Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Hobbit


The Hobbit was quite a surprise for me. Indeed I am thrilled that they sent out screener discs so that I did not have to watch it in the headache-inducing 3D or the 48 frame version. (Although I would be interested in seeing some clips in 48.) What surprised me is how much action they managed to fit into the film, and how that kept the film's three-hour running time at a comfortable length. I had expected that a lengthy film covering the first third of a brief children's book would be padded to an uncomfortable extent. But I am happily wrong, the film is quite entertaining.

The cast helps a lot; Martin Freeman is excellent as the young Bilbo Baggins, and all of the other returning cast members from the other Lord of the Ring movies are excellent, especially Ian McKellan as Gandolf. The sound design and music were very good as well. Some of the visual effects were astounding, especially the character animation for Gollum.

My to my surprise, I recommend the film!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty


Zero Dark Thirty comes from director Kathryn Bigelow, whose previous film The Hurt Locker may have won many accolades  but I did not like it very much (reviewed briefly here). I'm sorry to say I liked this film even less.

It's really a matter of character. I don't mean to say these characters do not show development. (They don't.) I mean they don't show character AT ALL. The main character, please, someone tell me one thing about her that I did not know before the movie began. Who is she? Where did she come from? Why is she obsessed with killing Bin Laden?

The movie also has tremendous pacing problems. The opening 30 minutes of the movie show extensive torture sequences in an attempt to gain information. The whole movie covers more than a decade of time, and it is really jumpy in its pacing. I really think the opening is a red herring. The movie is not at all about torture, even though all of the recent publicity has been about Senators complaining that it glorifies torture, followed by the CIA's bizarre backpedaling in which they admitted that there was torture but that it did not directly result in the capture of Bin Laden. All of this overreaction is the result of what could have been a five minute scene of torture.

Then there is the believability of the main character. When I asked my wife the actresses' name when she appeared at the beginning of the movie, I swear she said "Jessica Shit Stain." Obviously I misheard Jessica Chastain,  who was so good in The Help (reviewed briefly here). I can't blame her for not having a character to play here, she certainly does her best to bring the film above the lackluster script. But her character seems to have an endless supply of hair-care products and makeup even though she is in a war zone for (apparently) a decade, and that haircut would never last there. Watching the great documentary The Invisible War (review here) a few days before this didn't help. Comparing her to real women who had spent time in a war zone, she is nothing like them.

The final 30 minutes of the movie are the best, and it is essentially a completely different movie, which could have been entitled "Killing Bin Laden." Let's face it, how do you screw up that part of the movie? This was the easy part, and it's the only interesting part. Note that the characters are all new, are never introduced, and never given any character. But we all want to see UBL die, so we get excited.

Strangely, after the success of Hurt Locker, you would except a decent budget on this film, but it looked and sounded like a low budget film even though the reputed budget was $20-40M. Parts of the movie are so dark I could not see what was going on, including much of the final 30 minutes. Helicopter footage looked like it might have been CGI, perhaps deliberately underexposed to hide the phoniness? The end result is that it looks like a student film trying to pull off day for night.

I have loved every score Alexandre Despat had written, until I heard this one. There is very little music until the final sequence, but then suddenly we are hammered over the head with full melodrama, sounding much like it had been temped with Hans Zimmer.

The middle 90 minutes or so of the movie are the worst part. There is a recurring image of Chastian writing the number of days on the glass wall of her boss's office. I felt like this was happening in real time. (Also, if she wanted her boss to read it, she should have written the numbers backwards; would have been a nicer visual image to see his POV with the number written over her face. But I digress.) This whole movie is a mess.

I'm afraid I can't recommend this film.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph


Wreck-It Ralph is the second animated surprise of the week, following my earlier review of ParaNorman.  It's a clever idea, worthy of Pixar (even though it is a Disney release, John Lasseter exec produced). The casting is excellent, especially Jane Lynch and Alan Tudyk. It's got a nice moral and a happy ending, as one would expect (is that a spoiler?). The animation is very clever as it manages to pay homage to the 8-bit history it references while still remaining contemporary 3D for contemporary audiences. The story line has a lot of nice touches to it, a few of them were actually surprises to me, which is always nice.

Nice sound work by Gary Rydstrom, Dave Fluhr and Gary Rizzo.

I highly recommend the film for all ages!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

THE INVISIBLE WAR


THE INVISIBLE WAR is an extremely important documentary film that every American should see. It covers the difficult topic of sexual assault in the military. The film does an excellent job of exploring the history of women in the military and previous scandals such as Tailhook, while showing the horrifying statistics for women in the last decade. It's really shocking just how bad it is. And the government spokespeople represented in the film do not seem to make anything better.

The film is so good at explaining its case that after the Secretary of Defense saw the film, he changed the long-standing policies of the military to take decisions on prosecution out of the hands of the commanding officers, who had been notoriously protective of their own men. Since then, legislation has been passed which continues the move forward to allow victims a fair chance to be heard.

The film is extremely well-edited by my former classmate Doug Blush and my former student Derek Boonstra. The opening of the film is particularly effective. If there were any weakness in the film, it is that they interview a couple of men who were victims of sexual assault, even though that is very common as well. I'm guessing it was difficult to find men who were willing to go on camera.

The film has won numerous accolades, including the IDA award for best documentary feature and is on the short list for the Oscar. Please see this film.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom


Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson's new comic coming-of-age story (co-written with Roman Coppola). I was very pleasantly surprised by the film. Anderson has been hit-or-miss for me, with Fantastic Mr. Fox and Bottle Rocket as highlights, and Aquatic Life as an absolute low-light. I have mixed feelings about Tennenbaums, it's overrated in my opinion.

Probably the biggest valid complaint I hear about his movies, even the good ones, is that his characters tend to be caricatures and not well fleshed out. However, in a 90-minute comedy, I think it's OK that peripheral characters are somewhat cardboard. The important thing in this film is that the two main characters, two outcast 12 year-olds, have a believable love story. It's been a long time since I saw a child's love story presented so honestly on the screen (in spite of the fact that much of the film is farcical). And as my wife pointed out, kids tend to see adults as archetypes rather than individuals.

It is a bit unsatisfying that several big names are virtually unused in their parts. Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and even narrator Bob Balaban barely get screen time to justify their parts. The one adult who really brings a lot to his character is Bruce Willis, who tends to be at his best when giving subdued performances like this one. Ed Norton is perhaps a little too restrained throughout the film.

