Tribeca Film Festival 2017 review: ‘MANIFESTO’ is life giving art.

Originally a stage experience in which 13 vignettes play simultaneously, Manifesto the film is another vehicle for Cate Blanchett to be Cate Blanchett being awesome. Performing words from the likes of Karl Marx, Freidrich Engel, and Jim Jarmusch, the film begs the question, ‘What is art?’ from every angle possible. Blanchett is a masterclass, playing each of the 13 characters completely differently and with precision, humor, and honesty worthy of a nomination for each. This film is most definitely not for everyone. It is highly stylistic and gorgeously shot. While it is up to the audience to decide whether there is an actual plot line, it’s more about the interpretation of the words and the specific decisions director Julian Rosefeldt and Blanchett have made as a team. The transitions from “scene” to scene are just as striking as the bold costume and makeup choices. One cannot help but be fully engrossed in every word and chosen movement, by both the camera and our leading lady. Defying gender, class, or form, Manifesto will challenge your mind and capture your imagination.


CAST & CREDITS
  • Director:
    Julian Rosefeldt
  • Screenwriter:
    Julian Rosefeldt
  • Director of Photography:
    Christoph Krauss
  • Makeup:
    Morag Ross
  • Costume Designer:
    Bina Daigeler
  • Editor:
    Bobby Good
  • Sound:
    David Hilgers, Fabian Schmidt, Markus Stemler, Tschangis Chahrokh
  • Production Designer:
    Erwin Prib
  • Executive Producer:
    Wassili Zygouris, Marcos Kantis, Martin Lehwald
  • Producer:
    Julian Rosefeldt
  • Hair Stylist Designer:
    Massimo Gattabrusi
  • Post Production Supervisor:
    Jan Schöningh
  • Cast Member:
    Cate Blanchett

Review: ‘LONDON ROAD’ brings an eerie tune to the big screen.

BBC WORLDWIDE NORTH AMERICA

PRESENTS

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Based on the groundbreaking musical from London’s National Theatreimage

STARRING:

Olivia Colman, Anita Dobson, Tom Hardy

And the entire original cast from the London play

DIRECTED BY: Rufus Norris

WRITTEN BY: Alecky BlytheLondon Road Still 5

If you anything like me and millions of other curious cats across the land, you spend far too many hours watching ID channel, MSNBC news crawls, and anything resembling true crime television. Or, you might be like the other half of me. The one who grew up on musicals, studied them in school, directed them as an adult… or something of the like. Well, you smack a murder mystery grabbed directly from the headlines, set it to music, and put it on the big screen, you’ve got my attention. LONDON ROAD is based upon real life interviews with the residents of Ipswich, England in 2006, after the murders of a handful of prostitutes. Turning a small neighborhood upside down, there is a killer on the loose and everyone is on edge. When someone goes on trial, suspicion still looms large as this community tries desperately to work through the confusion and mark of death.
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Imagine if you took Sweeney Todd and combined it with Parade, then set it in today’s overly saturated news media era, that is London Road. Based upon Alecky Blythe‘s hit stage play and same original cast, the film is nothing short of haunting delight. Through clever editing director Rufus Norris and writer Blythe have created an entirely new narrative for film around the audio. Utilizing the same “lyrics” sung by multiple characters, it becomes a swirling chorus of melancholy and dark madness.

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LONDON ROAD is the perfect example that truth is stranger than fiction. The musical numbers are beautifully choreographed in the most nontraditional way, adding to suspense and interest. A nice bonus during the end credits is the actual recorded audio from the real townspeople. It’s amazing how such simple words set to hypnotic beats take on a new life and brand new meaning in and out of context. The cast is a dream, from Olivia Colman, to Tom Hardy, to Paul Thornley, there is not one misstep. I can see why the National Theatre’s run was sold out. Do not miss this opportunity to see a unique presentation of chilling brilliance.

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LONDON ROAD is a verbatim musical – which makes this a very unique and non-traditional film.

Writer Alecky Blythe used the exact words from her interviews with the of residents of Ipswich, England to create the lyrics, which were than set to an innovative score that was inspired by the dialects and intonations of these residents.

