Sunday, February 27, 2011

LEON FLEISHER AND THE CSO

We finally returned to Boettcher for our first concert of the new year, and heard a wonderful concert. It opened with the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun by Debussy. This piece featured the Colorado Symphony's new flautist, who had given some brief comments before the concert about getting her start as a flautist with donated instruments. Her playing was quite beautiful, and it's nice hearing this gorgeously orchestrated piece in person.

The highlight of the night followed, with 82 year-old pianist Leon Fleisher playing the Concerto for the Left Hand by Ravel. Ravel makes a nice companion piece to Debussy. This is a piece I had never heard live before, and I have to say it was enthralling. The opening of the piece is much more dissonant than most Ravel, and builds to a huge orchestral climax, leaving only the piano to state a very major-key theme. I can't help but think that the opening is meant to represent the loss of the right arm, and the piano solo is a way of saying "everything is going to be all right." It's a wonderful piece, but very bizarre seeing someone play with only one hand.

The finale of the evening was the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique. The performance was indeed fantastic, especially the percussion section (although the bass trombone was so loud it sounded like contrapuntal flatulence; the second violins could not keep a straight face during this section). I'm pretty sick of this piece, it was WAY overplayed by American orchestras, and in the last three years, I've heard three different orchestras play it.

Nonetheless, it was a rousing finale to an excellent concert.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

THE LOSERS

With a title like THE LOSERS, you can be assured that the film does indeed suck ass. I can't remember the last time I saw a film this bad. There is zero character. And I mean zero. I swear I could not tell them apart even though they are different races and different genders. The plot is completely incoherent. The production value put it at the level of a bad episode of CSI: Miami.

Everyone looks like someone else. There's a guy who looks like that guy from Everybody Loves Raymond who appears to be in charge. There's another guy who looks like the fourth Ghostbuster. You know, the black one. And there's a guy who looks like Cuba Gooding Jr., and a woman who looks like she might be related to Will Smith. There's also an Asian guy who never talks, and a white guy who's a geek because he uses computers. That's it, I just gave you all the character development. Now you don't need to watch this.

The biggest name in the cast is Jason Patrick. Wow. And even he looks like he's pretending to be Warren Beatty in BUGSY. He's so bad it makes it almost worth watching his scenes as an acting lesson in what not to do.

But no, it's not worth watching, even for that.

GET LOW

GET LOW is a nice little movie directed by my former classmate Aaron Schneider. There's a nice article in Entertainment Weekly explaining how the film got made, mostly due to Bill Murray committing to a minor role. The cast is stellar, especially Robert Duvall.

The story is extremely simple, and old hermit decides to throw his own funeral before he dies. If there's any weakness to the movie, it's that this simple premise doesn't really stretch to the running time of the film. But I'd still recommend it based solely on the performances.

Nice work.

Monday, February 14, 2011

LET ME IN

It's tough to review a movie that's a remake when you've seen the original only a few months prior. However, LET ME IN is a very good American remake of the Swedish horror film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. For an American film, it is surprisingly restrained, which I appreciate. I prefer thrillers to gore, and this film lives up to that (although not as much so as the original).

Like the original, the film has an excellent child cast, although the lead girl in the original is superior, but the lead boy in this version is better. Elias Koteas is good in a role that didn't really exist in the original but is apparently in the book. Richard Jenkins is excellent (as always) in the ambiguous role of the girl's "helper." The visual look mimics the faded Kodachrome look of the original, placing it perfectly in the early 80s. Michael Giacchino's score is pretty effective but far more overstated than the subdued original.

Definitely a recommend for horror fans.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

HARRY POTTER and the DEATHLY HALLOWS

I am not a fan of the series, in fact I've forgotten what happened in most of them (they really need a recap at the beginning of the film for people over 25), but I have to admit that HARRY POTTER and the DEATHLY HALLOWS is a pretty good film. It's an extended chase sequence, which is inherently entertaining, and the characters are developing nicely. And I have to admit I was strangely moved by a minor character in the film.

The screener DVD sent out is incredibly dark, so dark it was hard to see what was going on at times. I suspect it looked better in the theater and will look good on BluRay, but they really need to time it for DVD before sending it out for consideration.

The film did sound great and as always Desplat did a great job on the score, raising the production value of the film considerably.

Friday, February 11, 2011

INSIDE JOB

INSIDE JOB is an excellent explanation of what went wrong with the financial system and why there is a worldwide financial crisis. It does a good job explaining the history leading up to it and points out that not only were there warning signs, there were plenty of experts telling us about the warning signs. The film is very professionally made, perhaps a little too smooth for its own good. It would have been enough just to explain what happened, but in the last 20 minutes there's a little too much time on the soapbox repeating the flaws, extrapolating them to unrelated issues and trying to stir the pot for more reform. I certainly agree that reform and regulation is necessary, but I don't need a shot of the statue of liberty telling me that.

