Archive for February, 2012

27
Feb
12

The Artist

I was curious how a silent feature would do in 2012. It’s extraordinary that one even got the green light. The Artist is innovative in a very retro way. Ironique, n’est pas? The performers manage this jaunty style that does harken back to the days of silent film and the black and white film is soothing. It’s a fun story about a silent film star whose marriage and career hit the skids as times change, but he doesn’t. Along comes a rescue boat in the form of a talented dancer in the guise of a girl next door.

Throughout the film, I noted how clever it all was. Yet I confess there were times I nearly dozed off. I miss dialog, good old fashioned dialog. Also, by the end of the film, disappointment hit me. The protagonist was sort of a jerk from start to finish. The cute, upbeat starlet would be better off with a better man. Just like in earlier silent films, the characters were absolutely flat, jaunty, but flat.

So I can see the Academy awarding this film with some awards for its chutzpah, I’m surprised it got so many Oscars. I didn’t see that many films in 2011 that were excellent and can’t say any particular film was robbed, but I wouldn’t have voted for The Artist. I’d have thought of voting for it, but wouldn’t have done so for that many categories.

27
Feb
12

The French Connection

Cover of "The French Connection"

Cover of The French Connection

Popeye Doyle just didn’t do it for me. The third film I watched coming to China was the well known cop film The French Connection with Gene Hackman. It’s got a great chase scene that I’ve seen a few times, but I think there have just been so many good cop dramas on TV and the silver screen that have characters with more depth and chases that are just as riveting. This story of just didn’t grab me as much as I hoped it would.

Roger Ebert liked The French Connection much more than I did.

26
Feb
12

Karen Says the Darndest Things

Not your typical flower girl, is she? Karen of Outnumbered.

23
Feb
12

Funny Girl

Funny Girl (film)

Image via Wikipedia

One of the films I watched on my flight to China was Funny Girl, which I haven’t seen in ages. This story of a talented ugly duckling, Barbara Streisand as Fanny Brice stills entertains. So many great songs – Second Hand Rose (which keeps replaying in my head) People, I’d Rather be Blue Thinking of You, Don’t Rain on My Parade. Barbra sings them all so well.

The movie hits all the right notes  showing a Jewish girl from Henry Street make it big despite not fitting the image of the WASPish beauty most Ziegfeld girls did.  Of course, you wish her chutzpah extended to the wisdom to know that all that glitters isn’t gold and that debonair gambler Nick Arnstein wasn’t all he seemed cracked up to be.  I suppose part of the plot’s momentum is watching the impending wreck we see coming before Fanny does.

As much as I liked Funny Girl  and appreciated the dark theme of “be careful what you wish for, ” I’d like to see a new movie about Fanny Brice, something more realistic that reveals more about the relationship between Fanny and Nick, showing whether Fanny ever saw her insecurity as her Achilles’ heel.

Checking out Wikipedia’s entry on Brice makes for interesting reading. Evidently, she came from a well-off family and Arnstein was her second husband. He was a mooch and not as honorable as the play or film make out. While the truth might not have gone over with a 1964 or ’68 audience, I think contemporary audiences could go for the realism.

Despite the poor food and scandalous baggage fees, I will applaud United Airlines for its improved entertainment selections. Between the recent movies, classics and TV offerings it’s easy to while away the 12+ hours from Chicago to Beijing.

21
Feb
12

Showboat

“Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly . . . .” These Showboat lyrics still linger in my head over a week after seeing the musical. If you’re any where near the Lyric Opera,go see Showboat. Period. End of story. It’s fabulous.

The ads on PBS brought me in. I loved Aida, so why not try Showboat. I had no idea what the story was beyond something about a boat that went up and down the Mississippi with performers on it. I’d heard “Old Man River” plenty of times, but only casually and out of context. Even though I had to go the night before I was leaving for China, I couldn’t pass up this last chance for some culture.

The story was a lot meatier than I expected. Based on Edna Ferber‘s novel about a biracial woman, who passes, married to a white man Showboat offers the audience complexity along with great singing and dancing. I admit I expected fluff, but the story goes down the dark alleys inherent in marrying a guy who doesn’t amount to much. While Ms. Ferber was concerned that too much sugar might be added to her novel, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II transformed the genre, which up till then was light and frivolous. The original New York Times review asserts that

The adaptation of the novel has been intelligently made, and such liberties as the demands of musical comedy necessitate do not twist the tale nor distort its values.

Some critics mark Showboat as a turning point in American musicals.

I recommend going to the pre-performance lecture an hour before the curtain when you’ll learn about the flooding of the Mississippi at the time, Ms. Ferber’s influences, and background information on the creation of the show.

I was disappointed that I had to leave the show early to catch the 10:35 train home. !@#@!$ Metro for not having an 11:35 train. I toyed with the idea of staying for the whole show, but I just couldn’t get home at 1:15 that night. So I am now scouring Jinan for a DVD of the film. No luck so far. Rats!

