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From the Weekend: Manufactured Landscapes and Hay Fever

I had two very different experiences at local theaters this weekend - and it wasn't because one night involved a movie and the other a play, although that was part of it. What separated my Friday and Saturday nights was drastically different subjects and styles of storytelling.

FRIDAY:

I went to see Manufactured Landscapes at Landmark's Ken Cinema . I love the Ken. I love everything about it. It lacks stadium seating, surround sound, and the convenient parking we've all become used to with modern movie going. But what the Ken has is history and community and independent spirit. You have to park in a neighborhood to get to it. You then walk by the Ken Club , where hipsters are outside smoking, waiting for the first band to go on. Up ahead, the well-heeled fine dining crowd sits on the patio of Kensington Grill and you can hear the clang of plates and hushed conversation. Just past the Ken Club and right before you've reached your mark, you pass Kensington Video , the best, most stocked video store in San Diego ( Citizen Video runs a close second). Old, tattered movie posters hang in its windows. In other words, there is life on these streets and when you finally duck into the theater, you've left a certain spontaneous energy in order to experience two hours of the best kind of escape - independent cinema.

From Edward Burtynsky's Shipyard series

Manufactured Landscapes follows Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky around China as he shoots "disruptions in the landscape." Burtynksy is interested in those places where man has inserted his mighty hand and built manufacturing plants, shipyards, quarries, mines and skylines to the detriment of the landscape. He shoots large scale photographs of these ruptures, and filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal does a good job of capturing their epic, expansive quality. The images are gorgeous, there's no way around it. But I will warn you, this film is slow. I think KPBS film critic Beth Accomando gets it right when she says Baichwal tried too hard to create the film equivalent of Burtynsky's photographs and the result is not dynamic filmmaking.

It doesn't help that Burtynsky is not particularly engaging. The photographer doesn't add any commentary that can't be gleaned from looking at his photos. He would do a great service to the film by recounting some of his shooting experiences and telling a story or two. And, the music doesn't help the film's energy. Composer Dan Driscoll creates an atonal, airy soundtrack that lulls. In the end, I recommend Manufactured Landscapes for its beauty and important ideas, not because I think it's a great artist documentary .

SATURDAY:

Saturday brought me to the Old Globe to see Hay Fever , Noel Coward's comedy of manners about the Bliss family. The Bliss clan are a loud and emotive family of artists, each of whom invites a guest/potential lover to their country home for the weekend. Let the hilarity ensue. And it is pretty funny, not hilarious, but funny.

Sarah Grace Wilson, Judith Lightfoot Clarke, and Santino Fontana in Hay Fever

Senior drama critic for the New Yorker and Coward biographer John Lahr wrote that "Coward was not a thinker. His genius was for style." This is evident in Hay Fever . The play is stocked with clever dialogue and witty asides (my environmental conscience was not moved once!). Coward was a prolific artist and this is one of his best known works, and one that he wrote when he was only 24... in three days!

There's been a resurgence in the play's popularity, including a 2006 staging in London with Dame Judi Dench as the family matriarch, Judith Bliss. It's a great role for any actress - it's hammy, with all the best lines, and all the best targets: those actors and celebrities whose self-dramatization is so bloated and unchecked they're like a walking record scratch.

Judith Lightfoot Clarke is mother Bliss in the Globe production and she's terrific. When she's not on stage, you can't wait for her return. Go see the Globe's Hay Fever for an evening of stylish levity - it closes on August 19th.

I have only one complaint. I counted five cell phone rings during the play. FIVE!!!!!!! How can this possibly still be an issue? I couldn't help but wonder what witty barb Noel Coward would have for... (insert English accent and add cigarette holder here) those terribly uncivilized modern day contraptions, the use of which is downright beastly.

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