Also great use of music by Alexandre Desplat (and Benjamin Britten).

Nonetheless, this is one of the best films of the year that I have seen so far.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Anna Karenina


Anna Karenina  is a problematic story in that there are no sympathetic characters. All of the characters are sleazy at best, and revolting at worst. I had to be dragged into seeing yet another adaptation. The film opens by peeling back the fourth wall and engaging the actors entering their stage roles. I thought this was interesting, and then it became a theme in the film. Each scene the transition includes the actors leaving the stage and reentering new scenery. This was cleaver at first but quickly began stepping on its own feet as the self-reflexivity seemed to have no point other than to be clever.

Karenina herself goes though so many personal changes, it's not possible to bring it off believably in a two hour movie. At some point her flip-flops just come off as a crazy person and not someone I really care about. Keira Knightly is not a strong enough actress to pull it off. Some of the other roles fare better, particularly Jude Law as her husband.

I like movie adaptations that take chances; Ian McKellan's Richard III and Julie Taymor's Titus come to mind, but this film never rises above its source material. Tom Stoppard's screenplay is like reading the Cliff notes to the novel, there is no real substance to it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

ParaNorman



ParaNorman is a surprisingly good family film. I did not know what to expect going in to it, but it is quite an intelligent and moving film about a kid who sees dead people. There's a nice moral to the story, which makes it appropriate for kids, yet there is enough going on for adults to keep them interested too. There are ghosts, witches, zombies and monsters in the film, which some people might think is inappropriate for kids, but kids love to be scared, and in the end [SPOILER!] everything is explained in a way that will make kids feel fine.

The cast is fantastic, especially the child actors. The animation is also interesting; the film was shot stop-motion using a Canon 5D, but it does not look cheap at all, it's actually beautifully done.

There is one throw-away line at the end of the film that  [SPOILER!] reveals one of the characters to be gay. It's a silly joke; I think we are way past the point where it's funny to find out a character is gay, but it seems to have ticked off a lot of viewers who think mention of sexuality is inappropriate in a children's film. I don't think it's inappropriate. They don't mention sex at all; one of the characters mentions having a boyfriend. That's it. I'm not sure how that can get people upset. (The character, by the way, is a self-centered moron. That's more offensive than being gay.)

I do recommend this film highly, I think most people will like it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

CLOUD ATLAS


CLOUD ATLAS is a peculiar and unique film. Although I enjoyed watching it, I think the narrative structure was so confusing that it made it almost impossible to appreciate, as I spent an awful lot of time trying to figure out what was going on. In addition, the stunt casting of having each actor play six roles was far more distracting than it was helpful. I don't think anyone ever postulated that when people reincarnate, they keep the same looks as their previous life. Seeing Halle Berry in whiteface and a man dressed as a woman were particularly interruptive to the flow of the film. Some of the makeup looked like rubber masks (although some of it was also outstanding).

I look forward to an extended cut on BluRay as it is likely that would answer a lot of my questions. I have not read the book, but I did notice in reviews that the book has a palindromic structure, in which each of the six stories begins in consecutive order but finishes backwards. (A mirror fugue, if you will, to keep the musical metaphor of the title piece, A Cloud Atlas Sextet.) I think this structure would have suited the film better, as all of the intercutting seemed forced, particularly at the end, where they felt the need to make all the stories climax together in an intercut frenzy. In fact this probably would have played better as a miniseries.

It's kind of hard to "spoil" the film with any plot reveals, but I did want to mention one bothersome moment. Someone shoots a dog. Both the dog and its owner are not integral to the story at all, and it's a particularly disturbing display of pointless violence. I'm sure the reason that it was placed in the script was to show what a bad guy the character is, but we already knew that as we had seen him kill and try to kill people. I almost turned the movie off at this point. I deliberately decided to wait a few days to write my review, as I thought that the complex story layers might make more sense as I went back to them in my head, but instead, I found myself bothered by this disturbing image more than I thought about anything else. If you are an animal lover, you may not want to watch this film.

The six stories vary drastically in their interest. I found the comic episode that takes place in current day to be the most interesting. Some of the others are less successful, particularly one spoken in some type of Pigeon English but is not subtitled. It's almost impossible to follow. However I still enjoyed the film as a whole.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS



RISE OF THE GUARDIANS is a great family film that is entertaining, funny, and moving. I'm not sure why this film has not done a lot better at the box office, as it is a great holiday film. They probably should have put the word "Christmas" in the title. The voice cast is all very good, especially Alec Baldwin as a bizarre form of Santa who appears to be from the Russian mob. The character animation is also excellent, with each character having its own style. I particularly liked Sandman, who doesn't talk, but is a memorable character nonetheless. The score by Alexandre Desplat, and and the sound design by Richard King and mix by Andy Nelson and Jim Bolt were also an important part of the success of the film. There's enough going on for adults that they will enjoy the film, but the heartwarming story is appropriate for kids as well.

Check it out while you can.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

All Beethoven, All the Time!


The Colorado Symphony Orchestra played a nice concert of Beethoven standards last night under popular guest conductor Douglas Boyd. It was also the "Parade of the Lights" night downtown, so the house had a pretty good crowd, which is always good to see.

The evening opened with the Overture to his only opera, Fidelio. Beethoven had a lot of problems with this opera, and especially the overture. Like many others, I prefer the overture titled Leonore #3, but this performance was nice. The orchestra for the evening seemed to be of a slightly scaled-down size from what one might expect.

The second piece and perhaps the highlight of the evening was the Piano Concerto #3 with guest Lise de la Salle (pictured above). I swear I heard some wrong notes in her playing, but her passion certainly came through in the music, especially in the second movement, which she began sotto voce, which was quite effective.

After another lengthy intermission, the final was the Symphony #6. Although I feel this is one of those pieces I could listen to an infinite number of times, I did get the feeling from the concert that these pieces had been overplayed. It would have been nice to include something less familiar to the audience but that's a tough call on a Beethoven-only night. There are a few other overtures but other than Egmont they are not very well known because they are not as interesting musically. Perhaps de la Salle could have played a movement from a lesser known piano piece as a encore. (She did not play an encore at all.)

