundup of pop culture stories will help keep you warm and make you forget about all the white stuff piling up outside. Maybe there’s even a thing or two in here to help you keep the kids entertained.

  • In honor of the weather, check out this side by side comparison of the beginning of The Walking Dead and Atlanta after 2 inches of snow paralyzed the city:


  • Benedict Cumberbatch dropped by Sesame Street:


  • The good people of Savannah, GA had to watch the same boring Super Bowl that the rest of us did, but they also got to watch this ridiculously epic local commercial for a personal injury lawyer:

They are the clear winners of Super Bowl Sunday.

  • Last time it was Liberace, this time it’s Peter Pan. Bill Murray knows how to make an entrance:


  • Steve Carell’s college mustache is OUTSTANDING:
  • A gag reel from Thor: The Dark World:


  • David Beckham – fan of LEGOs. He just became more perfect.
  • One unknown perk of winning the Super Bowl – you get to hang out with Beyoncé and Jay Z:


  • Neil Gaimain reads Green Eggs and Ham for charity


  • Former Olympian Tara Lipinksi skated a The Big Lebowski-themed routine on Fallon:


  • Conan is the king of the remote segments; in this one, he tries to sell some of his old memorabilia:


  • The cover for Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue has been revealed:

VF Hollywood

Julia Roberts is one lucky duck!


  • Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West (Red Band – NSFW):


  • Kevin Costner’s Draft Day:


  • Transformers: Age of Extinction:


  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2:


  • 24: Live Another Day:


  • Vampire Academy:


  • Liam Neeson in Non-Stop:


  • From Dusk Til Dawn – the series:


  • A trailer for the video game Thief:


  • The Amanda Knox story inspired a feature film, Face of an Angel:


  • The final Divergent trailer:


  • Another interesting trio: Aaron Paul, Rob Thomas and Bill Murray at a Kings of Leon concert:


  • Animator Arthur Rankin, Jr., who was responsible for holiday classics like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, passed away.
  • This week is Beatles week at Late Night with David Letterman.
  • As a fan of the original cult classic, I was impressed with this trailer for a fake Warriors reboot:


  • There were beer drones? Why am I just hearing about this now that they are grounded?

As always, we end with the Supercuts and Mashups

  • A supercut of Oscar visual effects winners:


  • A Superman vs. Jesse Eisenberg supercut:


  • Grumpy Cat in Frozen:


  • This supercut ignores the so-called plot of the first 3 Transformers movies and just focuses on the actual transforming:


  • A mashup of every Harrison Ford movie:


  • Mr. Freeze sings “Let it Go”


  • And finally, a supercut of all of Tina’s moans on Bob’s Burgers:


Spring can’t get here quickly enough!