Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Big cast of 'Ghost Light' shines; Sneaky 'Holy Lands' might grow on you

Sossamon's disloyal Lady curses "that damned spot" on her hands.
Something wicked this way comes and a lot of humor tags along in "Ghost Light," the tale of a Shakespearean curse as performed by a fine and funny ensemble.

They're together as a mix of seen-it-all vets and theatrical newcomers, putting on a stage tragedy and, good news for us, turning it into a watchable -- and quite witchy -- film farce.

When director Henry Asquith (Tony Award-winner Roget Bart) leads the traveling troupe off their tour bus outside what looks like a Massachusetts barn, attitudes vary. "It's so rural," someone says. "Oh, it's so cute," adds another. "It's better than I thought," chirps a third.

Personal distinctions continue for good when the group actually enters and one of them whistles out loud. The seemingly simple act -- which brings bad luck inside a theater -- sends a few of the actors (played by the distinguished Steve Tom and ever-eager Carol Kane, themselves the most experienced real actors in the cast) into hysterical mode. Its an early delightful scene that, not only brings the promise of big laughs, but also provides solid explanation of all the superstitions and supernatural expectations in performing "the cursed play." That would be "Macbeth," hereafter referred to as "The Scottish Play," since mention of the real name brings . . . well, you'll find out.

Others regaling in all the mischief and motives include Cary Elwes, as a famous soap-opera actor both financing the production and -- ahem! -- "starring" as the title character; Shannyn Sossamon, as the wandering wife portraying a voluptuously treacherous Lady Macbeth; Danielle Campbell (from TV's "The Originals"), as the comely backpacker presumably stumbling into a role; and Tom Riley, as an unhappy understudy and me-Lady's handsome admirer.

The John Stimpson-directed comedy, which won Jury Awards at film festivals in Austin and Woodstock, is now showing on iTtunes, Amazon, DirecTV and various other VOD outlets. Be sure to keep a light on for it.

Not rated, but a bit bawdy and bloody; 1:42; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Meanwhile, another apparent festival favorite, Holy Lands, debuts Friday in 10 cities (and VOD), with James Caan starring as a pig farmer in Nazareth (that's in Israel, not Pennsylvania). If it already sounds a bit off, please know that it is, including an introductory letter to Caan's Harry from his estranged playwright son Ben (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Among other things, the missive asks, "Couldn't you just play golf like other people?"

Despite that early suggestion, this is no vehicle for humor, but its melodrama does have a good heart, even if former New York cardiologist Harry ironically might not have one of his own at this point in his solitary life.

In fact, only Harry's pigs, including the cute one he lets nibble on his toes and ride along in his pickup, bring some odd satisfaction. Besides, he seems to revel in the feud he has going with the local rabbi (Tom Hollander), a man eager for him to stop with the pigs already for obvious Jewish religious reasons.

After one face-to-face confrontation, however, which features Harry/Caan going off almost in full Sonny Corleone mode, the movie's chief protagonist begins to change, and a firm message of reconciliation shows its newborn head.

At least one more shocking moment aside, the film continues mostly with various scenes from the heart (surprise!), as Harry considers his shaky familial relationships.

Those include the one with his pivotal ex-wife (a fine Rosanna Arquette) who, perhaps, also allows French novelist-turned screenwriter and director Amanda Sthers to take aim at critics by going bonkers on a Broadway reviewer while he dines at a fancy restaurant. Oy!

Not rated; 1:40; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

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