Archive for the ‘film’ Category

1/2 a Thriller

Yesterday I caught the second half of a flick on logo. I knew nothing of it going in, and, rarely get drawn into unfamiliar material this far in. Well, I was immediately addicted, and couldn’t let go.

The movie was No Night Is Too Long, a 2002 BBC dramatization based on the novel of the same name by Barbara Vine (a pseudonym for Ruth Rendell).

No Night Is Too Long

Unfortunately, TIVO doesn’t show it as airing again soon, so I figure I’ll just share my half-assed snapshot of it to peak your interest, and at least cobble together a synopsis and some eye candy. I’m not posting any of the very sexy youtube vids, because I don’t want to spoil those moments out of context.

The portion of the movie I caught revealed a taut thriller, with some very strong performances. Lee Williams as Tim Cornish is a yummy melange of Elijah Wood, Daniel Radcliffe and Tobey Maguire. He is a very good brooder, but offers a far more interesting characterization and layered performance than that. Marc Warren (as Dr. Ivo Steadman) and Mikela J. Mikael (as Isabel) round out the other memorable leads.

Lee Williams

And, yes, there is an operatic footnote here (as always)! The soundtrack features selections from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. A brief scene staging the reunion of Tim and Ivo is set in an opera house (with a staged Rosenkavalier performance), and uses the Presentation of the Rose (“Mir ist die Ehre wiederfahren”). The finale of the movie is literally accompanied by the instrumental ending of the famous Final Trio, and Ist ein Traum, as Tim plays an lp on his old turntable. The selections are woven seamlessly by composer Christopher Dedrick into his original musical to perfectly support the dramatic arc and outcome. Don’t miss this one!

Wikipedia offers a great synopsis, and a note on a nuance between the movie and book, which I shamelessly borrow.:

“The plot follows a creative writing student from Suffolk named Tim Cornish, an exceptional student who leads a promiscuous lifestyle. A series of chance meetings with Dr. Ivo Steadman, a lecturer at his University, lead to a relationship between Tim and Ivo. All goes well until Ivo becomes extremely busy with issues regarding his university lectures. Tim decides to tease Ivo about sexual advances he is receiving from others, resulting in Ivo becoming violent towards Tim. Despite his reservations about Ivo’s behaviour, Tim agrees to accompany him to Alaska. However, complications arise which lead to Ivo postponing the trip while he supervises a cruise, leaving a reluctant Tim in their hotel. Tim then meets and becomes infatuated with a woman named Isabel, and they have a brief affair. When Ivo returns, he is met with an unenthusiastic Tim, who is still in love with Isabel and is growing impatient with Ivo. They then journey by boat to a remote island. The journey, during which Ivo rapes Tim, is made even more turbulent by Ivo’s suspicions that Tim has had an affair.

Eventually, Ivo and Tim have a heated argument about the affair on the remote island they have sailed to. Before Ivo has a chance to leave, Tim reveals the name of the person he had an affair with. This drives Ivo into a rage, and in the ensuing fight Tim accidentally throws him against a rocky moutainside, leaving him unconscious. Believing he has killed Ivo, Tim manages to flee back to the UK without creating any suspicion. There he unsuccessfully searches for Isabel. Meanwhile, Ivo, who was not actually killed and has escaped from the island where Tim left him, confronts Isabel about the affair. Ivo then reveals that, unbeknownst to Tim, Isabel is actually his sister who was asked to keep an eye on Tim’s behaviour while Ivo was away supervising the cruise, explaining his earlier anger. Soon, Tim begins to receive anonymous letters making it clear that someone is aware of his crime. Eventually, Ivo turns up in person at Tim’s house and discusses the previous events with him. Ironically, on leaving Tim’s house, Ivo is murdered by a deranged drifter. In contrast to the end of the novel, which suggested Isabel and Tim could rekindle their relationship, the film’s closing scene shows Tim unable to open his door and let Isabel into his house.”

Bringin’ Sexy (On-Ice Mullet) Back?

Rachel Getting Married posterThanks to NetFlix, we just watched Rachel Getting Married. It is easily one of the most painfully real films I’ve ever witnessed. I say “witness”, because it really is like peering into a dysfunctional family experience, and never once feels scripted. There are multiple cringe-worthy moments, packed with awkward, painful exchanges. However, there are moments of levity…this next one being one of them. (Mather Zickel is the film’s eye candy.)

I’ll set the stage: the bride-to-be’s (Rachel, played by Rosemarie DeWitt) troubled sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) has just returned home for her nuptials, after 9 months of rehab. They reminisce and dish about a mutual friend’s steamy fantasy. It stars an unlikely (although currently topical) protagonist. Emma, the (current) Maid of Honor looks on anxiously as they revel in their sisterly connection.:

RACHEL
Angela Paylin is coming to the wedding.

