Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More rapid reviews....

More briefs:

I finally viewed “There Will be Blood,” starring Daniel Day Lewis.  This is a great film, save the final third, which is rushed and compressed.  While the end is powerful, it speeds along at a pace that far exceeds that of the first third, which is dedicated to detailed character development.  But Day Lewis is top notch.  He inhabits his character is a way that few actors can and do.  From his raspy voice to his tension-filled forehead, he conveys without hesitation the anger that burdens his character.   We are not certain why there is such anger, but anger there is and Day Lewis owns it.  The cinematography is top notch and the sound track appropriately supports the story.  This is a movie worth seeing again.

“Day, Night, Day Night” is one odd movie.  It’s about a 19 year old girl who takes as her mission to become a suicide bomber in Times Square.  We don’t know what her motivation is, or what cause she represents.  Dialogue is minimal and even when she meets with her fellow terrorist, there is little said that would help us glean motivation.   Her accomplices,  whose heads are covered with sacks, help her fit her bomb device, give her instructions, and take a few dollars while leaving her just enough money to buy some food before the big event.  They also supply her with a pair of too-large shoes, which make a squishing sound when she walks, although the Foley artists seem to have been carried away with highlighting the sound as she walks the streets of Manhattan.   While on her mission, the young woman buys two large pretzels and assorted sweet treats.  She tries to screw up the courage to do the deed, but decides not to.  When she finally pulls the trigger, the device fails to go off.  She attempts to call her contacts, but can’t reach them.  The movie ends.  Better it had been called “A Day in the Life of a Would-Be Terrorist.”  This story leaves so much unsaid that I am not sure what the intent of it was, other than to show the mundane life of a suicide bomber.  I suppose that has some validity, but it focuses the story on the humdrum life of the main character, rather than on any political considerations she might have had that prompted her potentially suicidal mission.  I would not recommend this movie- it will be two hours invested that you will never get back.
The New Trinity Baroque presented its annual Candlelight Baroque Concert.  The program consisted of:
  • Torelli: Concerto In G Minor, Op. 8/6, "Per Il Santissimo Natale"
  • Bernhard: Weihnachtskonzert "Fürchtet euch nicht!" for Soprano, 2 Violins and Continuo
  • Torelli: Concerto for Trumpet in D major
  • Scarlatti: "Oh di Betlemme altera povertà" ("Cantata pastorale")
  • Manfredini: Concerto Grosso No. 12, Op. 3 in C major ("Christmas Concerto")
  • Handel: Aria "Let the bright Seraphim" from Samson, HWV 57
  • Handel: Aria "Rejoice greatly" from Messiah, HWV 56
  • Buxtehude: Passacaglia in D minor, BuxWV 161
  • Organ Preludes by J.S. Bach, Buxtehude and Böhm
Conductor Predrag Gosta again programmed a series of works that demonstrate the strength of his musicians and soprano Wanda Yang Tempko.  The sound of this group is so delicate and diaphanous that it is easy to loss oneself in the music, which for me, is a desirable outcome.  Tempko is a perfect complement- her voice is strong and clear, but she never overwhelms.  I was very surprised by the works of Buxtehude.  They were hypnotic and a very early kind of space music that floats lightly and never lands.  The NTB opens the door to Baroque music in a way that recordings never can.  The delicate sounds of the instruments, which sound harsh on most recordings, mixed with the reverberation of St. Bartholomew’s Church in Atlanta makes the sound light, yet sumptuous.  I look forward to every NTB concert. 

“The Tree of Life” is the controversial movie by Louis Malle, starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and Sean Penn.  For me it was a brave new take on movie making and storytelling that combines brilliant cinematography, wonderful music, and careful character development.  This is not a linear story and it uses images, some of which are created by special effects and others from the Hubble, to underscore emotional points, such as a mother wondering why God took her son from her.  Pitt is perfect as a loving but overly strict father, who is frustrated in his life by an inability to get the recognition he feels he deserves for his invention.  He is also frustrated by the fact that he did not become the musician that he really wanted to be.  Sean Penn plays one of Pitt’s adult children.  For me, his performance was overwrought and melodramatic.  Chastain is luminous as Pitt’s cinematic spouse.  She has few lines, but her expressions and movements say everything.  The heart of the film is the relationship between Pitt’s two sons.  The older becomes a rebellious and depressed boy who reacts against his father’s repression.  The younger son, who dies at age 19, is a loving boy who idolizes his older brother.  Malle’s recreation of siblings playing together is stunning.  He sheds light on their maturating relationship related to trusting, loving, imagining, and appreciating life.  I was particularly struck by the character of the younger boy.  He had musical talent, much like his father, and his love for his older brother was touching.  Even when his brother was threatening him physically, he said “I trust you,” and the older boy did not break that trust.  The music chosen for the film was magnificent.  The film ends with Berlioz’s Grand Messe du Mort.  This achingly beautiful music that underscores the promise of reuniting with one’s lost loved ones.  It was the perfect piece to conclude this grand reflection on youth, innocence, ambition, relationships and love.  This movie may confuse, overwhelm, and bore but it will also create wonder and insight. It is one of the best I have ever seen.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

More brief reviews....

