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As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has kept tinkering with the way the nominees for the Oscar for Best International Feature Film (recently renamed from Best Foreign Language Film) are selected, the initial shortlist of selections has gotten longer.

That’s a good thing for the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which has become the destination where film-goers can see the largest number of submissions for the award. This year, the festival programmed 51 of the record 93 submissions, including all 10 movies that ended up on the shortlist. The final five nominees were announced Jan. 13, on the last day of the festival.

Several of the shortlisted films were among the festival’s hottest tickets—I got stuck sitting in the front row for two of them—and there’s a general sense of excitement among attendees about seeing these movies before their big awards spotlight. Two of the shortlisted movies, Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite (from South Korea) and Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory (from Spain), already enjoyed pretty extensive theatrical releases before the festival, garnering plenty of attention and prior awards (and deservedly so; they each made the Oscar nominee cut, too). But the other eight were all genuine discoveries, even if they’ve been making the festival rounds for several months now.

The category is still dominated by World War II and WWII-adjacent narratives, and three of this year’s selections (Russia’s Beanpole, the Czech Republic’s The Painted Bird and Hungary’s Those Who Remained) take place in the immediate aftermath of the war. Beanpole and The Painted Bird are both bleak, often-punishing stories about despair and cruelty, while Those Who Remained is warmer and more optimistic, albeit still tinged with darkness.

Beanpole features a haunting lead performance from Viktoria Miroshnichenko as the title character, a tall, pale, soft-spoken young woman working as a nurse in Leningrad after fighting in the war. Miroshnichenko’s Iya is so traumatized by the war that she suffers paralyzing seizures, one of which leads to a horrible tragedy as she cares for the 3-year-old son of her friend and wartime companion Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina). The dire future prospects of the two women are balanced a bit by their strong emotional connection, and Beanpole embeds a tender, well-acted story of queer intimacy in its exploration of postwar misery (although the misery usually wins out).

There’s nothing but misery in Václav Marhoul’s deeply unpleasant adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s 1965 novel The Painted Bird, which follows a young Jewish boy’s odyssey across an unnamed Eastern European country in the final days of World War II. At nearly three hours long, the movie is an unrelenting parade of grim torture, as young Joska (Petr Kotlar) drifts from one horrific ordeal to another, taken in by a series of adults who beat, rape, abuse and enslave him, without even a sliver of kindness until the very end. Rather than illuminating the inherent cruelty of human nature, The Painted Bird just wallows in sadism, and its lurid acts of violence quickly become laughable. The black-and-white cinematography is sometimes gorgeously composed, but like the periodic appearances from famous faces (including Udo Kier, Harvey Keitel and Barry Pepper), it’s just superficial gloss on deep, abiding ugliness.

The gentle Those Who Remained is almost the exact flip side of The Painted Bird. It is a sweet story about two traumatized people forging a connection after losing nearly everything. Set in Budapest in 1948, Those Who Remained walks a fine line between heartwarming and uncomfortable in its story of a teenage girl and a middle-aged doctor, both of whom lost their entire immediate families in the Holocaust, connecting with each other in what could be a surrogate father-daughter relationship … or something more. Director Barnabas Toth pulls off a tough balancing act, keeping both main characters sympathetic while subtly questioning whether their relationship is appropriate. Those Who Remained is a quiet and contemplative movie, sometimes to its detriment, when characters’ motivations are unclear. But it points to the possibility of hope in the darkest times, without coming across as treacly or disingenuous.

Moving away from World War II, other shortlisted films grapple with equally serious issues, often in stark and harrowing ways. My favorite of the entire slate is the Polish religious drama Corpus Christi, which takes a seemingly contrived premise (an ex-con poses as a Catholic priest) and uses it as a meditation on the nature of faith and forgiveness. Bartosz Bielenia (who received the festival’s FIPRESCI Prize for Best Actor in a International Feature Film) gives a fantastic performance as a genuinely devout young man whose criminal record prevents him from attending seminary. When he’s mistaken for a priest in a remote small town, he embraces the chance at a new start both for himself and for the town’s residents, who are still healing from a devastating car accident that killed multiple local teens. What could be a story about a criminal taking advantage of trusting small-town residents is instead a celebration of compassion and forgiveness. It was deservedly one of the five Oscar nominees.