KYM (right on top of her)
I ate so much cookie dough and did so many whip-its with Angela Paylin.

RACHEL
I know. And she confessed to you her secret Elvis Stojko fantasy. I spied on you.

KYM
Oh my god…

EMMA
Elvis Stojko the figure skater?

RACHEL
In her fantasy, she was wearing her hair up and very serious, responsible eyeglasses, because she was a world renowned judge at the Winter Olympics for Men’s Figure Skating. And Elvis Stojko was skating in the finals to Could It Be Magic for the gold medal. And just when Barry Manilow is singing “…now, now, now and hold on fast…” there’s this electric connection between them and he stops in the middle of his triple lutz…axel…

KYM
And he skates over to the judges table, all panting and sweaty, with his spangly Neil Diamond shirt open to the chest…

RACHEL
There is silence as he stops in front of her, their eyes lock, and he reaches for her hand… and Angela takes it!

KYM
To the roar of the crowd and the shock of the Olympic judges! And he pulls her out of her chair, undoes her hair, and they skate as a pair to the rest of the song!

Elvis Stojko on The SimpsonsRACHEL
And he gets disqualified but he doesn’t care!

EMMA
Where’d she get the skates from?

(They collapse in laughter. Kym studies her ass in the mirror.)

+ + + + + + + +

Could this fantasy (and this caricature) be what Elvis meant by more “masculine”?

If music be the food of the soul…

Seeing the movie The Soloist yesterday put me back in the embrace of the sort of music that I love most deeply. The beautiful soundtrack features Beethoven’s “Triple” Concerto, Eroica and Ninth Symphony, and the Bach Cello Suite No. 1. I highly recommend the movie, while confessing it’s quite flawed. But, like Shine or Hilary and Jackie it effectively uses music as a character itself, showing its truly transformative nature, as well as how it can be a reflection of one’s internal Sturm und Drang. (See the real story behind the movie here.)

The Soloist

I have a short-list of classical music favorites in this vein that I return to time and time again, and never tire of. They are my spiritual balm, are deeply healing, and “feed” me when I’m feeling lost or run-down. If I were ever considering an atheistic path, these pieces will continue to convince me otherwise. I consider them some of the most spiritually transformative works in the genre.

I tend to prefer more contemplative, stirring works than cheerful, overtly uplifting ones, when looking for something transcendent, so those weigh more heavily here. Surely one of these will be played at my funeral (which is hopefully a long way off). And, these are not necessarily my favorite recordings, but they are what’s available online, and in a good enough quality, worthy of viewing.

I’ve narrowed to one work per composer, otherwise Richard Strauss and Beethoven would have filled the entire list. I had to leave out the Mahler, Elgar, Faure, and Morricone. They are in no particular order.

Missa Solemnis: Benedictus (Beethoven)
This movement flows without a pause from the previous Sanctus.

Eclogue for Piano and Strings (Gerald Finzi)

Vier Letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs): Im Abendrot (At Sunset) (Richard Strauss)
This rendition is too frenetic, but Popp makes it worthwhile. I most love della Casa and Fleming’s (first) studio recordings.

Mass in C Minor: Et Incarnatus Est (Mozart)
Noone has ever sung this like Ileana Cotrubas, on the Raymond Leppard recording.

Tristan und Isolde: Love Duet (Wagner)

Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, “Organ”: Poco Adagio (Saint-Saens)

Fourteen Songs: Vocalise (Rachmaninoff)

Missa Sancti Gotthardi: Anima Nostra (Michael Haydn)
Please ignore the RIDICULOUS video. This one is for your ears only!

Double Concerto in D Minor, for two violins: Largo (Bach)

German Requiem: Ihr Habt Traurigkeit (Brahms)
As much of a Janowitz fan as I am, this is a bit past her prime, and the Kathleen Battle and Elisabeth Grummer studio recordings can’t be beat.

Beau Soir (Beautiful Evening), for violin (Debussy, arr. Heifitz)

I hope that you experienced here at least one of these pieces for the first time (again, these video themselves in most cases are not the focus here, just a delivery device). Although I don’t think it’s an ideal practice to extract a single movement from a symphony or mass, the “jewel” of such a work can become a portal for one to want to explore more of the complete work. I hope you find that to be the case. Good luck on your journey! I leave you with the Joseph von Eichendorff’s text from Im Abendrot:

We have gone through sorrow and joy
hand in hand;
Now we can rest from our wandering
above the quiet land.

Around us, the valleys bow;
the air is growing darker.
Just two skylarks soar upwards
dreamily into the fragrant air.

Come close to me, and let them flutter.
Soon it will be time for sleep.
Let us not lose our way
in this solitude.