But I still highly recommend the film.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

THE ILLUSIONIST

Jacques Tati is my favorite filmmaker, so the idea of making a lost screenplay of his is very appealing to me. Perhaps I set my expectations too high, but THE ILLUSIONIST doesn't belong in his oeuvre.

At first thought the idea of resuscitating M. Hulot as an animated character might seem appealing, but the truth is that much of Tati's charm comes in the performance, and putting the filter of animation on him only makes him more distant.

There are a few nice homages to the master, like naming the character Tatischeff, Tati's original family name (although why isn't he Hulot?) and many visual references to previous films, not to mention many plot elements similar to other films (perhaps too many).

Then there's the bizarre moment where the Tatischeff meanders into a screening of MON ONCLE, seeing the actual live action film on the screen. This really defines this film as nothing but a pale imitation of the real deal.

Some elements work better than others, but the idea of a magician entertaining in animation is kind of dumb. It's not a trick when it's animated. But the relationship between the older Tati and the younger woman is sweet, even if the ending is far too depressing. Tati's films always ended on a up note, even when he didn't get the girl.

I suppose it's still a must-see for fan's of Tati, though.

TANGLED

TANGLED is a nice Disney film that is unfortunately flawed in several obvious ways.

I did not see the 3D version of the film, but even in 2D the 3D animation just looked odd for a Disney princess film and did not seem to fit. I also found the anime eyes on the princess to be a quite a distraction from the style of animation on the other human characters. In fact overall the animation seemed unfinished. The reported budget on the film was over $200 million dollars so I don't know why the animation would have so many rough edges.

The film has a great plot, and the songs are good but not great. I'm not sure why it got a song nomination for "I See the Light," there are a couple of better songs in the film, and that's probably the most forgettable song in it.

Still, I have to recommend the film with its flaws, as the plot and characters are still involving.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

CATFISH

Some movies are best seen without knowing anything about them. CATFISH is one of them. Even the title itself is a red herring (if you'll pardon the pun).

It's a documentary in which two filmmakers start shooting the photographer who shares a studio with them. Then about a third of the way in, the plot takes a surprising twist. At this point, I will say no more, other than:

VERY VAGUE SPOILER!!!

This is a WAY more interesting view of the online experience than SOCIAL NETWORK.

I very highly recommend the film. It's on video now.

BIUTIFUL

BIUTIFUL is a great film, but a very hard sell. It's 2.5 hours long, and one of the most depressing films I've ever seen,and I've seen a lot of depressing films. The film is a co-production from Mexico, takes place in Spain and has a Chinese subplot. This is not exactly popcorn fare for most Americans.

But Javier Bardem is, as always, fantastic, as is the rest of the cast. Like many European films, it does not hit every nail on the head repeatedly or even explain everything. Several of the scenes are completely surreal, although you may not notice unless you are paying attention.

If you like foreign films, this is a nice catch. It's in a few theaters, so see it while it's still there.

Monday, February 07, 2011

STEP UP 3

STEP UP 3 is by far the best of the three films. John Chu is really developing as a director. Unfortunately, the first act is so poorly written that I doubt many people will make it through the whole film. The film has its share of weaknesses. Shot for 3D, the 2D version of the film looks like all the backgrounds are green screen plates, although they probably are not. Most of the dance sequences are clearly shot on a soundstage, and the lighting is bright and flat, which probably makes the 3D look better. In fact this is one of those rare films that probably looked better in 3D, although some of the shots were clearly gimmicky, with things (and people) flying towards the camera.

Much of the film feels like a slightly better episode of Degrassi or Melrose Place, but the dance sequences really rise above the mediocrity of the script. If you like dance, you might enjoy fast-forwarding to the dance sequences in this film.

COUNTRY STRONG

COUNTRY STRONG is a country musical drama with a weird cast. Gwyneth Paltrow is actually pretty good as the washed-up alcoholic singer trying to revive her career. Her acting carries much of the film, and her singing is more than passable. Tim McCraw as her husband/manager is also good, although it's odd that he's in a non-singing role in a musical.

The big problems with the film are the script, which is cliched and predictable, and Garrett Hedlund who plays the young lover and country singer. Strangely, he is not a country singer but has the most on camera time. He does not have the range as an actor to rise above the mediocre script.

It's a shame, a better script with the better cast members would have really raised this movie above the level of forgettable. The film barely got a release and almost no publicity.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

BURLESQUE

At one point while watching BURLESQUE, I stopped to think, which would be the worse version of hell, having to see this movie again, or having to see BABIES again?I'm going to have to go with BABIES as the worse hell.

