“Hugo” and “Blood and Gifts”

Contrasting cultural outings here….

One evening last week I went to see Martin Scorsese's new 3-D film, "Hugo," a sort of fairy-tale about an orphan boy who occupies himself keeping all the clocks running in the Paris Railway Station in the 1920s.  The boy gets involved in various adventures with a toy store owner, the owner's niece, a security official at the train station…  You get the drift.  It is very entertaining most of the time, although I found that the scenes focusing on the security official, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, tended to drag a bit.  When the kids are on-screen, the action picks up.  Ben Kingsley as the toy store owner comes across as rather stiff ands scowling through most of the film – undoubtedly just what the director asked for – but unbends in the end when his true identity is revealed.  Perhaps the most suspenseful acting is provided by the automaton that is central to the plot (as to which, see this morning's NY Times Science Section). I thought the 3-D effect almost detracted from the look of the film, seeming a bit gimmicky and not always so well in focus as I would have liked.  (I thought the 3-D in "Avator," the first feature film I saw in this technology, seemed much more sharply defined and pleasant to view.  During the previews, there was a glimpse of "Titanic" done up in 3-D, which will be released for a brief run in 2012.  More artificiality here, taken a film that was shot in two dimensions and simulating the 3-D effect through some computer program.)

On Saturday afternoon, I saw a performance of a new play by J.T. Rogers, "Blood and Gifts," which tells a story about the U.S. involvement with attempts to rid Afghanistan of its Soviet occupiers during the 1980s.  The story is told from the perspective of various secret security services – the U.S. Islamabad CIA station chief, his Soviet Russian counterpart, and the head of the Pakistan secret service.  The first act is set mainly in Islamabad and the hill country near the Afghan border; the second act centers at first on Washington, D.C., where one of the "warlords" who is leading the effort against the Soviets in Afghanistan comes to seek funding and weapons, but then reverts to Afghanistan after the expulsion of the Russians.  The entire thing is quite gripping, as staged at Lincoln Center Theater  by Bartlett Sher with a truly stellar cast, among whom the male lead, Jeremy Davidson as the CIA operative, stands out.  But the entire cast is really stunning, and stunningly well directed to keep the audience's attention throughout a very serious play.  I can highly recommend this one.

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