That’s more optimism than you’ll find in any of the other selections, although each has its positive moments. The French drama Les Miserables, also one of the five Oscar nominees, is not yet another adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, but it does feature many Hugo references in its story of tensions between police and residents of one of Paris’ poorest neighborhoods. A thriller with elements of Training Day, Do the Right Thing and landmark French film La Haine, Les Miserables finds room for sympathy on both sides, while still depicting police power as largely destructive. It’s tense and chaotic, although a little thin on characterization and narrative structure.

Class differences are also central to the Senegalese magical-realist fable Atlantics, which is already available to a wide audience on Netflix. Mati Diop’s debut feature pits poor workers against exploitative capitalists in the form of a supernatural romance of sorts. A group of construction workers who drown on a dangerous journey across the Atlantic to Spain looking for work return as spirits to torment the rich businessmen who denied them fair wages at home. The core of the story, though, is young Ada (Mame Bineta Sane), whose longing for her drowned boyfriend grounds the political story in identifiable emotions.

Estonian historical epic Truth and Justice is the stodgiest and most old-fashioned movie on the shortlist, and the one likely to generate the least amount of interest from critics and audiences. Based on the first volume of a five-novel series that is considered Estonia’s defining national work, it’s a slow-moving period drama about rival farmers, spanning nearly 25 years of bitterness between rural neighbors in 19th-century Estonia. It’s handsomely crafted (with some sweeping vistas) but mostly dramatically inert, and while it’s become the biggest box-office success in Estonia’s history (recently toppling James Cameron’s Avatar for that position), its appeal is unlikely to transcend borders.

The biggest outlier on the list is Honeyland, a documentary from North Macedonia that also made the shortlist for documentary feature (and was nominated in both categories). Documentaries aren’t usually submitted in the foreign language/international category, although Honeyland does offer a distinctive representation of rural Macedonia in its portrait of an aging beekeeper and her clashes with a neighboring family who disrupt her time-honored honey-gathering techniques. It’s the kind of perfectly encapsulated conflict between tradition and modernity that makes you question how the filmmakers simply stumbled onto it, and it unfolds with the deliberate (and sometimes tedious) pace of a naturalistic drama, leading to an ambiguous but dramatically poignant conclusion.

Maybe it belongs on this list after all.

Published in Previews and Features

College of the Desert’s Les Misérables—at the McCallum Theatre

The McCallum hosts College of the Desert’s production of Les Misérables at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 1; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 2 and 3; and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 4. $25 to $45. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Equus—From Palm Canyon Theatre

The Tony Award-winning play about a psychologist’s attempts to understand a young man’s obsession with horses is performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 16 and 17; and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 18. $25. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

The Haunted Host—From Desert Rose Playhouse

The LGBT and LGBT-friendly playhouse presents one of the first contemporary gay plays, Robert Patrick’s comedy The Haunted Host, on the 50th anniversary of its Greenwich Village premiere, at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, May 2, through Sunday, June 1. $25 to $28. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Is It Just Me, or Is It Really Dumb in Here?—From Script2Stage2Screen

Local Jason Hull’s crazy sketch comedy is performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 2 and 3. $10. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage. 760-345-7938; www.script2stage2screen.com.

Nunset Boulevard—From Theatre 29

Nunset Boulevard follows the Little Sisters of Hoboken as they’re getting set to perform at what they think is the Hollywood Bowl; turns out it’s actually a bowling alley. Shows at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, through Saturday, May 24, with 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sunday, May 4 and 18. $12; $10 seniors and military; $8 students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org .

Swan Lake—From CK Dance

Local dance studio CK Dance presents the classic ballet, at 7 p.m., Friday, May 23; and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 24. $15 to $25. At the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org/annenberg-theater.

Thoroughly Modern Millie—From Palm Canyon Theatre

In the early 1920s, Millie has a goal: To marry a rich New Yorker and live the “modern” life. Of course, things don’t happen that easily; at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, May 2, through Sunday, May 11. $32; $10 students/children (call the box office). At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Wait Until Dark—From Desert Theatreworks

The thriller that was a Broadway hit before becoming a famous film starring Audrey Hepburn comes to the Joslyn Center stage, at 7 p.m., Friday; and 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, from Friday, May 9, through Saturday, May 17. $25; $23 students and seniors; special kids’ prices and group rates available. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Les Miserables is now the world’s longest-running musical, having been seen by an estimated 65 million people in 42 countries.

Given the show’s many years of stage success and the recent hit movie, audiences have high expectations when they go to see Les Miserables—and on many levels, the Palm Canyon Theatre’s current production succeeds. However, the show is far from seamless.