Although everything about BURLESQUE was putrid, there were a couple of musical sequences that were watchable. In fact it's everything BUT the music that makes this movie a colossal misfire. Seriously, you get Christina Aguilera, who has a voice that can make the walls shake, and you wait until AN HOUR into the film to let her sing? She really can't dance for shit, and we have to watch her dance for an hour?

Then there's the plot point that they all lip sync except for our heroine, who wants to really sing. This is a major mistake in a movie because in a film musical, THEY ALL LIP SYNCH EVERYTHING. It only draws attention to the fact that they are lip synching in scenes where they are not supposed to be lip synching!

And the basic premise is just weird. We're supposed to believe that in present day, there's a burlesque house on Sunset Blvd? And it's popular? And men spend money to see women lip sync with their clothes on??? The movie should have either been a period piece, or been in Vegas, or both. And even then, they should have shown some naked women for the unfortunate hetero guys in the audience. It could have been the perfect sequel (or prequel) to SHOWGIRLS.

The movie could have been a good half-hour shorter by cutting out the so-bad-it's-cringe-inducing dialogue. And much of the cast is outright terrible, including all the male leads in the film, except of course for Stanley Tucci, who steals every moment he is in.

But there were a few decent musical numbers, including Cher's song, which was so good it was completely out of place with the rest of the film. But not enough to make me ever sit through this again.

Friday, February 04, 2011

THE KING'S SPEECH

THE KING'S SPEECH has quickly moved BLACK SWAN down a notch from my favorite film of the year. It's hard to compare them, as BLACK SWAN is an art film with no real plot, and KING'S SPEECH is all plot and very straightforward. Yet at the same time, it's the most "Hollywood" film of the year.

I think the script and performances in in SPEECH were fantastic. The writing was strong, and the cast was excellent, although I kept expecting someone to call Derek Jacobi "Clau-Clau-Claudius," or to go looking for Prince Albert in the bathroom so they could say he was "in the can."

It's a very British film, and Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush gave Oscar-caliber performances. It will be interesting to see how many awards it takes, and whether that helps more Americans see it. Perhaps the only weak element in the film is the casting of Winston Churchill. It's always hard to play an icon, and the weakest choice is to do an impression. But every other element of the film was quite strong.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

I never thought that a documentary about the band RUSH would keep my attention, but this is a surprisingly good rock doc. It's nowhere near as good as last year's ANVIL, but it is a well made film. It never really occurred to me that the band had been around for so long with the original members intact. That's one part of what makes it interesting. The three performers also make for very interesting interviews as well. I really did not know much about the band members so it was certainly informative.

If there's anything wrong with the film, it's the lack of conflict. If this film is indeed accurate, this may be the most boring backstage life ever had by a major rock band. There were no fights and the three Canadians seemed to lead surprisingly straight lives while touring.

Nonetheless it's an interesting film.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

TRON : LEGACY

It would take a lot of time to list all the reasons that this movie sucked, more time than it is worth or I am willing to give it. But suffice it to say that there is a reason Disney had made sure the original is not available. It's not just because the original sucked, it's because after 25 years, the new movie has exactly the same problems as the original, plus all the problems inherent in 3D.

I never saw the original when it came out, even though I'm a complete geek. The reviews were terrible. That took away any desire to see it. I saw it on DVD a few years ago. Indeed, the reviews were correct.

I have to admit that when the first teaser trailer for the sequel came out, I thought they might have gotten it right this time. After all, the concept was kinda cool. But the execution on the original had no story and forgettable characters. Well, nothing has changed. The original was famous for visual effects that, at the time, were breathtaking (and are now laughable).

There's an inherent problem pacing almost the entire movie in the grid. The grid is interesting only in small doses. Otherwise, it's so limited visually that it gets boring fast.

The sequel's plot is terrible. Its needlessly complicated yet at the same time boring. Very little is clearly explained. And I don't understand why they would want two Jeff Bridges in the movie. Why would one of his programs look like him, and not all of them? Wouldn't it have been more interesting to have another actor play Clu?

There's very little reason to care about characters when they are computer programs who don't exist in real life. Who cares when they die? I certainly don't.

Then there's the 3D thing. At no time in the movie did I see anything that looked 3D. The image is so dark I could hardly tell who was in the shot half the time. Occasionally I noticed that some images did not converge properly and looked blurry. That's the closest I got to seeing 3D.

This movie is a colossal misfire. In 25 years we'll remember it for one thing. Visual effects that, at the time, were impressive, but will soon be dated.