LONDON ROAD documents true events that occurred in 2006, when the town of Ipswich was shattered by the discovery of the bodies of five women. The residents of London Road had struggled for years with frequent soliciting and curb-crawling on their street. When a local resident was charged, and then convicted, of the murders, the community grappled with what it meant to be at the epicenter of this tragedy. Using their own words set to an innovative musical score, LONDON ROAD tells a moving story of ordinary people coming together during the darkest of experiences. The stage production ‘London Road’ was an immediate hit and earned five-star reviews when it premiered at the National Theatre in 2011.  It returned to the stage in 2012 for a sold-out run.

Not Rated

Runtime:  93 minutes

NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 9, 2016

Village East Cinema (181-, 189 2nd Ave, New York)

LOS ANGELES – SEPTEMBER 16, 2016

Sundance Sunset Cinema (8000 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles)

Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 (673 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena)

Review: ‘THE LADY IN THE VAN’ is Alan Bennett’s mostly true story brought to life by Dame Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings

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The Lady in the Van, Alan Bennett’s adaptation of his commercial and critical West End hit, based on his own bestselling memoir will open in New York & Los Angeles for a Limited Engagement on December 4, 2015Dame Maggie Smith reprises one of her most-loved stage roles for the big screen, under the direction of Nicholas Hytner, who also directed the stage version.  Damian Jones and Kevin Loader produced, along with Hytner.

Alex and Maggie The Lady in the Van

The film tells the true story of Alan Bennett’s strained friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd, an eccentric woman of uncertain origins, who “temporarily” parked her broken down van in Bennett’s London driveway… and proceeded to live there for the next fifteen years. Their unique story is funny, poignant and life-affirming.

Maggie Smith the lady in the vanMiss Smith, who plays the singular Miss Shepherd, is joined by Alex Jennings (The Queen), who plays Bennett.  Smith incarnation of Shepard is nothing but her usual brilliance. She is quirky and earnest. We are treated to a true character study in her subtle facial expressions and physicality. Each beat is masterful in comic timing. Jennings, as Bennett, is equally as charming in his quiet insolence. As Miss Shepard’s inevitable enabler, their relationship is actually a foil for Bennett’s real life lack of a relationship with his own mother. Bennett as narrator of his own tale, has the opportunity to play two very distinct sides of his personality. The performance should not go unnoticed come awards season. Others in the cast include Frances de la Tour, Roger Allam, Dominic Cooper, Jim Broadbent & James Corden.alex jennings still the lady in the vanThe script has a lovely Odd Couple feel to it. Filed with heart, emotional pull, mystery and levity, The Lady in the Van, (however much based on true events) will capture your soul. With a cast such as this, under the delightful direction of Nicholas Hytner, one cannot go wrong.
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Sony Pictures Classics Will Release The Lady in the Van In The U.S. on January 15, 2016 Following A Limited Engagement In New York & Los Angeles Starting on December 4, 2015

THE LADY IN THE VAN runs 103 Minutes.

Behind the scenes Alex still the lady in the vanThe film is Hytner’s first directorial outing after ending his massively successful decade at the head of the British National Theatre. He and Bennett previously collaborated on The Madness of King George and The History Boys. Damian Jones (The Iron Lady, Belle) and Kevin Loader (Venus, In the Loop) produced, along with Hytner. Hytner is among the preeminent theatrical creators of his generation, having directed such standouts as Miss Saigon, Stuff Happens, and One Man, Two Guvnors. At the National, he commissioned the breakout hits Warhorse, The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night, Jerry Springer, The Opera and Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein. In addition to Madness and History Boys, his filmography also includes Wendy Wasserstein’s The Object of My Affection and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. He has won multiple Olivier and Tony Awards, and a BAFTA.

Dame Maggie Smith has led a distinguished, varied career on stage, in film and in television over the past six decades. She is a two-time Academy Award® winner (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, California Suite) and has been nominated an additional four times.  Among many other accolades and honors, she has won multiple BAFTA Awards, Emmy Awards and a Tony.  Her achievements range from performing Shakespeare opposite Laurence Olivier, to capturing the attention of a new generation when she played the strict witchcraft teacher Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter films, and recently as the Dowager Countess of Grantham, in the acclaimed television drama Downton Abbey.