By now, almost everyone knows the basic plot. Based on Victor Hugo’s novel set among the poor in 19th-century France, it chronicles the determination of Inspector Javert to capture escaped convict Jean Valjean, who was jailed for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving family. Released after 20 years of hard labor, Valjean stops by a bishop’s house. Though treated with kindness, Valjean steals silverware and flees. When he’s apprehended and brought back to answer for his crime, the bishop says the silverware was a gift. The price for Valjean’s freedom: The expectation that he will treat others with kindness. He eventually develops a relationship with Fantine, a starving prostitute desperate to save her illegitimate daughter, Cosette. As Fantine dies, Valjean promises to raise Cosette as his own. Later, Cosette falls in love with a militant student, Marius; finally, Valjean and Javert have their final confrontation on the banks of the Seine.

At the top of the list of Palm Canyon’s successes is Raymond B. Johnson’s performance as Jean Valjean: He is simply flawless. He has the physical presence and the acting chops for the part, and his voice is exquisite. Anyone who knows the score waits for the moment when night falls on a battle, and Valjean sings the spine-tingling “Bring Him Home.” Johnson delivers: You can hear a pin drop as he hits the final high note; his paternal love for Marius feels authentic. Unfortunately, in the opening scenes, he is burdened by an ill-fitting wig, which covers his face far too often.

Valley favorite Mark Almy, as Inspector Javert, is also impressive. Thanks to his powerful pipes, he handles the difficult score with ease; his Javert is cold, stern and relentless. However, when folding the hands of a young boy killed in battle, you can see the softening of the inspector’s heart all over Almy’s face.

Se Layne Tethal (who is not credited in the program) is not bad as Fantine, even though she’s not age-appropriate for the part. She has a pretty voice, but her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” doesn’t hit the viewer in the gut; sneaking in a breath on the rising scale on the word “shame” diminishes the song. (Granted, playing Fantine these days is a thankless task, seeing as it would be nearly impossible to top Anne Hathaway’s now-famous performance in the film.)

Layne’s daughter Ava Tethal is touching as little Cosette, and her son Wyatt is adorable Gavroche. Husband Rodney Tethal ably directs, making this truly a family affair.

Jamie Leigh Walker is perfectly cast as Cosette. Her soaring soprano meshes well with the equally talented Shafik Wahhab, who plays Marius. Together, they make the young couple’s love totally believable.

Alisha Bates stands out as the tragic Eponine; unfortunately, her gut-wrenching “On My Own” was marred by a brief sharp note and too much noise behind the drop as fellow cast members stacked chairs to create the battle barricade. Also worth mentioning are Charles Harvey as The Bishop of Digne and Nicholas Sloan as Enjolras.

As for those seams: The raucous “Master of the House,” a number which normally stops the show, was lackluster. That was, in large part, because Tom Warrick (Thenardier) did not know his lyrics. Morgana Corelli (Madame Thenardier) also dropped a line or two, but Warrick was either having a really bad night, or needs another week of rehearsal. The pair have the appropriate buffoonish look (great costuming and makeup), and there are glimpses of good comic timing, but if the opening-night show was any indication, they may need to go over their songs. The same problem occurs when they reappear in the wedding scene near the end of the show.

Other issues include the overuse of onstage smoke during the battle scenes and Javert’s suicide. Several audience members were coughing and waving programs in front of their faces to clear the air—and creating a mood onstage is not more important than the safety and comfort of the audience. There were also occasional sound and microphone issues, though they were not as noticeable as in previous Palm Canyon shows. The volume level of cast members’ microphones should be consistent, but that was not the case here; some performers could be heard clearly, while others could not. Some ensemble members also need a bit of work on their diction.

The choice to use a prerecorded background track rather than live musicians in an intimate theater like the Palm Canyon is the only way to go. The recorded music worked well for the most part, though there was a glitch at the top of Act 2. The chorus could use a bit more direction during the crowd scenes—at times, they seemed to be just standing there waiting for their cue to sing.

With a few exceptions, these problems are relative nitpicks. Kudos go to musical director Charles Britt Endsley; costumers Se Layne and Jennifer Stowe; and lighting/sound director J.W. Layne. The set, also designed by J.W. Layne, is superb.

