Smart Reads: Jack Smart Edition #2

As is probably obvious, I’m still trying to figure out this blog’s relationship with my current job which involves taking breaks from writing about theater, film, and TV to write about theater, film, and TV, with a side of writing about theater, film, and TV. There’s a lot of really great material over at Backstage, as well as some fun stuff of mine and other writers I admire on my Twitter. Here are some highlights from the last few weeks!

Robin Williams

Robin Williams on ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’

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Smart Reads: Jack Smart Edition

As you may have noticed, JackSmartReview updates have been few and far between and laaaame. But fear not, readers! My life has been very happily taken over by a full-time job at Backstage, which I highly recommend frequenting even if you’re not a struggling actor type. Here are some highlights from the last month, and if you’re not hearing from this blog as frequently, dear readers, just head over to Backstage.com. There’s something there for all both of you (thanks for reading, Mom and Dad!).

The Simpsons

Did you know I am an expert on famous actors who have guest starred on ‘The Simpsons’?? I am now!

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James Wirt: From New York to ‘Phoenix’

Hey! I interviewed up-and-coming indie star James Wirt for Backstage! Check it.

Phoenix

Photo Source: Courtesy of Cherry Lane

There’s no other way James Wirt would rather be spending his summer than starring opposite Julia Stiles in Scott Organ’s “Phoenix.” Now playing Off-Broadway, the provocative romantic comedy was chosen specifically, says Wirt, from among 10 or 15 plays of which “Phoenix” was his favorite. “It resonated, it had a charming quality, it wasn’t cynical. It was a good play for the summer.”

“Phoenix” is one of several projects giving Wirt’s career some serious momentum after years of working on New York stages. “I got involved because I know the director [Jennifer DeLia]. I did her movie coming out in November called ‘Billy Bates,’ ” he says. “I had met Julia once at the premiere [at] the SoHo Film Festival, and she liked the movie and agreed to do a play with me.” Wirt and Stiles will be acting opposite each other again in the upcoming Mary Pickford film “The First.”

Wirt chats with us about his relationship with live audiences, the crucial advice he got a decade ago, and—full disclosure—his fondness for Backstage.

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Smart Reads: Chris Jones on the Changing State of Journalism

  • Whether you’re interested in the rapidly shifting landscape of arts journalism, or curious about my time recently spent at the O’Neill Center’s National Critics Institute, check out Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones’ interview over at Playbill. He digs into the inherent demands of criticism today and spouts little morsels of wisdom, like “the top of any mountaintop, perceived or real, is a very lonely place to be.” This is insightful stuff from one of the most insightful critics of them all.
  • If you’re a Harry Potter fan, drop whatever you’re doing and go read Daniel Dalton’s incredibly hilarious walkthroughs of his first time watching the Sorcerer’s Stone, the Chamber of Secrets, and the Prisoner of Azkaban. They’re full of irreverent tidbits like this:

#finallywatchingHP

Smart Review: TANAQUIL LE CLERCQ: AFTERNOON OF A FAUN

Tanaquil Le Clercq

Choreographer George Balanchine and his muse, Tanaquil Le Clercq

A beautiful young woman rests her hand on a ballet bar with tentative delicacy, contemplating the audience as though they are her mirror. This is Tanaquil le Clercq. Nancy Buirski’s documentary of her life on “American Masters,” Afternoon of a Faun, opens and closes with this same mesmerizing image: a ballerina of exquisite poise onstage, emanating that intangible, unknowable quality known as grace.

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Smart Review: An Evening in Mystic, CT

Mystic Pizza & the Ancient Mariner
A restaurant review by Jack Smart

Mystic Pizza

Mystic’s mystical MYSTIC PIZZA [Julia Roberts not pictured]

If, like me, you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the early-career Julia Roberts showcase Mystic Pizza, you may feel on the outside of some cultish form of nostalgia when visiting the restaurant that inspired the film. An otherwise unremarkable pizza joint in the middle of Mystic, Connecticut, Mystic Pizza (“A slice of heaven!”) daily attracts thousands upon thousands of movie fans who happen to be hungry — rather more than the amount of hungry patrons who happen to be movie fans.

The familiar ambience of this mecca is as important to its character as the merchandise shop on the bottom floor (for a mere $26, you can own the same t-shirt the movie’s waitresses wear!). Walls are plastered, Pinterest-style, with framed pictures of Lucille Ball’s eyebrows, classic Coca-Cola ads, and of course, Roberts’ timeless smile. It’s comforting and mainstream, a pop culture obsessive’s fever dream. The staff is bubbly yet laid-back, ready to recite recommendations from the menu, which dedicates more space to describing the Hollywood backstory than what’s for dinner.

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Smart Review: JERSEY BOYS (The Movie)

Jersey Boys

Effie, Deena, and Lorrell sing “Dreamgirls”… I wish.

On some level it makes sense that Clint Eastwood, the ultimate cool straight white guy, would want to take a crack at directing a movie adaptation of Jersey Boys, the Broadway hit about four cool straight white guys. The grand story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is one that exemplifies the American version of braggadocio, a stirring tale of hard knocks and success against all odds. Plus, guys get to shove each other and say things like, “Fuggedaboutit!”

Despite such inspired source material (Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice adapted their Tony-winning show for the big screen), not to mention some of the most recognizably catchy songs in the pop music canon, in Eastwood’s hands this jukebox movie musical is almost entirely off-key.

Valli’s astonishing voice, still regarded as one of the most original sounds in music history, should be the axle on which the entire film pivots. But the sound mixing is almost as choppy as Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach’s curiously erratic editing. Lighting and 50’s-era costumes, all whites and soft browns, practically glow with a high-budget sheen, yet no one seems willing to spend money on the kinds of tricks that make films like Chicago and Dreamgirls work – the all-important montage, for one, is forgotten – so the whole affair appears both amateurish and expensive.

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