Alex Jennings is one of the most successful British actors of his generation. He has played Alan Bennett multiple times and is currently shooting the Netflix series “The Crown” where he portrays the Duke of Windsor.

Bennett, a celebrated playwright, screenwriter, actor and author, is considered a national literary treasure in England. Over the course of his more than 50-year career, he has won, or been nominated for, every major writing award that exists in film, television and theatre, including an Academy Award®, multiple BAFTAs, Tonys, and Oliviers.

Liz’s Review: The big screen breathes new life into musical farce ‘Lucky Stiff’

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LUCKY STIFF is a musical comedy with a romantic heart. A young down and out British shoe salesman named Harry Witherspoon (Dominic Marsh) takes his dead American uncle (Don Amendolia) (a murdered casino manager) to Monte Carlo for the best time of his life a week of fun, dancing, making money with the awesome casino games, gambling and sun. If the young man fulfills his uncle’s request to the letter, he will inherit the $6 million left to him. If he doesn’t, the money will go to the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. As Harry races from casino to nightclub to beach to bedroom with his dead uncle, he is chased by a desperate put upon optometrist (Jason Alexander), his controlling, myopic, trigger happy sister (Pamela Shaw), an avaricious French chanteuse (Kate Shindle), a mysterious Italian playboy (Dennis Farina), as well as a young woman from Brooklyn (Nikki M. James) dead set on getting that money for the dogs. Guns go off, disguises go on, champagne corks pop, nightmares come to life, romance blossoms, dogs bark, and everyone sings! lucky-stiff nikki dom dennis
Dominic Marsh is a genuine star with an innocence you most certainly route for. Tony Award winner, Nikki James‘, wide eyed optimism and pure-hearted determination is a refreshing take on what could be an easily overshadowed character in a film filled to the brim with colorful performances. Jason Alexander is hilarious as always and it was nice to hear his very distinct singing voiced matched with his comic timing. Pamela Shaw‘s Rita is a beautifully cartoon version of a hustler and boy, can she still shake it with the best of them. This film happened also to be Dennis Farina‘s last. His boisterous, man about town is the perfect marriage of quirky and theatrical. This is truly an ode to an ensemble cast done right. No one outshines the next. There is something to be said about using true theatre people. Theatre people experience true camaraderie; they naturally become family to each other, which only lends to an enhanced end result. (But, that may just be the musical theatre nerd in me speaking.) Jason Lucky Stiff still
The sets are great and the costumes, a late 60’s-70’s vibe are fabulous. Lucky Stiff is what you might get if you mashed up A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Weekend At Bernie’s and set it to a musical score. There a fantastic dream sequence in the film that features some of the lesser utilized yet fully recognizable faces in the film. This particular scene is actually the most theatrical in the entire movie, being set on an actual stage. One of the most darling aspects of Lucky Stiff is the frequent use of short animated clips that move the films pace and highlight some of the musical numbers. It’s a great substitute for a full scale broadway esque number. Lucky Stiff is a fun entry into the musical theatre world via film.

LUCKY STIFF opens in theaters and is available on VOD today, Friday, July 24th.

Liz’s Review: ‘CYMBELINE’- True in text, new in vision.

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Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night… Ghostly apparitions, star-crossed lovers, mistaken identity… If you mashed up all three of these Shakespeare plays, you would get the plot of his work Cymbeline. We’ve seen modernized versions of Shakespeare in the past, with films like Baz Luhrmann‘s Romeo + Juliet, O (for Othello), Hamlet,  10 Things I Hate About You, which was a modern incarnation of The Taming of the Shrew, and She’s The Man, meant to resemble Twelfth Night. Only R+J and Hamlet made the bold decision to use the original text. This can be a hindrance in getting audiences through the door. Some might look at this as too much of a challenge when stepping into a movie theater versus going to see a live play. Let alone the general understanding of the language, it’s not the easiest to follow for some. Cymbeline knocks it out of the park in both use of text and understanding. With a glorious cast, filled to the brim with talented celebrities, this version of Shakespeare’s work is pretty spot on. Read More →

10 years Later… ‘WTC View’ is being released on iTunes. Liz interviews Director Brian Sloan and star Michael Urie

Michael Urie in WTC View. Courtesy of Brian Sloan.

