Monday, June 12, 2006

The remarkable Michael Caine

I saw The Quiet American, starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, over the weekend, and I was totally entranced. First of all, Michael Caine has long been a favorite actor of mine. He elevates every piece of material that he performs, and in this film, his portrayal of Thomas Fowler is nuanced by a lifetime of acting, learning, and observing human nature. Caine plays a British journalist reporting from Saigon in the early 50's. Fowler enjoys a rather lazy life, having tea at the Continental Hotel and indulging himself with a beautiful young Vietnamese mistress. Fraser, no slouch himself, especially considering that he must hold his own in plenty of scenes with Caine, plays Alden Pyle, the quiet American of the film's title.

This film has haunted me over the past two days. The movie's central story is one of an older European man in love with an exotic young beauty. He suddenly finds his relationship challenged by an interloper, a clever young American who has quite a bit more to offer. For me, the primary thrust of the film dealt with what one will do to obtain, or retain, what one desires. Both men want the girl, and the film hinges on what each man is willing to do to have her. This tortured triangle is set against the growing unrest in Vietnam, and we all know how THAT conflict ended.

There are also many other themes at work in the film: how the girl herself represents Vietnam (locked in a struggle of possession), the way political forces worldwide are often manipulated behind closed doors, and the question of whether ends (no matter how good) justify their means (no matter how bad). Both men seem to metaphorically represent the countries they come from. Oddly, their approaches to the two different conflicts (the fight over the girl and the fight over Vietnam), seem to be polar opposites.

The film is also richly shot and very atmospheric. Fowler's character is in love with Vietnam and, before you finish watching the film, I can almost guarantee that you'll have some interest in visiting it yourself. Pyle's blinding white suit, worn in the final scenes of the film, and the face of Hai Yen Do (who plays the girl in question - Fong), will be mental images you won't be able to shake.

If you have the chance to rent or buy The Quiet American, I highly suggest doing so. It's riveting, well worth the investment of your time, and it will keep you thinking for a while.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Mamet's manly posturings

I went to see a fabulous production of American Buffalo last night, produced by the Fondren Theatre Workshop. I'm a fan of Mamet myself, althugh I know that some people object to his often heavy-handed use of profanity in his scripts. What I like best about him, though, is the way his characters talk. Incomplete sentences, disjointed thoughts, conversations that trail off and pick back up later - this is the way I hear people talking in real life. It's murder to read, but it sounds just like an overheard conversation when it's performed well.

I must fully confess - I know the director, Chris Roebuck, and one of the three cast members, J.C. Patterson. However, I can say objectively that the show was very well done. I thought the casting was spot-on. Patterson played Donny, the unscrupulous owner of a pawn shop. Daniel Dauphin played Teacher, a smooth-talking thief and general hooligan. The role of Bobby, a slightly-slow protogee of Donny's, was played expertly by Opie Cooper, who I've never seen before on stage. They were all excellent. I really enjoyed how Patterson portrayed Donny's quiet good-heartedness, how he didn't snap easily, but once he decided it was time to boil over, he committed himself to it. (I've seen J.C. Patterson play many roles, and I think this is the best work he's done.) Dauphin was perfect as Teacher - greasing up people to get what he wanted, explaining himself and his opinions with a veritable flood of conversation, using his wise guy attitude to conceal how hard times really were for him. Cooper did a fabulous job with Bobby, using pauses, facial expression, and gesture to flesh out a character with few lines. I really believed in each character. The show was beautifully performed.

The set was appropriately junky for a junk shop, and the play itself was staged in the old Pix/Capri Theatre in Jackon's Fondren area. While the seating was a bit cramped, and the air conditioning was intermittent, I fully enjoyed myself. The conditions almost contributed to the theatre experience - the heat, the closeness. I have become a big fan of the Fondren Theatre Workshop and the work they do. They get together, work like hell on something, find some little space downtown to present it, and celebrate theatre. No one is getting paid; they are in it for love. And they are able to take risks with their material. It's good stuff.

Also last night, I discovered a wonderful new place in Jackson. The Fondren Beverage Emporium is a delightful shop selling the most quirky and unusual selection of bottled beverages and nostalgic candy that I've ever seen! I saw tons of varieties of sodas, ginger beers, organic carbonated fruit juices, doctored-up lemonades, and other drinkable concoctions. And the candies - all of my old favorites were there, and they also had MANY candies that I'd never even heard of! I saw candy cigarettes, Fruit Stripe gum, marshmallow hamburgers, specialty chips, imported chocolates, just heaps and heaps of interesting, unusual, unique food items. This would be an IDEAL place to go fill up a specialty basket for any occasion, grab "different" treats for entertaining, or just go spend an afternoon. I will definitely be back! The shop is located at 3030 N. State Street in Jackson (just past the purple Fondren Corner building, on the right), and you can reach them at 601-321-0806.