Movies seen, during this time off (including operas and one play). Not as many as one might think, but a few of them were memorable. Here are brief comments, again in no particular order:
Toy Story 3: What a joy! When a studio has months — years! — to invent a movie, and then time to craft it piece by piece, even changing things as they go, we certainly expect a lot. And Pixar delivered.
Having visited Pixar once (my daughter’s boyfriend is a senior animator there), I have some appreciation for what they do and how they do it. Even then, when they produce something like this, it’s pretty spectacular.
The story is of growth and parting and loyalty and consequences and perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. In other words, about life, albeit experienced by normally inanimate toys. In the end, it’s actually quite moving. At my wife’s urging, we saw it twice! (It is really every bit a movie for adults as it is for kids, and will delight all age groups.)
A.O. Scott in The NY Times loved it equally well:
In providing sheer moviegoing satisfaction — plot, characters, verbal wit and visual delight, cheap laughs and honest sentiment — “Toy Story 3” is wondrously generous and inventive. It is also, by the time it reaches a quiet denouement that balances its noisy beginning, moving in the way that parts of “Up” were. That is, this film — this whole three-part, 15-year epic — about the adventures of a bunch of silly plastic junk turns out also to be a long, melancholy meditation on loss, impermanence and that noble, stubborn, foolish thing called love. We all know money can’t buy it, except sometimes, for the price of a plastic figurine or a movie ticket.
Agora: This is definitely a movie with which I connect on several levels. Story of the later period of Fourth Century CE Alexandria, Egypt, well after the accidental burning of its library by Caesar in the First Century BCE, but centered on the actual historical figure of Hypatia, a scholar and philosopher (played by Rachel Weisz). History, philosophy, ancient civilizations, geometry, astronomy; Christianity’s bigotry, intolerance and misogyny; and a fictional discovery of the Keplerian/Copernican cosmos 1200 years before it actually happened. During the final destruction of the Great Library by Christian zealots, I couldn’t help but think of the Texas Board of Education. This one is definitely worth seeking out if it’s to be found in your city — or get it from Netflix later.
Cyrus: A different kind of relationship story. Divorced man falls in love with single mom whose only child is a somewhat dysfunctional twenty-one year old “boy.” Better than you might think given that introduction. I am so pleased Marisa Tomei is getting these kinds of roles. The only problem is you kind of expect the kid to haul out a kitchen knife and begin hacking away at his mom’s suitor. Nothing of the sort — just intense, comedic adult interplay. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.
M. Butterfly (DVD): We saw this live at the Guthrie this past season, about which I wrote favorably earlier. The movie is almost as effective. John Lone is very good as the Chinese cross-dressing seducer of René Gallimard, the French embassy functionary played equally well by Jeremy Irons. Enjoyable, although some of the punch was lessened for having seen it live only a month earlier.
Inception: The Matrix meets Wall Street. I’ll give the movie (1) marks for some originality, although the whole “dream within dreams” idea has been done before, not to mention that parts of the movie seemed reminiscent of that semi-maudlin Robin Williams What Dreams May Come idea; and (2) reasonably high marks for CGI. The movie had some additional punch in IMAX, and there was certainly an abundance of action. In the end, however, it just didn’t seem to work.
I was rather tickled by the repeated use of Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien,” given the female co-star Marion Cotillard’s Oscar-winning role playing Edith Piaf. In fact, an astute viewer has analyzed the movie’s music and concluded that Piaf’s song finds itself into other portions of the score, and uploaded a YouTube video to that effect:
I Am Love (Io sono l’amore): A beautiful, poignant gem that probably won’t see wide distribution. Starring one of my favorites, Tilda Swinton, in an Italian-speaking role (she gets away with what I’m sure is an atrocious accent by being cast as a Russian bride in Italy). The story, of an internally competitive but very rich family in Milan, and then of Swinton’s extramarital love affair, is fairly pedestrian until the last 25% of the movie, although the fine characterizations and sets carry you through. Swinton’s mid-movie love scene is extraordinary, if for no other reason than it unapologetically involves a middle-aged woman. The cinematography is breathtakingly beautiful, and quite different than anything you are likely to see. Music is by John Adams, a minimalist much in the guise of Philip Glass. Highly, highly recommended. (Manohla Dargis’s review.)