Everyone has their own story. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they found out about the planes hitting the towers. It was not a good day for our country. Sadness, confusion, fear all still come to mind when allowing ourselves to go back to that day. What many people outside New York will never understand, is what happened the days and months following the attacks on 9/11. WTC View, was released 10 years ago. Tuesday, March 3rd, it is finally available on iTunes. This film is a beautiful glance at the time after the world came to a stop in 2001. What we, as New Yorkers, felt, saw, smelled, heard, and had to process after a day that will never leave us. Read More →

Liz’s Review: ‘THE LAST FIVE YEARS’ hits every note.

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When I graduated college in 2002, everyone was buzzing about a new musical by one of my favorite lyricists/composers Jason Robert Brown. Not a single person I spoke to about The Last Five Years walked away without some sense of wonder. God only knows how I missed the run, perhaps graduation and surrounding shenanigans got in my way. Needless to say, when I heard that the show was making the jump to the big screen, I leapt at the chance to finally get in on the magic.

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In this adaptation of the hit musical, The Last Five Years is a musical deconstruction of a love affair and a marriage taking place over a five year period. Jamie (Jeremy Jordan), a young, talented up-and-coming Jewish novelist falls in love with Cathy (Anna Kendrick), a Shiksa Goddess and struggling actress. Their story is told almost entirely through song.  All of Cathy’s songs begin at the end of their marriage and move backwards in time to the beginning of their love affair, while Jamie’s songs start at the beginning of their affair and move forward to the end of their marriage. They meet in the center when Jamie proposes.

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The camera work in this film is stunning; voyeuristic without being intrusive. The opening shot is very much an homage to Hitchcock‘s bird’s eye opening shot in Psycho (no story line similarities, I assure you.) The tinted lenses used to represent the good and bad in the relationship are thoughtful and extraordinarily effective for each emotional shift. There is something truly special about this film. It appears absolutely seamless as it bounces from timeline to timeline. Jason Robert Brown‘s lyrics are some of the most accessible in the industry. Think thought provoking, stream of consciousness, meets clever and catchy musical theater for the any audience. Anna Kendrick does some of her strongest work to date as Cathy. The opening ballad, “Still Hurting’ is a killer punch in the gut. This is tough stuff and she nails it. I was thoroughly impressed. The stickler in me wishes her presence had been a tad bit stronger when it came to sharing the screen with Jordan as he sings. There seems to be a slight disconnect when he takes center stage. But, I will say her acting chops on the heavier songs are quite lovely. Jeremy Jordan as Jamie is a stunner. From the moment he appears on screen, from the first note, he owns this character. I could not have asked for more from his performance. He lights up the screen, his voice is delicious, and he is an unapologetic scene-stealer and I am so fine with that. In no way is he obnoxious, or over-the-top. In my pretty harsh musical theater book, he gets an A+. Jeremy Jordan is a star. Standing ovation to director Richard LaGravenese. Successfully adapting a musical is a huge task. This film is so down-to-earth. You do not have to be a musical theater fan to enjoy this movie. That alone, makes it a hit. I highly recommend The Last Five Years and I guarantee you will walk away humming some, if not all, of these gorgeous songs.

The Last Five Years opens today!

 

Liz’s ‘MATCH’ Review and Roundtable Interview with Sir Patrick Stewart and Stephen Belber

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In the arts, like other career paths, but especially in the arts, one must sacrifice quite a bit to succeed. Putting off kids, working extra crappy jobs, and being selfish are all things most artists must do in order to live the dream. Eventually, those decisions can creep up on you, leading to regret.

 Stephen Belber has adapted his Tony-nominated stage play Match for the silver screen. The story centers around just three characters; Tobi (Patrick Stewart), an aging dance teacher, and the Seattle based couple, Lisa(Carla Gugino) and Mike (Matthew Lillard) who fly in to interview him. The set up is simple, Lisa needs info about what it was like during the 1960’s in the NYC dance scene. Hubby, Mike, is just along for the ride. They meet at a quaint neighborhood diner where Tobi is a regular. Once the three are comfortable enough, he invites them back to his apartment for drinks and continued conversation. Slowly, and under the influence of alcohol and a little pot, the hard questions come out. Mike, being a cop, begins to use what seem like interrogation tactics in inquiring about specific sexual partners. Tobi is compliant until it becomes clear that there are ulterior motives in this supposed dissertation inquiry. Finally, at the end of his polite host rope, he attempts to end the ruse. Mike’s aggression escalates as he demands a DNA sample from Tobi. He is certain that Tobi is his father. What happens from there is a startling scene of betrayal and crossed lines.