O vast, tranquil peace,
so deep at sunset!
How weary we are of wandering—
Is this perhaps death?

An Early St. Patty’s Day Gift

A couple of days ago I had one of those true music discovery moments, while listening to KUSF 90.3. These happen less and less these days, with my radio listening being greatly diminished, and entertainment being so much more “programmed”, via my iPod/iTunes. It seems most of us now revel in the fully customizable listening experience they provide. But, radio discoveries remind me of my (even) younger days, when that was more commonly a mode for being introduced to artists, and I felt a sense of wonder accompanying the feeling of unlimited musical horizons.

A sonorous bass voice tenderly wafted from my speakers. “Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling… From glen to glen, and down the mountain side…”.

(No, this isn't my car radio, but it conjures up the lost charm I'm going for.)

(No, this isn't my car radio, but it conjures up the lost charm I'm going for.)

I knew the song immediately, but I couldn’t identify the singer. I have always loved Danny Boy. At my grandmother’s recent funeral a version was sung with the same melody but an adapted text. The song is one of the truest musical embodiments of longing for me. It has a sweet sentimentality that is undeniable. Honestly, it is really the melody itself (the Irish tune Londonderry Air) that speaks to me each time, and less so the text.

Over a decade ago I enjoyed Aprile Millo’s performance of it on The Johnny Carson Show. Ah, I miss the days when real grand divas/divos would perform on night shows, or any popular tv forum for that matter… and I know you do too ;-). And, Eleanor Steber’s version from CD 2 of the “Eleanor Steber In Concert (1956-58)” double album.

Well, the singer I heard that day was Paul Robeson. He is probably most famous in the mainstream for the ’36 film version of Show Boat, and his performance of Ol’ Man River (which has never been matched). I certainly know him well, but had never heard his beautiful rendition of this song. He possesses legendary endowment in the cavernous basso profondo nether regions. But, what I didn’t know is how tenderly he could float and caress a higher phrase. That was largely why I was surprised to hear it was him. Also, there is something so disarmingly simple and real about this recording that I didn’t even suspect it was an “opera singer”.

I hope you enjoy it too. And Happy St. Patty’s Day!

Triple-Header Weekend

Although we do more than the average amount of theatre-going, this weekend was surely one of the most chock-full. It included “In the Next Room: The Vibrator Play,” by Sarah Ruhl, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, “Souvenir,” featuring Judy Kaye, at A.C.T., and “Origin of Love,” by and with John Cameron Mitchell, at the Victoria.

“In the Next Room” showed how that the vibrator was often the prescription for “hysteria” in the early 20th century… for women AND men. Although the premise seems a guaranteed night of laughs, it was a rather tepid performance, and the world premiere script will likely need some tweaking to fine tune the characterizations and dramatic arc.

“Souvenir” is a fantasia on the life of Florence Foster Jenkins. She is up there with Mrs. Miller, when it comes to novelty artists/albums that people have adored for generations. I can specifically remember the first time I heard Flo. I was in a record store in Boston… I ran up to the sales guy and asked: “I must know who this is!” Amusingly, another shopper asked it to be turned down or off. I suppose that is a microcosm of the polarization around F.F.J. You either “get her” and love her, or you don’t.

Take a moment to experienct F.F.J., and even compare her to some of the finest recordings of the same aria (Lakme’s “Bell Song”):

Do you have a preference? Despite F.F.J’s performances sounding like a joke, it is largely believed that she was NOT in on the joke. As portrayed in the play, she likely heard something very different when she sang (as MANY of us do!) To make this point, one of the most beautiful moments in the play is at the very end, when after mimicking F.F.J. thoughout, Judy Kaye takes the stage and sings “Ave Maria” beautifully… as “F.F.J heard it.”

My favorite quote from the show was “singing is like dreaming in public.”

“Origin of Love” was a wonderful opportunity to see and hear JCM’s artistry LIVE, and to “share” the stage with him. I was honored to perform as a backup to Anita Cocktail, the guest host.

JCM performed “Origin of Love”, “My Funny Valentine”, “Midnight Radio”, and “Wicked Little Town”, shared a short story about his travels to Russia, and then offered commentary to his film “Shortbus”, with the help of a few other cast members. It was quite an interesting movie to watch in public. Despite a heavy indisposition earlier in the week, he sounded near 100%. Anita Cocktail performed “Making Love Alone”, a piece done by Bernadette Peters on one of her live albums. And, with her “Lovers” (incl. me), Anita performed “Contact” from Rent, and “Angry Inch” from Hedwig.

It was a very fun evening, although one of the most unorthodox and risque Valentine’s day I’ve shared in.

Backstage at the Victoria: "Origin of Love"

Backstage at the Victoria: "Origin of Love"

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