If you’re in the mood for a moving, sweeping historical epic, the Palm Canyon Theatre’s production of Les Miserables is not a bad choice. The music is great, and most of the cast is strong; in fact, it’s worth going just to see Raymond B. Johnson’s performance. Let’s just hope the Thenardiers learn their songs, and the powers that be cut back on the smoke.

Les Miserables is performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 9, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. Tickets are $32, or $10 for students. The running time is three hours, with one 15-minute intermission. For tickets or more information, call 760-323-5123, or visit www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Annenberg Theater

Rachel York, a singer and actress who played Lucille Ball in the CBS movie Lucy, performs at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 19. $88. Actor, musician and writer Peter Gallagher presents his one-man show, How’d All You People Get in My Room?, featuring stories from his varied acting career—plus a band!—at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 22. $60 to $75. At the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org/annenberg-theater.

Becoming Ava—from Desert Ensemble Theatre

This original tribute to the comedies of the 1940s and 1950s was penned by local Tony Padilla. 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Feb. 28 and March 1; 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, March 1 and 2. $22; $18 students, seniors and military. At the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-565-2476; brownpapertickets.com.

Blazing Guns at Roaring Gulch—from Desert Theatreworks

Blazing Guns at Roaring Gulch … Or the Perfumed Badge: An Ol’ Fashion’ Melodrama, is the latest show by the new Desert Theatreworks. At 7 p.m., Friday; 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 2. $25; $23 students; special kids’ prices and group rates available. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

Coyote StageWorks at the Annenberg Theater

The Andrews Brothers, a salute to the swinging ’40s, is performed at various times Wednesday through Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 16. The 39 Steps, a fast-paced whodunit comedy dubbed “Hitchcock Meets Hilarious,” is performed at various times Wednesday through Sunday, from Friday, Feb. 28, through Sunday, March 9. $39 to $55. At the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org/annenberg-theater.

Desert Rose Playhouse

The midcentury modern film noir musical Nite Club Confidential stars Joey English as Kay Goodman. 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 23. (The Saturday, Feb. 8, show is a 2 p.m. matinee.) $28 to $30. Diva Dish! With Luke Yankee features the son of Academy Award-winning actress Eileen Heckart telling tales about some of the 20th century’s biggest stars. 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 28; 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday, March 1; and 2 p.m., Sunday, March 2. $25 to $28. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Hairspray

Actor/comedian Bruce Vilanch joins Broadway veterans and students from Musical Theatre University in Hairspray. 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1; 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 2. $15 to $35. At the Helene Galen Performing Arts Center at Rancho Mirage High School, 31001 Rattler Road, Rancho Mirage; www.hgpac.org.

Indian Wells Theater/CSUSB Palm Desert Events

The theater’s Tribute Series continues with Roy Orbison and Reba McEntire at 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 15; and the Ladies of Rock and Soul featuring Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin and Donna Summer, at 7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 21. $40 first three rows; $35 remainder of the house. At the Indian Wells Theater at CSUSB Palm Desert, 37500 Cook St. 760-341-6909; pdc.csusb.edu/eventstheater.html.

Indio Performing Arts Center

Honky Tonkin With Hank and Patsy, starring Bethany Owen and Cowboy Jack Johnson, is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 9. One Voice features Bethany Owen and her impressive impressions at 2 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, through Friday, Feb. 14. Just Let Me Vent, with ventriloquist Rob Watkins, takes place at 2 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 19, through Friday, Feb. 21. The aforementioned Bethany Owen does Country Queens, her all-country show, at 2 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, from Wednesday, Feb. 26, through Friday, March 28. All shows $19 to $26. At the Indio Performing Arts Center, 45175 Fargo St., Indio. 760-775-5200; www.indioperformingartscenter.org.

Invasion of Privacy—from Dezart Performs

This drama is based on the real 1946 case of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who was sued by her friend Zelma Cason for libel and the right to privacy. At 7:30 p.m., Friday; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m., Saturday; and 2:30 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 31, through Sunday, Feb. 9. $22; $18 students, seniors and military. At the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-322-0179; www.dezartperforms.com.

