This comes from my Spring 2010 DVD column in Cinema Scope. — J.R.
Hipsters/Stilyagi. I include the Russian as well as the English title of this big-budget, post-modernist 2008 Russian musical about teenagers, directed by Valery Todorovsky, because as far as I know, the Russian DVD, sans subtitles, is the only version available, at least on Amazon. This movie was the opening night attraction at the Tromsø International Film Festival in the northernmost reaches of Norway, which was celebrating its 20th anniversary in January, and I must confess that I didn’t expect to enjoy it nearly as much as I did, especially because it could be described with fair accuracy as the Russian equivalent of Rob Marshall at his cheesiest, set in 1950s Moscow, and is full of preposterous plot developments. But then again, shame on me, I also enjoyed watching Daniel Day-Lewis in Nine, even after loathing every minute of Chicago, so maybe you shouldn’t trust me. All I can say is that I sufficiently enjoyed Hipsters, partly for its curiosity value and partly for its sheer pizzazz — without ever imagining that it had anything to do with Russian history or the history of the musical, Russian or otherwise — to order the unsubtitled version of it from Amazon.… Read more »
The Chicago production of the Aaron Sorkin play, The Farnsworth Invention, directed by Nick Bowling and playing through June 13, has the lively sort of staging, acting, and pacing that I’ve come to expect from the TimeLine Theatre Company, which presents “stories inspired by history that connect with today’s social and political issues” at their 615 W. Wellington headquarters. I discovered this company a little over year ago with the world premiere of Masha Obolensky’s Not Enough Air, also directed by Bowling, and have subsequently seen his production of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys as well, which was my first encounter with TimeLine’s remodeled, almost-in-the-round playing space. (In between these events, I also showed up for a reading of Sophie Treadwell’s 1920s expressionist play Machinal, done as a sort of adjunct to Not Enough Air.) Neither of these follow-ups has quite equaled the sheer Wellesian bravura of the Not Enough Air production, but I can’t say that either one has ever bored me for an instant — even if the sheer energy required in the new playing space, with the actors moving their various props onstage and off with lightning-fast cues, can occasionally (if only momentarily) overwhelm certain aspects of the stories being told.… Read more »