Boyd introduced the Pastorale by saying that it was a North American premiere for an alternate ending to the second movement, but the difference was so slight as to be instantly forgettable. Overall the piece was well-played. Both the concerto and the symphony seemed to have rushed tempos throughout, perhaps just to be different, or perhaps trying to use Beethoven's own metronome markings, which many have assumed to be "speed limits" rather than actual suggestions. The only time in the evening I felt the orchestra breakdown was at the end of the last movement, which was unfortunately the end of the evening, ending on a bit of a down note. However, my wife and I still had a great time, and I always leave looking forward to our next concert. Unfortunately, that is not until February.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Impossible Movie

The Impossible Movie 

THE IMPOSSIBLE is the story of a family vacationing in Thailand during the 2004 Christmas tsunami. This is one of the most emotionally difficult films to watch that I have ever seen. The real family was Spanish, as is the writer and director of this film, but this is what I last year referred to as a "Hybrid Foreign Film." The film uses replaces the Spanish family with a British one and english speaking actors so that they can get better marquee value out of the names and a larger audience for the film.

They certainly get the most of the cast. Naomi Watts is amazing and will almost certainly be nominated for an Oscar. Ewan McGregor is also very good but his part is smaller and less demanding. There's a nice cameo by Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie's daughter), but the real star of the show is Tom Holland, the 16-year old actor who plays the oldest son in the family. It will be a travesty if he is not nominated for Best Actor in his first film appearance.

The film is definitely foreign in its style. There are long stretches with no dialog or music. In fact the tsunami hitting the island is told almost exclusively through sound design, until the end when music is added (and a flashback later in the film is told only through subjective sound design). The plot is not linear as one might expect in a Hollywood film. I will not reveal any spoilers but I will say that there are several surprises in the film that are very moving.

The makeup is amazing. Naomi Watts wears almost no makeup in the start of the film (let's see that happen in America) and then after she is injured in the tsunami, all of the makeup effects are completely believable  almost to the point where she is unrecognizable.

This film has a personal connection for me. In December of 2004, when the tsunami struck, I was in the hospital with a case of pneumonia so bad that it almost killed me. On December 24th, the day it hit, I was intubated, and would remain on life support for the next two weeks. Naomi Watts' character in the film is badly injured in the tsunami and needs medical attention badly through much of the film. There were a lot of moments watching her that I felt I was reliving the worst of my times in the hospital. There is something strangely therapeutic and cathartic about this.

Nonetheless I recommend this film to everyone, even though it can be very difficult to watch at times. It is one of the best films I have seen in years.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Argo Buy a Ticket

Argo Buy a Ticket

ARGO is a very entertaining film about a real-life attempt to save a group of six Americans who had avoided becoming hostages during the uprising in Iran in the late '70s. Ben Affleck does a nice job as the lead CIA officer heading the wacky plan to guide them out under the guise of a phony Hollywood movie production. I remember the actual hostage crisis well (it lasted well over a year), but I did not really know anything about this footnote to the events. Affleck does a great job directing this thriller. The last third of the film is primarily fictitious, but appropriate for a real movie about a real event of a phony movie being used to create real tension. Alan Arkin's character is quite funny, especially for those of us who have encountered real people like him, but is also completely fictitious. If you have not seen the film yet, I recommend it!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Zukerman and the Colorado Symphony

Pinchas Zukerman Conducted the Colorado Symphony this Weekend
Pinchas Zukerman returned to the Colorado Symphony this weekend for a concerto of very conservative standards by Vivaldi, Bruch and Mozart.

There's an old musician's joke, "Bach wrote thousands of works in his lifetime. Vivaldi wrote the same piece thousands of times." Aside from The Four Seasons, there is very little memorable in Vivadi's oeuvre, and the Concerto in Bb for Violin & Cello is no exception; it seems familiar as Vivaldi but is quickly forgotten as the last notes rings out in the hall. The performance was quite nice, featuring Zukerman conducting and performing, sharing the stage with his wife, cellist Amanda Forsyth and an appropriately small string section.

The next two pieces by Max Bruch featured the cello solo and Zukerman conducting. The Canzone was quite nice, I don't think I've heard it before, but following it up with the Adagio on Celtic Melodies was a bit of a letdown. The first half ended with a spirited performance of Mozart's Haffner Symphony (#35). In many ways this was the highlight of the night, my only criticism was that the ritardando that Zukerman conducted at the end of each movement was unnecessary and not really period-appropriate.

After intermission, Zukerman performed and conducted the Mozart Violin Concerto #5 in A. It was a nice performance, but I can't help but wish that the program were not so traditionalist. He did manage to fill the house nicely at a time when Classical music is in danger, so it's hard to argue with the program, but there are better choices from Bruch or Dvorak, for instance, to balance the program while still remaining traditional.

As always, the orchestra performed beautifully (except in the last piece, the first horn kept cracking). As mentioned during the introduction, BBC Music magazine listed the Colorado Symphony as one of the 20 "Must See" musical performances when visiting North America, which is high praise.


The Happy Couple

Friday, November 16, 2012

Van Gogh? Go! GO!

Vincent van Gogh, 
Landscape under a stormy sky, 1889.
Oil on canvas. Fondation Socindec, 
Courtesy Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Martigny (Suisse).

70 Van Gogh originals from 60 museums in 40 countries, plus another 20 pieces by contemporaries and influencers. Seven years in the making from curator Timothy Standring (taking almost as long as Van Gogh's entire career). This may be one of the most comprehensive showings of Van Gogh's work in our lifetime. It's a little early for Thanksgiving, but I'm extraordinarily thankful that I was able to see this non-traveling show. That's right, if you want to see this, you have to come to Denver within the next few months. 

Give yourself a couple of hours to go through. It was sold out this afternoon, and fairly crowded (although nowhere near as jam-packed as any major show at LACMA). The layout is nice, following his career from beginning to end, juxtaposing his paintings with those of painters who influenced him (Dutch masters early on, the French Impressionists later), as well as contemporaries, to show how far ahead of his time he was. 

A number of interesting things emerge. He was pretty much self taught as an artist. His style was all over the place, along with his media, depending on where he was, what his subject was, how much money he had, how comfortable he was, and his own mental health. I think if you scrambled his paintings and tried to guess what order they were painted in,  it would be impossible to get them correct. 

The final room's paintings from the last years of his life are stunning. Pace yourself with enough time to view these carefully. 

Only a couple of minor negatives; one is that the lighting is not always great. I prefer natural light and there is none in any room. Another was that there was one guard who was a little over-vigilant about enforcing the "you must stay 18" away from the paintings at all times" (even when they were protected by glass).

It's an amazing exhibit, and one worth seeing if you get the time. None of the photos do justice to the actual paintings. One of my favorites is below. In person, the colors are so bright I thought there was a backlight behind the painting illuminating it. 




Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lang Lang

Lang Lang playing Air Piano 

Having seen Lang Lang twice before, I was pleasantly surprised by his performance Friday night at the Colorado Symphony. You can read my previous (mostly negative) reviews here:

http://bondelev.blogspot.com/2008/07/lang-lang.html
http://bondelev.blogspot.com/2008/02/grammys.html

The evening opened with an absolutely fantastic performance of Stravinsky's Petrouchka Suite. This is a great orchestral showpiece and the orchestra lived up to its call. There are a number of crazy difficult parts for individual performers, including principal trumpet Justin Bartels. The famous solo was taken at quite a fast temp, but he played it as fluidly as I have ever heard it. Even the orchestral piano part is difficult and that was played flawlessly as well. Conductor Scott O'Neil injected great emotion into the piece. It's the first time I've heard this piece live, and it was great to hear all of Stravinsky's orchestrational details so crisply performed.

Emotion is Lang Lang's middle name. He stepped out onto the stage wearing a leather tuxedo and immediately threw his arms straight up into the air as though he were an Olympic gymnast who had just pegged a landing. The ultimate hambone, I had perviously been let down by the sloppiness of his performances at the Hollywood Bowl on the same piece (Tchaikovsky #1) and at the Grammys when he was outplayed by Herbie Hancock on Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. But tonight he played extremely well, apparently he decided to leave his mittens at home and play with all the fingers.

Some of his temp changes were a little crazy; the B theme in the slow movement sounded like someone had set the LP to 78 rpm instead of 33 1/3. But he played beautifully, which great interpretation, and a level of technical perfection that showed he had really been working on the piece. As an encore he played a Chopin Waltz, also at crazy tempos, but the crowd went wild. It was good to see a full house at the Symphony, and Lang Lang did seem very appreciative of the orchestra.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Sleeping Beauty (plus the CSO)



The Colorado Ballet gave a wonderful performance of SLEEPING BEAUTY tonight, although the intermissions were interminable and made the whole evening close to three hours long. It's not Tchaikovsky's best work; the third act is unnecessary and not very memorable. But there was some phenomenal dancing on the stage and the audience was enthralled.

Two weeks ago we saw the CSO perform Rimsky-Korsakov but I forgot to review it as I had my own recital I was preparing for and had guests in town. I am always amazed at how good the Colorado Symphony is, and Scheherezade SCHEHERAZADE is a great orchestral showpiece, featuring the concert-mistress Yumi Hwang-Williams. Also on the program was another great showpiece by Richard Strauss, Til Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, one of my favorite pieces. The horn section blew their asses off. It was a great night. The lowlight of the evening was the Strauss Horn Concerto #2. Not a favorite piece, although it was played quite well by the principal horn Michael Thornton. Carlos Miguel Prieto conducted well, especially on the R-K.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Ray Zepeda Live in Denver - The Complete Concert

Here's the complete playlist, performed as in concert:

Ray Zepeda Live in Denver - The Complete Concert


Ray Zepeda Live in Denver - The Complete Concert
Featuring compositions by Ray Zepeda and David Bondelevitch
with Ray Zepda (alto, tenor, and soprano sax), Drew Morell (piano & bass), Ron Bland (bass), Todd Reid (Drums), David Bondelevitch (percussion), and Sean McGowan (guitar).

Sunday, September 30, 2012

André Watts and the CSO

André Watts joined the Colorado Symphony Orchestra last night under conductor Gilbert Varga. The concert only had two pieces but dragged on very long, no thanks to another interminable intermission. Also the pacing of the two pieces was odd. The first half was an amazing performance of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony (#6), which is always a crowd pleaser, and was wonderfully performed here as an orchestral showpiece. This was our first concert of the (abbreviated) year, and it's always a surprise to me how good this orchestra is. Every section stood out at some point.  I'm sorry the orchestra is doing fewer concerts this year, but I am just glad to see that they are still alive.


Varga was an entertaining conductor. At one point in the Pathétique  it looked like he was trying to pick a fight with the first violins. Later it appeared as though he stopped playing entirely. It was also nice to see that the orchestra has hired a woman has principal trombone (albeit on an interim basis). And that The Most Interesting Man in the World is now playing in the bass section.


Opening with a huge work like the Pathétique meant that almost anything in the second half would be a letdown. And it was. Watts played very well on the Brahms Second Piano Concerto (I had never noticed how difficult it was until seeing it played in person), but this is not a show-stopper. They would have been much better off flipping the order of the program. I'm sure they thought that Watts was the draw, and they were afraid people would go home at the intermission, but instead the reverse was true. The Brahms does not quite have the same memorable themes as the Tchaikovsky, and instead, being a long four movements, people exited the hall after each movement. Although to be fair, the hall had a pretty good (but not great) turnout for opening weekend.

Strangely the orchestra had a harder time with this than they did with the Pathétique. The horns were out of tune most of the first movement (did they tune after intermission?) and there were a few wrong notes here and there.

But my biggest complaint is the length of the intermission. It was at least 20 minutes between the two pieces. This really kills the pacing no matter how brilliant the performances are. Please fix this. It has become a very common complaint.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ray Zepeda Concert

Please click on the poster for a larger version
I am very proud to announce  a faculty recital featuring myself and our special guest, my good friend of three decades, Ray Zepeda!

THURSDAY OCT. 4TH 7:30PM 
KING CENTER RECITAL HALL
Kenneth King Center Box Office 
http://www.ahec.edu/kingcenter
For Map or directions, click here

A veteran of the Los Angeles jazz, reggae, punk, pop, and house DJ scene, Ray Zepeda has performed with Lou Rawls, Russ Ferrante (Yellowjackets), John Patitucci (Chick Corea), Joe La Barbera (Bill Evans Trio), Barbara Morrison, Thelma Jones, Carl Saunders, Dave Tull (Chuck Mangione/ Michael Buble), Lanny Morgan (Supersax/ Natalie Cole), Mike Bennett, Darek Oles (Dianne Reeves, Brad Mehldau), Johnny Blas, and DJs Mikie Smithers, Jim Carson, Serafin, and many others.

This concert will celebrate music from Ray’s new CD Step by Step, as well as originals by Asst. Professor David Bondelevitch, who will be performing on percussion. The music from Step by Step is also being released as a DVD-Audio in 5.1 channel surround sound! Both the CD and DVD were engineered by Bondelevitch. 

The concert will also feature three other MEIS faculty members: Drew Morell on piano, Ron Bland on bass, and Todd Reid on drums. 