McCallum Theatre

Sing-Along Sound of Music is a screening of the Julie Andrews film musical—with subtitles so the audience can croon along—at 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 2; $15. The Moscow Festival Ballet performs Don Quixote at 8 p.m., Monday, Feb. 3; $29 to $69. The Best of Broadway Featuring the Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber happens at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 7; and 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 8; $25 to $75. Rigoletto, Giuseppe Verdi’s 1851 classic that studies the contrasts between good and evil, is at 8 p.m., Monday, Feb. 10; $49 to $69. Chita: A Legendary Celebration features the great Chita Rivera in a solo concert celebrating her 80th birthday, at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 21; $45 to $75. L.A. Theatre Works presents The Graduate at 8 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 25; $25 to $55. Sally Struthers stars in the classic Hello, Dolly! at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 28; 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday, March 1; and 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, March 2; $35 to $105. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Palm Canyon Theatre

The classic musical Les Miserables is produced by the downtown Palm Springs mainstay, at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 9. Confessions of a Prairie B*tch stars Alison Arngrim—Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie—giving “audiences a reality check on the facts of life like no one else has ever done before, but sure as hell should’ve,” at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Feb. 14 and 15; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 16. 9 to 5 takes the adventures of Violet, Doralee and Judy from the movie to the stage, at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Feb. 28, through Sunday, March 9. $32; $10 students/children (call the box office). At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

A Perfect Ganesh—from Coachella Valley Repertory

CV Rep’s season focusing on the works of Terrence McNally continues with this show about two middle-aged women throwing themselves into a tour of India. 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 9. $40. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Theatre 29

Oscar Wilde’s classic The Importance of Being Earnest focuses on country gentleman Jack Worthing and his imaginary big-city brother, Earnest. 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, through Saturday, Feb. 8, with an additional matinee at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 2. The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Town’s Women's Dramatic Society Murder Mystery, a story about a theater’s opening night gone terribly wrong, takes place at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, Feb. 28, through Saturday, March 29, with additional matinees at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, March 9 and 23. $12; $10 seniors and military; $8 students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

You Wouldn’t Expect—from Script2Stage2Screen

Yve Evans stars in this play regarding North Carolina’s eugenics law, which subjected people to forced sterilization—many of them black women. 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Feb. 21 and 22. $10. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage. 760-345-7938; www.script2stage2screen.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

Annenberg Theater (Including Coyote StageWorks)

Dance for Life is a showcase of performances by renowned dance companies to benefit the AIDS Assistance Program, at 6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 17. $95; $200 VIP. Tony nominee Christine Andreas performs her one-woman show be-Mused at 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 18. $60 to $75. Coyote StageWorks’ star-studded fundraiser performance of The Man Who Came to Dinner takes place at 6 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 19. $75 to $500. Coyote StageWorks’ The Andrews Brothers, a salute to the swinging ’40s, is performed at various times Wednesday through Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 24, through Sunday, Feb. 16. $39 to $55. At the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org/annenberg-theater.

Blazing Guns at Roaring Gulch—from Desert Theatreworks

Blazing Guns at Roaring Gulch … Or the Perfumed Badge: An Ol’ Fashion’ Melodrama is the latest show by the new Desert Theatreworks. At 7 p.m., Friday; 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 24, through Sunday, Feb. 2. $25; $23 students; special kids’ prices and group rates available. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

Country Royalty: A Musical Tribute to Hank Williams and Patsy Cline

Hank Williams: Lost Highway star Jason Petty plays Hank Williams, while Grammy-nominated Carolyn Martin performs as Patsy Cline, backed by a live band, at 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 10. $15 to $45. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

The Importance of Being Earnest—from Theatre 29

Oscar Wilde’s classic focuses on country gentleman Jack Worthing and his imaginary big-city brother, Earnest. 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, Jan. 10, through Saturday, Feb. 8, with additional matinees at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 19 and Feb. 2. $12; $10 seniors and military; $8 students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Indian Wells Theater/CSUSB Palm Desert Events

I Do, I Do!, a concert version of the musical, features Joyce Bulifant and Roger Perry; it’s a benefit for the CSUSB Autism Program, at 7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 17. $50. A tribute concert featuring “The Piano Men”—Elton John, Ray Charles, Billy Joel and Little Richard—takes place at 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 18. $40 for first three rows; $35 for the remainder of the house. An afternoon Pops! concert featuring Yve Evans and the All Star Big Band occurs at 2 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 26. $50.At the Indian Wells Theater at CSUSB Palm Desert, 37500 Cook St. 760-341-6909; pdc.csusb.edu/eventstheater.html.

Invasion of Privacy—from Dezart Performs

This drama is based on the real 1946 case of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who was sued by her friend Zelma Cason for libel and the right to privacy. At 7:30 p.m., Friday; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m., Saturday; and 2:30 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 31, through Sunday, Feb. 9. $22; $18 students, seniors and military. At the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-322-0179; www.dezartperforms.com.