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10
Feb
12

A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream

I expected a traditional production of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, but instead the Chicago Shakespeare Company went Victorian with a tip of the hat to Freud. And while a lot of updates and creative takes don’t work, this one did. I loved the set and the costumes. All the main characters wore various lavender hues, though each had a distinct outfit. The result was beautiful. I wasn’t crazy about the costumes of the forest nymphs, striped pajamas and fantastic headdresses with say 100 butterflies or 100 flowers sticking up. I get that they should be otherworldly, but this choice fell flat for me. Even worse was the kind of the faeries, Oberon, who was decked out in a puffy orange skirt and he had a wig of long black hair that reminded me of Heian era Japan.

While this is one of Shakespeare’s lightest plays, it still has the Bard’s imprint and the language is just wonderful to take in. Yes, it’s a ultra-light, but it’s nice to see Shakespeare can have such fun. It’s a perfect play to show we should all “get over ourselves.

The acting is wonderful and the idea of bring Freud in to this dream was cheeky but not over powerful.

07
Feb
12

Outnumbered

The most hilarious, smart sitcom I’ve seen in a long time is the BBC’s Outnumbered. Each week the parents Pete and Sue valiantly try to survive the chaos inherent in raising precocious children: Jake, Ben and Karen. The plots are loose and the dialog brilliant. Like Curb Your Enthusiasm, much of the dialog is improvised, which is probably why what the kids say seems so real, unlike the average show where the jokes are clearly written by 27 year olds and mouthed by 7 year olds.

I’ve just seen six episodes and the main thread is that the father, a secondary school history teacher, bumbles his way around the disaster he created by making a joke at the expense of one of his heavier students. Sue is a stay at home mom, who’s often overwhelmed, but never comes across as the nincompoop say the mom in Modern Family can be. Don’t ask me why. Maybe it’s because Sue’s smart kids often do have a good point when they argue, whereas the Modern Family kids are clearly reading from a script.

A few realistic, serious problems are woven into the series. Pete’s worried that Jake is a victim of bullying. The issue’s handled better than it would be on many sitcoms. Like in real life, Pete tries to open lines of communication, Jake denies there’s a problem. Then at the end of an episode, once you believe Jake, you see him washing his hands and his forearms are badly bruised. Another issue is caring for an elderly parent in decline. Sue has been the local go-to person for her father while her sister galavants. The sister returns and the relationship is rocky. Sue’s glad for the relief, yet has to hide her jealousy that Angela, her sister succeeds with the father – at first. So as in real life competing feelings exist in one person.

The dialog is brilliant. Take a look:

Karen with a nurse

05
Feb
12

Mean Girls Meets Downton

05
Feb
12

Aida

As I’ve come to expect, the Lyric Opera‘s Aida blew me away. Since signing up for the Lyric’s NExT program that offers $20 student discount tickets, I’ve discovered that I really like opera, at least some operas. Although all the NExT tickets were gone by the time, I bought my tickets, I felt the $55 tickets would be a wise purchase and they were.

My friend Maryann and I went on a Friday afternoon and first went to the pre-opera lecture. WFMT‘s Carl Grapentine, who’s got a sonorous voice, offered background that made the opera all the more meaningful. We learned that Verdi was rejected when he applied to the conservatory in Milan, which today is called Conservatorio di musica “Giuseppe Verdi” di Milano. Ha! Take that!

Aida is Verdi’s 26th opera and was commissioned by an Egyptian khedive (i.e. viceroy, i.e. a king’s representative). Grapentine explained Aida’s genesis and story, and I highly encourage audience members to attend the free pre-opera lecture which starts an hour before the curtain.

Briefly, Aida has a plot Aristotle would love as the characters are tied together in such a way that only tragedy can result. Ethiopia and Egypt are at war. Aida is an Ethiopian slave serving the Egyptian princess, Amneris. Both women love the same man, Radames, a strapping young Egyptian warrior. He loves Aida, but becomes engaged to Amneris, who senses her fiancé has eyes for someone else. Who?

As if this isn’t enough drama, Aida is the daughter of the Ethiopian king Amonasro, who’s been captured by Radames. Every one of the three main characters’ hearts are divided between loyalty, patriotism and true love.

No one’s going to walk off into the sunset and though as a modern viewer of stories in every media available, I get a steady diet of happy endings, I’m perfectly fine with this tragedy. I wish Hollywood trusted in the power of tragedy as the Greeks and Shakespeare’s peers did. We don’t always need things tied up with a bow at the end. Really.

A feast for the eyes and ears, Aida features masterful singing, spectacular sets, lavish costumes, and beautiful dancing. The English translations for the Italian lyrics are projected overhead so that even those, like us, in the nosebleed seats can follow the story easily.

04
Feb
12

Dolls’ House Downton




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