FREE PARKING in the King Center parking lot. Be sure to pick up a pass when you enter the theater!

$5 CU Denver Students
$7 Students from other schools and Alumni 
$12 General Admission 


Sunday, August 05, 2012

Silver Oak Finale at Bravo Vail

The Bravo Vail Valley Music Festival finished their Silver Oak Series of new and old music on Thursday. Night one had been wonderful, but night two was mixed. As it turned out, night three was weak as well. The programming for the last two nights was off, and the final night was marred by a cancellation. The night had intended to feature two string quartets again, but one of the violinists had to leave town for the birth of his baby (best wishes to them), which was great news for him, but a big letdown for the audience.

The feature of the night was a new piece by Steven Mackey. Once again, I do not understand the programming. Mackey's new, long, and dissonant piece for electric guitar and string quartet OPENED the evening, rather than closing it. Hey, when you have a special guest, put him at the end of the program. The piece was not well-liked by the audience. The highlight was when an audience member broke a wine glass loudly, and the musicians broke up laughing. The first section of the piece worked quite well, with a nice ostinato that kept things moving forward. But the piece was just too long and serious for an opener. Most of the audience is not there to hear the new music. You have to guide them into it.

A perfect example of this would be the second piece on the program. It was an homage to an elderly blues singer, interpreted through string quartet (also by Mackey). This brief piece would have been the perfect overture for the evening. It was enjoyed by all and would have made a nice transition from tonal to dissonant.

Most of the remainder of the evening was cancelled. A Barber String Quartet Golijov's Nonet for Double String Quartet and Bass, and Schubert's String Quartet were all dumped from the program. This would have been a long program anyway. They were replaced with the Calder Quartet performing Mozart's Dissonant Quartet. A nice last minute replacement, and very well liked by the audience.

After a long intermission, the group returned to perform Philip Glass's American Four Seasons. I can't stand Philip Glass. There are so many talented contemporary composers, most of them unknown, who could have been featured, but instead we get the one "rock star" of the concert hall over and over. And over. And over. So we left.

I still have high hopes that this series can turn itself around next year. Programming is everything. Take a note from night one's successes (short sets of short pieces, intermingling all styles of music) and from the failures of the next two nights (long dissonant pieces early in the of the program, and anti-climactic second halves). Create a solid theme for the evening, warm the audience up, give them some wine, and bring out a guest for the second half. It's not rocket science.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Gabriel Kahane at Vail


Gabriel Kahane was the guest of honor last night.


Apologies for all the typos. Blogger has yet to work on a good interface for the iPad. 

Night one of the Bravo Vail new series was a stunning success (see my previous post)  but last night was a complete cluster. You know there's a problem when the guest of honor announces that the first half of the evening will be completely different than what is on the program, then spends ten minutes talking about what is going to happen, including announcing that he is going to talk. 

Gabriel Kahane, conductor Jeffrey Kahane's son was the guest, in a series designed to mingle new and old music. It's a great concept, but Kahane was a terrible choice.  First off, old the big name guest for the second half of the program. Get people interested with some good music in the first half, then they will stay for the second. The whole program was very long. 

It began with Kahane singing one of Franz Schubert's songs. It was a nice start, but Kahane's pop head voice could not be more poorly suited to the music. Let a real classical singer handle this. He followed this with an introduction for the Calder Quartet to perform the Ades Arcadiana for String Quartet. Then one of the violinists from the quartet spoke at length about the Ades. A brief piano piece had been performed the previous night to much success, but this lengthy seven-movement mostly atonal piece was a complete bust with the audience. At least half of them left at the break, and I think this piece was a big part of that. Had this piece been dropped form the program, it would behave been a reasonable length. 

Kane then returned to the songs, intermingling Schubert with several of Charles Ives song,s including my favorite of the evening, "Tom Sails Away." it would have made more sense to sing these all together rather than interrupting with the Ades quartet. And again, these songs cry out for a lyric baritone or tenor.  

Kahane then performed a lengthy original work, Come on all you Ghosts based on the interesting poems of Matthew Zapruder. Obviously his folk-sounding voice fit this music better, but it was not a crowd-pleaser. This should have been the final piece of the night, keeping his fans in the audience until the end of the evening. 

After a very lengthy intermission (where the was not nearly enough food) the second half of the program featured a set of music for four hands.  This set was by far the best part of the evening, much like the previous night, but most of the audience missed it because they had left. But a groups of short pieces by Ligeti, Bach, and Wolfgang Rihm were wonderfully played. 

In another strange programming turn, the concert finished with Schumann's Quintet in E flat, performed by a different quartet, the Jasper, whom we heard on a previous night.  This was the biggest crowd pleaser of the evening, although I'm not us why it was in this program, why it was last, or why it was a different quartet playing it.  

I hope to tonight's concert will be much better programmed. Tonight features a new piece by Steven Mackey for electric guitar and string quartet. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Silver Oak Series at Vail

Anne-Marie McDermott plays at the Bravo Vail festival

The Vail festival took things up a notch with a new series that programs old and new works in short sets, played together as one long piece. The music spans 500 years.  Ms. McDermott opened with a nice set of Bach, Chopin, and Thomas Ades. For such an emotional performer, she was surprisingly dry on the Bach, but her performance of the Ades "First Mazurka" was excellent. She also played the last set of the evening, a commissioned piece by Clarice Assad which was another Mazurka. The piece was modern but quite comically included a recurring "ice cream truck" theme that had apparently driven the composer crazy while trying to write. This was followed by the worst piece on the program, John Adams' vanilla and forgettable "China Gates," which was quickly redeemed by Debussy to complete the evening. 

However, the highlights of the evening were the sets perforemed by two other pianists. Steven Prutsman played the best set in my opinion, with five disparate pieces played together. I did not look too closely at the program before the performance, but if I had, I would have wondered how these pieces would work together. Original score from the movie DIVA (a favorite film of mine, with great music) was followed by Couperin, then immediately by jazz pianist Bill Evans', then into Scriabin, finished with a piano adaptation of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's score to FAREWELL MOON. the entire performance was breathtaking, and the venue's beauty (with the mountains visible in the windows behind the sage) only added to the effect. 

I have often wondered why jazz and classical music are not performed together more often.  I'm very happy to see this festival moving forward. The event was sold out, and included wine tasting and appetizers. 