Les Miserables—from the Palm Canyon Theatre

The classic musical is produced by the downtown Palm Springs mainstay. 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 24, through Sunday, Feb. 9. $32; $10 students/children (call the box office). At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Luis Bravo’s Forever Tango

The Broadway hit features 14 tango dancers, a vocalist and an 11-piece orchestra. 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 11; 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 12. $25 to $75. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Man of La Mancha

Enter the mind and world of Don Quixote as he pursues his quest for the impossible dream in this renowned musical. 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 24; 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 25; 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 26. $35 to $105. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Nite Club Confidential—from the Desert Rose Playhouse

The midcentury modern film noir musical stars Joey English as Kay Goodman. 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 10, through Sunday, Feb. 16. (The Saturday, Feb. 8, show is a 2 p.m. matinee.) $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

A Perfect Ganesh—from Coachella Valley Repertory

CV Rep’s season focusing on the works of Terrence McNally continues with this show about two middle-aged women throwing themselves into a tour of India. 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Wednesday, Jan. 22, through Sunday, Feb. 9. $35 preview (Jan. 22 and 23); $40 regular; $50 opening night (Jan. 24). At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Similar Journeys—from Script2Stage2Screen

Similar Journeys, a play by Palm Springs playwright Robert Abrami, features a cast of six characters in denial, in love, in crises, and in the process of defining their own lives. 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Jan. 10 and 11. $10. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage. 760-345-7938; www.script2stage2screen.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

1. Killing Them Softly (Starz/Anchor Bay)

2. This Is 40 (Universal)

3. Parental Guidance (20th Century Fox)

4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (New Line)

5. Lincoln (DreamWorks)

6. Life of Pi (20th Century Fox)

7. Zero Dark Thirty (Sony)

8. Les Misérables (Universal)

9. Rise of the Guardians (DreamWorks)

10. Wreck-It Ralph (Disney)

Published in Video Top 10

Time will tell us that Les Misérables—being released on DVD and Blu-Ray today, Friday, March 22—was a far more deserving movie than Argo for Best Picture. As far as movie musicals go, I can’t think of one that has ever amazed me more—and I’m a big movie-musical fan. I rank this one alongside My Fair Lady, West Side Story and Grease as one of cinema’s all-time-best musicals. I personally put it at No. 1, even with Russell Crowe’s painful singing.

Director Tom Hooper, criminally snubbed for a Best Director Oscar nomination, had his stars sing live on set. They wore earpieces and microphones, which were later removed in post-production, with a music track playing along as they sang their hearts out.

The results are absolutely amazing. Anne Hathaway got her much-deserved Oscar after doing “I Dreamed a Dream” in a long, uninterrupted take. Whenever I watch her doing this, my eyes open so wide that I have no forehead left.

Hugh Jackman, you should have an Oscar on your mantle. Daniel Day-Lewis did a nice job as Lincoln, but Jackman did something nobody has really done before. As for Crowe, I’m sort of OK with how bad he sounds. It makes his nasty character, the determined lawman Javert, more pathetic and isolated.

Watching this movie is goose-bump city. It will always stand as one of cinema history’s greatest movie-making achievements.

Special Features: Hooper provides a commentary, and you get some behind-the-scenes docs, including a great one about how they recorded the live music. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

I remember watching the Oscars back when Johnny Carson hosted. This was before I knew the whole thing was bullshit; I would get all excited when those envelopes were opened, and even when stupid Paul Williams showed up singing a song.

Even though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences usually doesn’t get it right with the awards, I still look forward to the show, especially when that idiot Billy Crystal isn’t hosting it. This year, the host will be Seth MacFarlane. Should be interesting, and perhaps delightfully profane.

Here are the nominees, along with my predictions. Drink chocolate milk every time I get one right, and regular milk when I get one wrong. (I don’t endorse alcohol-drinking games.)

 

Best Picture

Amour

Argo

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Django Unchained

Les Misérables

Life of Pi

Lincoln

Silver Linings Playbook

Zero Dark Thirty

Let’s immediately eliminate Amour, Beasts, Django and Life of Pi. None of these films have a chance.

Zero Dark Thirty had the momentum going into awards season, but that momentum has shifted significantly, probably thanks to stupid Ed Asner and his lame comments. (Go to Hell, Lou Grant!) A few months ago, I would’ve thought Les Mis (my personal favorite of the bunch) had a good shot, but I think it’s going to get beat, because everybody hates Russell Crowe.