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Gugino is earnest and vulnerable in her portrayal of Lisa. She is a woman who has lost her self-worth due to her husband’s emotional damage. Her one-on-one scenes with Stewart are breathtaking. Lillard, who I will forever associate with Scream, seems uncomfortable in his own skin, and I do mean that as a compliment. He struggles with his own identity, not sexually, but as a grounded man and caring husband. The dynamic between the three actors worked so well for me. The tension on screen is strong and each beat is carefully timed by Belber’s adaptation and in his direction.

Patrick Stewart is a legend of stage and screen, both large and small. No matter what role he takes on, he is perfection. Watching him is like taking a free masterclass in acting. His stillness speaks volumes and his eyes tell you nothing but the truth before you’ve even realized it. Playing the role Tobi, seems to be more personal by his own admission. And, as for Stephen, well, the genius is evident both on the page and on the screen as he adapts his own work seamlessly.

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The following is the interview from roundtable discussions when Match first screened at The Tribeca Film Festival 2014.

Being that this is the second time he’s adapted one of his plays for the screen. Belber speaks to the challenges of moving a stage play to film:

 Stephen Belber: Obviously, theater is about the dialogue and I was interested in getting in between the words. The dialogue is what it is, but I wanted to use the camera to get in between and chart the emotional landscape of the faces and what’s not said, and where they’re conveying emotion without words. So that was a fun challenge just to set myself, and to know that I had actors who were able to give so much without having to speak it. To be up close in Patrick’s face when he is lying and to compel the audience to know whether it is a lie or the truth. And to see him hear certain information that is thrown at him and to non verbally register it, and deal with it, is very filmic and cinematic in a way you can’t get in a theater. There’s a great exchange that obviously takes place with the theater and a live audience so for this it’s a whole different ballgame. So that’s something I wanted to concentrate on.

 On casting Patrick as Tobi:

Stephen Belber: I wanted someone to go away from the broad comedy and the bigness of it and go to the humanity of it and I knew that Patrick could do that hands down.

Patrick Stewart: This morning has been curious for me, because every interview that I’ve done I have been asked,  “So what were the challenges of taking on what was a stage play and now putting it in front of a camera?” I had never realized until this morning that I never actually gave your stage play a thought and people express real surprise when I said, “I didn’t see the play. I never read it. I never thought of reading it”. Well, what I had was a screenplay and it was always a screenplay but furthermore I had the author behind the camera every minute of the day so why would I need to access something that we were not doing, anyway. It was very successful as a screenplay. I had no answer to these questions I’ve been asked all morning.

Stephen Belber: I’m glad that you didn’t read the play because it is a different piece. I wrote (the play) 10  years ago so I think I’m a more nuanced writer and I knew that I wanted to be different so it is a different ballgame and not a great reference point probably.

Patrick Stewart: The role and the story resonate strongly for me because a powerful theme in the film is about the choices that people can make in their lives, especially if they are people who are passionately, ambitiously building a career and how those choices require that some things get put aside or left behind, forever. The life of an actor, particularly an actor working in the theater, as I was working for decades, 6 nights a week I was not there to tuck my children up and sing a song. It was only Sunday night  I could do that exclusively and so there was a huge part of my life… I was not making choices, those were just the conditions that you had to accept to work, so this theme in the film has related to me. How you feel you’ve made the right choices. You feel that you are where you want to be, but you don’t know until the shock of what happens in the movie comes up, that actually the choices you’ve made were not the best ones and that life could have been very different. You know, the path not taken. I put my work first, always. I remember once at a dinner party in my own home sitting around a table 6, 8, 10 people, some actors, directors, but all people in the arts, this was the topic of conversation. Somebody at the table said, “I love my job, I love what I do, but my family always come first” and I heard a voice in my head, quite distinctly, saying, “Not me! Not me.” I think it was shocking because it was true.