The other great set was performed by Bosnian pianist Pedja Muzijevic. He began with Liszt, and then moved to Morton Feldman's "Intermission 1."  He then leaped back in time almost 250 years to a Scarlatti sonata, then back to the near present with a "Pastorale" from George Crumb, which makes excellent use of the sostenuto (middle) pedal on the piano, creating a ghostly effect. H ecompleted his set with a piece I love, Debussy's Prelude "What the West Wind Saw," which I used in one of my student films at USC. 

I am really looking forward  to tonight's concert featuring Gabriel Kahane. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jasper String Quartet at Edwards

The Jasper String Quartet performed at Edwards last night as part of the Bravo Vail Music Festival. 

This was one of the free concerts, so it was short and sweet, hit a few highlights, and was in a very casual setting that was comfortable for families and children.  Due to my own stupidity, we arrived late and missed the first two pieces on the program, but heard the final three. they played the Barber Adagio as beautifully as I have ever heard it, followed by excerpts from Mendelssohn and Beethoven.  The venue is gorgeous, although the acoustics were not perfect, but considering it was a family-friendly (and free) concert, I think it would be tough to find a better location. 

Tonight begins the series we are most interested in, a series of concerts featuring old and new music, with special guests. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Opus One at Vail

This  year my wife and I decided to focus on chamber music at the Bravo Vail Music Festival. our first concert featured the Opus One chamber group comprised of a piano quartet. Pianist Anne-Marie McDermitt is also the artistic director for the festival and is very entertaining to watch; her facial histrionics rival anyone. The group performed the Mendelssohn Trio in C Minor and the Brahms Quartet #1. Both pieces do not bear the marks of their composers as much as one would expect.

Mendelssohn was more Romantic than I would have expected.  the trio played well, although the violinist seemed to struggle with intonation. The cello, played by Peter Wiley, had a beautiful tone and balanced nicely. The Brahms lacked the signature harmonic surprises but was still entailing nonetheless and had a great finale. Much to my surprise the viola added a lot. Viola is often the instrument that is on the butt end of many a joke, but the performance here by Peter Tenenbom really enriched the quartet.

Tonight, string quartets, more by Mendelssohn, and Beethoven, Smetena, and Barber. The next three nights are a new series mixing traditional works with contemporary ones. I am very excited to hear those.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Flying United Airlines

Yesterday I had one of my worst travel experiences. My wife and I had made plans to travel to Traverse City, Michigan to be with her grandmother for her 99th birthday. We were traveling with our dog Riley.

We booked the only direct flight from Denver to Traverse City, which happens to be on United. My wife has flown United forever anyway, and is an Elite traveller because she flies home to visit her family every few months, so when we got married I switched to United as my primary carrier as well. We both have many miles built up. Previously I've flown every major US airline, and they all suck. They also all change, so if you switch because you think one is better, you are likely to find that it will be much worse in a year or two.

Because United knows they have no competition on this route, it is a very expensive flight, but usually it is worth it because it save the hassle of changing planes in another city and wasting the whole day waiting on a layover.

Our flight was scheduled to take off at 5:30 PM and at 5:30 it was still scheduled to be on time even though people were still deplaning from the previous flight. United has an extensive updating system, more about that later.

We started boarding not too long after that, so I figured we would still be OK. The plane was a tiny Embraer RJ145. We've flown this plane before, more than once, and never had problems.

Time passes, and passes, and about an hour after takeoff time, the pilot comes out to give us the bad news. It turns out that we are not allowed to takeoff because the plane is overweight. I look around the plane, thinking "how can that be possible?" There were 7 unoccupied seats on a plane that holds 50. And of the 43 people on the plane, 9 were children!


Then the pilot finishes his sentence. "We are overweight because we have too much fuel on the plane." OK, I know planes carry extra fuel in case they get diverted or have to wait to land, but I can't help thinking "on this tiny plane, with empty seats and lots of children, how the heck are we overweight?"


The pilot explains that we have to wait for a truck to come and de-fuel us so we can take off. More time passes. The dog, sitting under my seat, is starting to get pissed off. His tranquilizers are wearing off. Traveling with a dog has become a huge pain in the ass. The cost is like buying an extra ticket, plus you need a vet's letter clearing him before you fly. Plus, no matter how large the plane, they limit the number of pets allowed on the flight. This plane allows only one dog. 



This type of delay had happened to me once before on a large jet. It was the holidays and the weather was getting worse, so in that case the pilot informed us they had been given permission to burn off the fuel, and he turned on the jet engines while we were grounded and we took off a few minutes later.



But yesterday, the pilot appeared again, and tells us that there is no de-fueling truck available. OK, I think, they must not be able to burn off the fuel on this type of plane because it is more efficient and it will take too long. (Later the gate agent told me that the first request was that they just burn off the fuel and that the request was denied.) I'm guessing there is a fine for doing it, as it is a lot of pollution that could have been avoided with proper planning. 


So then the pilot drops the bomb. They are going to have to lose the weight by having 10 people – one-quarter of the passengers – leave the plane. Remember, there's only one flight per day to Traverse City, so this is not an easy change for anyone. He tells us that volunteers will get $500 in travel vouchers (I've used these before, they are a royal pain in the ass) plus hotel and meal vouchers for the night. This is not appealing to us. 


I start doing the math in my head. When they remove people, they are also counting on removing their luggage. Removing 10 people removed at least 2000 pounds (and probably more), an entire ton of fuel. How in god's name could they be so far off in their estimates? There is no scenario in which that would have been the correct amount of fuel. If there had been a full flight, or even more adults instead of children, they would have been even more overweight. They would have to have a flight that was half full to make the weight restriction, but then you would be hauling around another extra ton of fuel, making the flight even more inefficient. And why wasn't there a de-fueling truck? If they had simply burned off the fuel in the first place, they would not be forcing people off the plane and we would have been close to on time. 

A woman comes aboard and tells us that people will be chosen by their time of check in to be removed from the plane. We checked in 24 hours early on-line, so I'm thinking, there's no way it will be us. But there's a catch. Anyone traveling with children will be allowed to stay on the plane. I had started counting children as they were entering the plane because I realized there were an awful lot of them and wondered how loud the flight would get. A quarter of the plane was children. Another quarter were probably adults traveling. And another quarter are being asked to leave the plane. Suddenly I start thinking our chances are not too good.

They start calling out names and about half the people they call have children. Finally eight people are removed, and they get to us. I try to explain how difficult it will be to rebook because of the dog, but she tells us it will be easy and will take about three minutes to rebook, as we can always fly through another city.