That leaves Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Argo. Admittedly, I would’ve gone with Lincoln or Silver Linings a recently as a month ago, but with the Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes all giving awards to Argo, I’m thinking it’s Argo for the win.

Snubs: This is a pretty good crop of nominees. Since there’s room for 10, a nom for The Impossible would’ve been nice, or perhaps Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

Should win: Les Misérables.

Will Win: Argo.

 

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)

Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

Denzel Washington (Flight)

Washington and Phoenix have no chance, and I ain’t talking football. This is a race between Cooper, Jackman and Day-Lewis. Cooper was brilliant, but my vote would go to Jackman’s incredibly durable, tear-jerking performance in Les Mis. However, I think Day-Lewis will nail down his third Oscar for his Honest Abe. I didn’t like Lincoln, but I must acknowledge he was wonderful in the movie.

Snubs: When I picked my five favorite actors at the end of 2012, four out of the five nominated were on my list, with the exception of Denzel Washington. I would’ve liked to see Liam Neeson in that slot for The Grey, a performance that didn’t get the accolades it deserved.

Should Win: Jackman.

Will Win: Day-Lewis.

 

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)

Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

Dammit, when is Naomi Watts going to win an Oscar? It’s not going to be this year, but it damn well should be. Her performance in The Impossible, a movie many have not seen, is jaw-dropping.

Even though she is the clear winner in my eyes, all of the performances nominated are deserving. Wallis is miraculous in Beasts; Riva is devastatingly good in Amour; and Chastain is a solid anchor in Zero. Lawrence is terrific in Silver Linings—and I believe she will win the Oscar. She has the momentum now. I would’ve never picked her a couple of months ago, but after the Globes and SAG awards, it looks like it is all hers.

However, don’t underestimate the age factor. Riva, 85, could sweep in and upset.

Snubs: Once again, another well-done category, with four of the five matching my Best Actress list. I loved Wallis, but I would’ve nominated Mary Elizabeth Winstead in her place for Smashed.

Should Win: Watts.

Will Win: Lawrence.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Alan Arkin (Argo)

Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)

Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)

Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

Enough people dislike Django to disqualify Waltz, and the same goes for Hoffman in The Master. Arkin is fun in Argo, but his performance was not Oscar-worthy.

De Niro was back in fine form for Playbook, and I think he’s the most deserving of those nominated. But Jones keeps racking up awards for his dull turn in the dull Lincoln. Nothing he does in the film is different from what he did in The Fugitive. (It’s basically Tommy Lee Jones starring as Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln.)

Ah, screw it, I’m predicting a De Niro upset.

Snubs: Sam Rockwell was extraordinary in Seven Psychopaths, as was Edward Norton in Moonrise Kingdom.

Should and will win: De Niro.

 

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams (The Master)

Sally Field (Lincoln)

Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)

Helen Hunt (The Sessions)

Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

Anne Hathaway is going to win, and she deserves it. There’s no reason to discuss any further.

 

Best Director

Michael Haneke (Amour)

Ang Lee (Life of Pi)

David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Well, if Argo is going to win Best Picture, and Ben Affleck didn’t get a director’s nomination, what in the heck happens here?

Steven Spielberg wins his third Best Director Oscar, that’s what. While I love Spielberg, I think Lincoln is a rare misstep for my hero. Of this group, I would have to say Ang Lee is the most deserving. But it’s Spielberg all the way.

Snubs: Affleck, Tom Hooper for Les Mis and Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty are all surprising omissions—especially Bigelow and Hooper; both directors outdid their previous Oscar-winning efforts. How Les Mis got snubbed here is beyond me. The cast sang live, for Christ’s sake.

Should Win: Lee.

Will Win: Spielberg.

 

Best Animated Film

Brave

Frankenweenie

ParaNorman

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Wreck-It Ralph

This is a tough one. While I found Brave to be quite charming, a lot of folks found the whole “mom turns into a bear” thing stupid. I don’t think Pirates stands a chance, although it deserved the nomination. Wreck-It Ralph is my least-favorite in this bunch, and I suspect it will be least-favorite among voters, too.

I’m thinking Brave will continue a long legacy of Pixar victories, although my personal favorite in this bunch is ParaNorman. ParaNorman was innovative, creative and slightly demented, a true standout.

Snubs: Nothing really got snubbed here, unless you inexplicably worship Hotel Transylvania.