The Stonewall Uprising: Poignant, pithy, and comprehensive. A documentary, the movie provides a meaningful introduction of the atmosphere and events leading up to the June 1969 events, which we know as the “Stonewall Riots,” which brought gay culture out of the closet and into popular consciousness, if only a little, leading eventually to massive changes (not yet finished) in the ensuing forty years. Several participants in the events gave their recollections onscreen, and photos and news clips from the period helped fill in the gaps. Such a contrast between the 1969 world shown here and that of the happy, well-adjusted gay couples with children in the oft-seen HBO repeats of 2006′s Rosie O’Donnell’s All Aboard Rosie’s Family Cruise.
Nine: I can certainly understand why this bombed at the box office. An over-produced lightweight amalgam of Chicago meets All That Jazz. Anyone thinking this has any semblance to 8-1/2 lacks a rudimentary understanding of what Fellini was all about.
Operas — Roméo et Juliette, Eugene Onegin, La Bohème & Carmen: The Met ran these and a couple other gems as an “encore” series in June and July. I skipped some of them, like Aida and Turandot, but saw these four. Roméo et Juliette was splendid as before with Roberto Alagna and the ever-radiant Anna Netrebko in the leads; I had wanted to see it again because the original production had been shown in a theater that butchered the presentation. Eugene Onegin was my first time seeing this Tchaikovsky classic in its entirety; Renee Fleming is simply one of the great sopranos of our time. La Bohème is an opera of which I never tire. I’d seen this one earlier this year during the regular HD broadcast season, and although Angela Gheorghiu may require, at age 50, a bit of disbelief suspension playing a teenage (or at best, 20-something) seamstress, she has a gaunt look that does in fact look like a girl in the throes of terminal tuberculosis. Finally, Carmen. Wow, I don’t think I could ever tire of this new Met production. I certainly would never be bored by Elina Garanca‘s extraordinary performance as the fickle, man-baiting gypsy. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s one of the most beautiful opera stars performing today. Her closeups were stunning!) I give you The NY Times‘s glowing review, in case there’s any doubt.
Plays — A Streetcar Named Desire: Tennessee Williams’s classic, known to most Americans from the awesome performances of Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. Seen at the Guthrie in a memorable production. A problem for anyone doing the play live will always be comparison’s to the unsurpassed movie, which will always be a touchstone. Our Kowalski, however, was very good as the abusive, violent, vindictive man (the program actually had a disclaimer warning anyone sensitive to domestic violence that the play might be upsetting). He rather combined Rod Steiger’s voice with Hulk Hogan’s body and mannerisms. Times have changed since Streetcar‘s 1947 premiere, and the world is much more sensitive to those who abuse their wives, and the on-again-off-again nature of the abusive husband. The gal playing Blanche was quite good in portraying her gradual descent into madness, although her decline really accelerates at the end. We all sit there waiting for the classic line: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” I wrote friend Dr. L — who previously told me it is her favorite play — and she responded, “Oh, I so wish I could see it!!!”.
In our household, we are celebrating the District Court’s decision overturning Proposition 8. You’ve of course learned of it by now. Good article in The NY Times summarizing the development. Two key paragraphs from the long (138 pages) opinion, which some pundits have characterized as very well reasoned and grounded in sound law:
Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
Plaintiffs have demonstrated by overwhelming evidence that Proposition 8 violates their due process and equal protection rights and that they will continue to suffer these constitutional violations until state officials cease enforcement of Proposition 8. California is able to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as it has already issued 18,000 marriage licenses to same sex couples and has not suffered any demonstrated harm as a result.
Of course, there’s a long haul ahead, with appeals through two levels of superior federal appellate courts. Who knows, perhaps the Boston federal court’s decision declaring the federal “Defense of Marriage Act” unconstitutional will be joined before the Supreme Court.
From our most recent session. You can’t see her extreme haircut here.