(Liz) Reel News Daily: I had a question about theatre culture in the UK versus the US and since I have you both here, this is the perfect opportunity. I have found that the respect for theatre acting is so much greater in the UK. That is really where you hone your skills and then maybe from there you are plucked to do movies and television. I feel like it’s the opposite in the US. I’m a theater kid and a writer so to have you both here with your perspectives, I was just curious where do you think that comes from? Why do you think theater maybe isn’t as respected or wide as it is in the UK?

Patrick Stewart: First of all I’m not sure that that’s true, but I think tradition has a great deal to do with it. There’s been Theater on stage in England for 700 years and particularly a lot of classical theatre, as I’ve done. You look over your shoulder and you see all these actors going back in time who has been standing exactly where you been standing saying the same lines. I think it is different now in the UK. Most actors leaving drama school, as I hear this from the casting department of the Royal Shakespeare Company, say its not what it was. We don’t have first pick, anymore, of the cream of the drama school because of these guys, they are not interested in doing theater. They see the careers that can be made in film and TV and that’s where they want to be. So it’s different from how it was. All I ever wanted to do was to be on stage. Everything that ever happened to me on film and television was an accident it. I fell over it rather than pursuing it. And it just so happened that you guys are so much better at film acting than we are. For the most part, you are. I loved the cinema when I was a kid! It was, for me, the absolute escape from my really rather not very great life. I don’t recall seeing British movies. If I thought they were British I wouldn’t go see them, and I sort of lost myself in this world that used to be overwhelmed with sadness. The curtains would close and I would have to go back to real life again. So working with American filmmakers and American actors, as with Matthew and Carla, both superb actors, was such a joy to me. I mean we do OK, we got a few actors that do OK. We did not have one hour of film acting in our drama school in 2 years. I think we once visited a television studio which is to say, “That is the camera.”

Stephen Belber: I think he’s right in the tradition and  “Who is royalty?” and I think that film actors became royalty with kids growing up, but “These (referring to Patrick)  are the icons,” and they value their skill. But there are enough kids here that catch the theater bug. Matt has weekly play readings in his living room, in his house in L.A., because he’s a theater nerd. And you grab those people and then cross them over into film.

 What has been your proudest moment, thus far, in your career?

 Patrick Stewart: I think, as I said, all I want to do was be on stage but I couldn’t narrow that down to say what I really wanna be is on the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. that was actually my ambition and everything I did for the six years that led up to that wasn’t going into that direction so I did one season with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford upon Avon playing quite small roles, supporting roles, and understudy roles. And thank God, never, ever, ever had to go on. But at the end of that 10 month season, all the company, one at a time, were called to Peter Hall’s office, it’s like meeting the headmaster, “We will review your work”, and I didn’t think mine had been very good or overly interesting or of any real quality but all I wanted was to be asked, given one more chance to come back and do another season, and that’s all I wanted. And it was my turn to go in, and I went in and Peter Hall said, “Well this isn’t going to take long.” And I thought,oh no, this is it and he said, “Look, are you aware that we have three year contract here?”, and I said, “Yeah, I had heard of that.” And he said, “We wanna give you a three year contract.” I was speechless and outside the theater in Stratford there was a telephone box and I went down and I called my wife and she said, “How did it go?” …. and finally, getting the silence she says, “I take it it went well.” That was it for me. Nothing has been quite so thrilling a feeling as that moment.

Match is a beautifully intimate film. It dares to go places that some might be scared to approach.  How have our decisions in our lives affected where we are now? I think that remains to be seen. Bottom line, it’s a contemplative film. You will, perhaps, reexamine your choices when you leave the cinema. 

 Written/Directed by: Stephen Belber Starring: Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino, Matthew Lillard Runtime: 94 min


MATCH opens in theaters January 14th. and is available on VOD. 

Do You Have What it Takes to Sing Your Way ‘Into The Woods’?

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Sing Your Way INTO THE WOODS: A Musical Contest

Disney invites you to show off your singing skills and your love for the Stephen Sondheim musical “Into the Woods” with the online musical contest “Sing Your Way Into the Woods”. Read More →