My cell phone has been ringing off the hook. United's automated updates began after we had boarded the plane to tell me that the flight has been delayed. Every time it is delayed a few more minutes I get another call (and an email) telling me so. One of them told me it was being delayed less and was being moved up, then while I was listening to the voice mail another one came in telling me it had been delayed even more. I got 13 phone calls about this. All of them came after we had boarded the plane. Half of them came after we were removed from the plane. I have since turned off phone notifications, but you would think United would know when the plane has been boarded and stop sending updates. Or send at least one update before the plane has been boarded, since it was clear at the airport that the flight would be delayed.

It is now about 7:00, so we leave the plane and talk to the ground crew about our luggage. He tells us it will be pulled off the plane and to go to carousel 15 to pick it up. I ask how long it will be and he says "soon," avoiding the question. I ask, "About an hour?" he says probably.

Because of the bizarre timing of the flight arriving so late in Traverse City, we booked a hotel so we could rest before driving to my in-laws' cabin. I call the hotel. Thankfully we were able to book for the next night, but we had missed the 24-hour cancellation window, so we are being charged for a room we could not use.

We go to the gate and wait for our new flight plans. The gate agent says it will only take a few minutes. The first person in line asks if he can fly through another city. The agent says "there are no other available seats tonight to anywhere." This completely contradicted what the woman on the plane had told us. People are really starting to get pissed. And the gate is backed up with several other flights that have been delayed, and there is only one agent to help us. And, apparently, there is some computer problem in changing our tickets because the flight is listed as having taken off even though it hasn't. It took 45 minutes for the first person in line to get his tickets.

It took over an hour to get our tickets. We check again about our luggage and the same guy tells us the same thing, go to carousel 15. We do. Our luggage is not there yet. It is now almost 8:30, three hours after or flight was supposed to leave. Everyone is cranky. They put out a search for our luggage. Amazingly, it shows up a few minutes later. By the time we got home, we had wasted 6 hours dealing with this. I feel worst for our dog, who will have to go through all this again tomorrow. He has to be sedated, forced through security, and shoved under a seat with no explanation YET AGAIN two days in a row. I am really not happy about this.

Perhaps the only consolation is that the flight arrived almost three hours late, at 1AM, which means it would have been a nightmare of a different type if we had stayed on the plane.

If they had simply burned off the fuel, we would have left a few minutes late.  But I'm guessing some bean counter decided that giving out $5000 in travel vouchers, $1000 in hotel rooms, and $300 in meal vouchers was easier than paying a fine for burning off fuel. They neglected to think about how much damage they had done to their own flyers. My wife is looking in to switching to American if they will accept her Elite status and miles. And I doubt any of the other people dumped from the plane will fly United again unless they have to. 

This entire episode was frustrating on way too many levels. We were lied to repeatedly. We were not able to rebook through another city. Re-ticketing took much, much longer than they told us. Our luggage was not ready for pickup when they told us. The flight updates were pointless and annoying. There were not enough gate agents to rebook us efficiently. We threw money away on a hotel room we could not use. The whole experience was terrible.

And today, we prepare to go through the whole thing again.

UPDATE:
Tonight's flight is different, it was scheduled two hours later than last night's. We just got notified that it has been delayed at least two hours because the incoming plane is late. This means we will get to Traverse City at 1AM at the earliest.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

DR. BRONNER'S MAGIC SOAPBOX

DR. BRONNER'S MAGIC SOAPBOX, like CRUMB, is one of those rare documentaries that would never be believable as a fiction film, but it is indeed a true story that happens to be very unpredictable. The film is a few years old but I finally got around to seeing it on Netflix.

You have probably used his soap, which comes in the recognizable container with bright labels and with a superfluous amount of tiny writing, as though etched by a paranoid schizophrenic. I never bothered to read the notes, and was quite surprised to find out that it discusses a crazy religion that "Dr." Bronner created. (Although a chemist, he never got a degree.)

This is a movie that is better to watch knowing very little than knowing more, as the surprises are half the interest. Suffice it to say that he is an incredibly complex character who is very interesting. Half of what he says is brilliant, the other half is crazy, but even the crazy stuff makes you think.

The film is not perfect; there are editorial problems that are both pacing and structural, but overall it is a good film.

Watch it if you get the chance.

Monday, July 09, 2012

CSO PLAYS JOHN WILLIAMS


A rainbow finally appeared after heavy rains delayed the start of last night's Colorado Symphony Orchestra concert at Red Rocks, one of the most beautiful outdoor venues in the country. (Sorry, as much as I love the Hollywood Bowl, we have a much better view). The concert was an homage to John Williams and music of the movies. The concert was delayed 45 minutes due to the huge downpour (which we spent sitting in the car, then eating dinner in the restaurant). Once it cleared, it was a gorgeous evening in the mountains.

I've heard all this music many times before, but it is still a thrill to hear much of the Star Wars music played live. They did one goofy thing of having people in costumes parade across the stage while the orchestra was playing. As goofy as it was, I still got chills when Darth Vader walked out to the Empire March. The girl in the teddy bear outfit pretending to be an Ewok should have been shot on sight, though. At least Jar-Jar did not make an appearance.

It was a fun evening, with an excellent crowd, which makes me wonder why this is not a weekly occurrence here as it is at the Hollywood Bowl. In Los Angeles, they have at least three Classical concerts a week at the Bowl during the summer, in Denver, we have only one the whole summer? Can't we do better than this?

Friday, July 06, 2012

MAN ON WIRE


Finally got around to watching MAN ON WIRE, a great documentary that won numerous awards (including the Oscar) four years ago. The film is about a man who decided to illegally run a cable between the Twin Towers and walk across. The movie has a peculiar feel to it knowing that the towers are gone forever (something that is never mentioned in the movie).

It could easily be remade into a Hollywood action film, that's how tense the entire plot is. The film is not without flaws, though, the music choices are too on-the-nose (sneaking around at night get's Greig's pizzicato basses, Satie's Gympnopedie is used yet again, and one lengthy section uses a cue by Michael Nyman that sounds like an earlier score of his).  And there are excessive reenactments, to the point that it was hard to tell what was real.

Nonetheless it's a fascinating story and worth watching.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The People v. George Lucas



Finally got around to watching the fun documentary The People v. George Lucas on Netflix; totally worth the time spent watching it. It addresses all the issues with the recuts and re-releases, as well as the problems with the prequels (Jar-Jar, mitochlorians, and general suckage).

There are lots of great interviews, and lots of shots from fan footage, which help make the case that these films are owned by the viewers as much as the creator. Definitely worth viewing if you are a fan of the original trilogy!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Kern Plays Grieg


Olga Kern returned to the CSO this weekend, this time to play the Grieg piano concerto under conductor Peter Oundjian. The concert opened with the crowd-pleasing Russlan and Ludmilla Overture of Glinka. As always, the orchestra played well, and Oundjian conducted quite nicely. There was quite a nice house for a Sunday matinee, undoubtedly there to hear Ms. Kern.

She joined the stage to perform the standard Grieg Concerto. Although she is known for her performances of the Rachmaninov concerti, it is always a pleasure to hear her play. She held back a bit on the opening of the first movement. To be fair, this piece is so overplayed, it's tough to bring something new to it. Without a doubt, the highlight of the piece was her performance of the second movement, which was beautiful and moving. You can really tell when a performer is enjoying her work, it comes through in the playing.  I will always look forward to seeing her perform. My wife and I are particular fans of Olga's playing; my previous reviews of her can be read here. She played a nice encore of the Flight of the Bumblebee (Rimsky-Korsakov). If anything, she played it too fast, robbing some sections of musicality, but hey, that's why people play that piece.

I was not that excited to see the Shostakovich Symphony #11 on the program. His orchestral works can be very dry and intellectual, although the fifth and the tenth have enough power in them to be enjoyable even to the casual listener. I was quite surprised to hear how wonderful a piece it is when performed live. The movements are all connected and play together as one hour-long piece. It started off as an elegy, but lead to a number of moving climaxes, driven by creative use of percussion.

There is a good amount of dissonance in the piece, but no so much that the audience was turned off. (I was surprised to see that most of the audience remained after Ms. Kern left before the intermission, even knowing the long piece was ahead, and that they rose to their feet at the end of the symphony.) It turned out to be the highlight of the afternoon, even eclipsing Ms. Kern. I think that the conductor is a good possible choice as permanent conductor. This is the third time I have seen him conduct, the first reviews can be seen here. This is the second year there has been no principal conductor for the group. With their recent economic problems apparently solved, I think the next step is to find a full-time conductor for the orchestra.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Colorado Symphony with Carneiro and Gerhardt

Alban Gerhardt joined the CSO last night for a peculiar program that ran quite long. Joana Carneiro conducted the evening.

I did not know any of the four pieces on the program, which is rare. I enjoy finding concerts that include pieces that are new to me, but this program seemed a little slapdash. It opened with a piece by Debussy, the Petite Suite. I realized why I don't know this piece, it was written for piano and orchestrated (rather boringly) by someone else. Hard to imagine that if Debussy had adapted the piece himself that it would be this pedantic. I kept thinking how much more interesting the lines would be if they were for solo instruments, rather than always in the string sections. The piece did not show much of Debussy's groundbreaking style other than the use of a whole-tone scale harmonically.

Second on the program was the first of two cello features, Mariel by Argentinian-born composer Osvaldo Golijov. Golijov is the son of Russian emigrees, and his music sounds like it. The piece was completed in 2007 but has strong influences from the Russian Romantics.

The second cello feature was the Variations on a Rococo Theme by a real Russian Romantic, Tchaikovsky. Ironically this piece is more Classical than Romantic, but it did show the incredible range of the soloist, Alban Gerhardt.

After an extremely long intermission, the orchestra finally reassembled for yet another Russian piece, the Symphonic Dances of Rachmaninoff. Until this point, I had been underwhelmed by conductor Joana Careiro. She had done a lot of mirror conducting in the first half of the program, rarely expressing dynamics or interpretation, but she finally expressed some enthusiasm while conducting this showpiece. The orchestra sounded great here, and it was a nice way to cap the evening. But the program was odd and long. The Debussy really didn't fit at all with the other three Russian-influenced works. (Although there were a few moments in the Rachmaninov that harmonically fit into Debussy's language.) It might have been better to drop it from the program altogether.

But I still enjoy my nights out with the CSO. It had been a while since our last concert, and we have three more before the end of the season.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

IDES OF MARCH



IDES OF MARCH was a complete letdown after watching MARGIN CALL (click for review)  the night before. MARGIN did not win the Spirit for original screenplay as I had hoped (that went to 50/50, which I have not viewed yet), but it did win the Robert Altman award for ensemble cast.  IDES is nominated for the Oscar for adapted screenplay, and I have liked Clooney's directorial work before, and it had a great cast, so I had high hopes for it.

Strangely, the writing is the weakest thing in the movie, most notably the character played by Evan Rachel Wood (who does not help things by giving a very flat performance). I'm not going to discuss the plot much more because what little there is all depends on one soap-opera twist. MARGIN was a smart script that relied on the audience to really care about the economics and the politics of the situation. IDES go straight for the low-brow in its storyline. A good cast is wasted here.

Quite the letdown.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

MARGIN CALL



MARGIN CALL is unquestionably one of the best films of the year, yet no one has heard of it. The film is nominated for two Spirit awards tonight, including best first feature, and one Oscar nomination tomorrow for original screenplay. I hope it does well, it is one of the smartest movies I've seen in a long time, with an absolutely fantastic cast: Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Simon Baker, Stanley Tucci... even Demi Moore is quite good. I have no idea how this film flew under the radar. The cinematography and sound are quite good as well, although the screener disc seemed to have some color timing issues.

The writing reminded me of David Mamet, but in a good way, and the subject is incredibly important, the events leading up to the banking meltdown. Ironically, this is probably what turned off audiences, you must have a rudimentary understanding of the mortgage collapse to understand the film. Also it is an extremely talky film, and much of the talk is about numbers.

But I highly recommend the film, which can be found at Redbox or Netflix DVD.

Friday, February 24, 2012

HARRY POTTER 7



HARRY POTTER 7 is the last in a very, very long series of children's films about witches or some such thing. I really don't remember most of the films, in fact, I'm not even sure I saw all of them (although I think I did). The film really ought to come with a recap at the beginning to remind us old farts who the characters are and what the hell is going on. Also, as with the last film, the cinematography is incredibly dark and it's hard to see what they are doing.

J.K. Rowling does know how to write a good story, even though I don't think there is a single element in the series that is original, but the way she handles them is quite good. Most of the first half of this film is very well-paced (after a couple of long expository dialogue scenes), but the second half seemed interminable. At some point I really stopped caring whether or not they killed off Harry as long as they finished the frigging movie.

Well, at least the series is finally over.