The new “Mission Impossible” movie is an intense, action-filled movie that re-establishes Tom Cruise as our national action hero.  The film was shot in some remarkable places around the world, e.g., Dubai, Budapest, and Moscow.  Regarding the latter, this film has some of the best aerial shots of the Kremlin that I can remember seeing.   This movie has more humor than its predecessor’s particularly with the addition of Simon Pegg.   The female lead is Paula Patton, who apparently can pack a punch as effectively as the men.  Cruise (or a stunt man) does some incredible stunts, particularly off the side of the Burj Khalifa, tallest building in the world.  I am not sure what was CGI  but it didn’t matter, the effect was so exciting.  The weakest cast member was Jeremy Renner.   He doesn’t have Cruise’s action-hero star power, so he paled a bit by comparison.  Lea Seydoux played a key role as a femme fatale who has the unfortunate distinction of being pushed out of one of the half-mile high Burj Khalifa windows.  She is a beautiful woman and plays her part believably.   I saw the movie in IMAX.  It is a wonderful medium that increases the intimacy and excitement of the stunts.  I recommend “MI: The Ghost Protocol” highly.

I attended a Broadway touring company presentation of “My Fair Lady.”  It was well-staged and performed.  I only stayed until after the intermission.  In spite of the high quality music and lyrics, Broadway musicals, in general, do not engage me.  And “I could have danced all-night” seemed to be inserted into the show, without clearly informing me about what Liza thought she should dance for.  I probably missed something.
I saw the indie film “Another Earth.” The film stars Brit Marling and William Mapother (Tom Cruise’s  first cousin) who has all of Cruise’s facial features, but not put together as well.  Both of these actors were convincing in their roles. The story is about a promising young woman who has a bit too much to drink and drives.  She hears a news report about the discovery of another earth.  While behind the wheel, she cranes her neck to see the new planet and drives head long into another car, killing the driver’s pregnant wife, and the couple’s son.  The driver is in a coma for four years, and she conveniently goes to prison for four years. As part of her redemptive process, she offers her services to him, post-coma, as a housekeeper.  This was part of a strategy to find a way to say she was sorry, but instead falls in love with him.  Fast forwarding, she wins a trip to the new earth.  She instead gives the ticket to her lover in hopes that he might see his family again.  This was possible through a plot device which said that the two worlds and their inhabitants lost synchronicity when the new earth became visible.  He goes, she stays.  In the final scene she meets herself in the back of her house.  I liked the movie while watching it, but after about a week, it seems less compelling.  The plot so stretches credulity that it seems mostly a contrivance.   The notion that he might find his family again was so far-fetched that her self-sacrifice lost its punch.   I was also distracted by the poor quality of the cinematography and lighting.  I appreciate it is a low-budget picture, but think more could have been done it make it a bit more visually appealing.  The soundtrack by Fall on Your Sword was effective in underscoring the storytelling.  “Melancholia,” another recent release (see my review elsewhere) has a similar plot device, i.e., the discovery of a new planet close to the earth, but it is visually stunning and makes its point without having to stretch believabililty.
“Homecoming” has proven to be one of the best dramas on television.  The plot involving a possibly turncoat returning prisoner of war is contemporary and compelling.  Claire Danes is spectacular as the obsessed bipolar CIA operative who has no boundaries when it comes to protecting the country.  Danes inhabits the character fully and the scene where she is in full-blown mania is realistic and convincing.  The plot is full of twists and turns and it’s difficult to tell who is patriotic and who is a traitor.   Damien Lewis is also superb as the conflicted returnee and Mandy Patinkin plays the depressed and possibly duplicitous CIA boss of Dane’s character.  Morena Baccarin plays the wife of Damien Lewis’ character.  She is warm, controlled, and beautiful.  She was great in last season’s “V” and is equally good here.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011


The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra presented it annual performance of Handel’s Messiah.  Norman Mackenzie conducted the Baroque-sized orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chamber Chorus.  The size of the chorus was a perfect match for the size of the orchestra. 

The opening piece was Bach’s Magnificat.  It was wonderful performance that highlighted Bach’s genius for complex polyphony.  It is a fairly short piece and every minute was well sung and played.
After intermission, the Handel was presented.  The four soloists, who also sang during the Bach, were”
Stephanie Washington, soprano
Magdalena Wor, Mezzo-soprano
Richard Clement, Tenor
Gerard Sundberg, Bass.
More comments about them in a bit.

Mackenzie and the orchestra were in top form.  The balances were correct, and the harpsichord played an elegant supportive role.  It didn’t lead, as can happen when the conductor is not paying attention to detail.  The Chamber Chorus is a marvel.  Its diction is precise to the degree that it almost sounds like a single voice singing.  The soloists were variable.  The weakest was Washington.  She had great trouble in the lowest range of her voice, and her sound was almost steely throughout.  Clement was not able to muster the volume demanded for a performance in a concert hall.  He was often drowned out by the orchestra and chorus.  I do not blame Mackenzie for this.  Clement just does not have a big voice.  Wor was wonderful.    She has a large voice that never loses its subtlety.  She is in control even at the extremes of her range.  Sundberg has a great voice that suited Symphony Hall. 

Handlel’s music can be incredibly beautiful.  “And he shall purify…” is a rapturous piece that reflects Handle’s own spiritual bliss.  Of course the Hallelujah chorus is oft performed and is a great crowd pleaser.
For once, I felt that the acoustics of Symphony Hall really supported the performance.  As I have noted in other reviews, it seems best suited to smaller ensembles.