Should Win: ParaNorman.

Will Win: Brave.

 

Other predictions:

Best Original Screenplay: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Adapted Screenplay: Argo

Best Cinematography: Life of Pi

Best Costume Design: Lincoln

Best Production Design: Les Misérables

Best Sound Mixing: Les Misérables

Best Editing: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Editing: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi

Best Makeup: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Best Original Song: “Skyfall,” Skyfall

Best Score: Argo

Best Short Film, Animated: Paperman

Best Short Film, Live Action: Asad

Best Documentary (Short): Redemption

Best Documentary (Feature): How to Survive a Plague

Best Foreign Language Film: Amour

Published in Reviews

This review comes to you from a man who loves a good musical—and is a diehard fan of Les Misérables. Haters of movie musicals everywhere, I beseech you: Give this one a chance! Lovers of this musical ... unite! The movie is a blast!

Les Misérables, based on the Victor Hugo novel set in 19th-century France, has always been the epitome of a big musical done right. When I saw it on Broadway, I remember thinking something along the lines of, "There's no way in hell anybody could ever put this on the big screen in a respectable fashion." To mount a worthy production, one would need a big budget, and one would need big stars with box-office allure who can sing like no other. I'm happy to report that director Tom Hooper didn't just find stars who can sing; those stars make you freaking cry when they are singing. They are that good.

Hooper (The King's Speech) gathered his glorious cast, and then he went and made things even more complicated: The actors and actresses in this muscular musical sing live on set. There are no comfy sound booths with fancy mineral water. What you see and hear in this movie is the product of live takes.

It's absolutely remarkable. The performance by Hugh Jackman, in the central role of notorious bread-stealer Jean Valjean, is more than Oscar-worthy; his work here requires an Oscar. His physical presence is appropriately commanding, and his voice is miraculous. This is a role that could turn to schmaltz in the wrong hands, but rest assured that what you're seeing is one of musical cinema history's greatest, most-uncompromising performances.

Shockingly, his is not the best performance in the movie. That honor goes to Anne Hathaway as Fantine, the betrayed factory worker turned prostitute who's desperately trying to care for daughter Cosette (played by the sweetly voiced Isabelle Allen as a child). Hathaway delivers "I Dreamed a Dream" in one devastatingly beautiful take that will drop many a jaw into many a lap.

Some will point to Russell Crowe's Javert as the film's weak link, and in some ways, it is. Crowe's voice doesn't compare to the likes of Jackman and Hathaway, but his diminished vocals help make his Javert more pathetic.

Javert, the dogged lawman who destroys his life by unrelentingly pursuing the fugitive Valjean, has long been a literary loser, and Crowe brings a marked sadness to him. The fact that his voice isn't so grand just makes his Javert lonelier and bleaker. I was expecting something more booming, but this interpretation is growing on me.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are appropriately disgusting as innkeepers Thénardier and Madame Thénardier. Amanda Seyfried, after the failure of Mamma Mia!, gets to put her capable voice to a better test as the grown Cosette, while Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn) gives a breakthrough performance as her suitor, Marius.

The coveted role of Éponine (for which Taylor Swift was once rumored) has gone to Samantha Barks, who was featured in the acclaimed Les Misérables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary. Hooper made the right choice; her rendition of "A Little Fall of Rain" qualifies as the best I've heard.

Hooper does more than put a bunch of great actors and voices in play. His staging of the musical is superbly accomplished. When Daniel Huttlestone emerges from a huge elephant statue and delivers "Paris/Look Down" from the back of a moving horse carriage, it's pure movie magic. The costuming, art direction and sets are all impeccable.

Those familiar with the show know that a good chunk of it takes place on a pile of furniture. Hooper does great things with the infamous last stand in the street.

By the time Cosette and Valjean have their last meeting, you have seen so many moments of grandeur that it's hard to keep track. The decision to have the actors sing live was a risky one, but it pays off in a big way.

Am I fawning? You bet I am. It's such a wonderful thing to see something that delivers more than what you were expecting. Nothing hurts a film critic more than a long-awaited movie that falls short. (I'm looking at you, Hobbit!) If either Hathaway or Jackman go home Oscar-less, that would be a shame.

Les Misérables is so much more than a worthy adaptation of a long cherished musical. It's a masterful game-changer when it comes to movie musicals. I could go on and on about how great it is, but words of praise can't possibly do it justice. See it.

Les Misérables is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews