Friday, December 31, 2010

NYE with the CSO

Happy New Year to everyone! We celebrated by going to the Colorado Symphony's annual New Year's Eve concert. It was fun, as always, with a few changes to their typical program.

The opener was a waltz by Ernő Dohnányi from The Veil of Perretti. I was hoping it was from later in his career, which was more interesting, but this is clearly a Strauss knock-off. This was followed by the orchestral version of the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody #2, which is not my favorite Liszt. At this point I was a little annoying by Scott O'Neill's conduction, which managed to be both simple and confusing at the same time. The orchestra did not seem together. There were also clearly a lot of subs in the orchestra for the holiday.

This was followed by the final movement of the Chopin Piano Concerto #1, which is a strange choice for a single movement. It's the least interesting movement in that concerto, and probably the least interesting of the finales from his concerti. It was played by Christina Lan, who played nicely, but not fantastically.

The first great performance of the evening came from associate concertmaster Claude Simm, who played the Monti Czardas stunningly, particularly the harmonics. He's an incredibly talented musician.

The second half of the concert brought out all the old Strauss chestnuts which were well-appreciated by the audience. O'Neill did his best conducting of the night on The Blue Danube, which has to be one of the most perfectly constructed compositions of all time. It's a wonderful way to ring in the new year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould is a fantastic documentary now running on PBS (and available for free viewing on the American Masters web site). Gould was perhaps one of the most important performers of the 20th century. In addition to being one of the most brilliant and original pianists of all time, he also understood media better than anyone else in his time, and on top of that, is one of the most eccentric personalities in music.

Even if you have never heard his music, he is a fascinating character. A recluse and a hypochondriac who was borderline personality disorder, he was one of the most popular classical soloists in the 50s, yet, in mid-career, he decided that he would be better off never performing publicly again. Instead, he decided to communicate with his audience only through recordings. The movie only scratches the surface of his bizarre personality and unique beliefs about art and audiences. Of course I also highly recommend 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, which present even more strange elements of his personality.

On the other hand, one of the reasons that Genius Within is so interesting is that it breaks many of the myths about Gould. It was forever thought that he might be gay and in the closet, or perhaps even in denial, or perhaps might have been completely asexual, but a biography in 2007 revealed that he had had a long term love affair with the wife of a famous composer/performer, and out of respect, no one ever discussed it publicly. She is interviewed in this film. It is also revealed that many of his eccentricities were exaggerated to create publicity for him. Nonetheless, they all do seem to have originated in fact, and did get worse as he aged, dying young at age 50.

If you have even a passing interesting in the subject, watch this, it's great.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Finally, a well-reviewed drama that actually lives up to the hype: THE FIGHTER.

They got the script right and really focused on the characters and their relationships. The acting was excellent all around, most notably Marc Wahlberg, Amy Adams, and, it pains me to say it, Christian Bale. I am not at all a fan of boxing, but this film is more about the characters than the fights, and at times it reminded me in a good way of RAGING BULL. Even Mickey O'Keefe, who plays himself in the film, is quite good.

It's interesting to see films that are shot in Boston (in this case Lowell) with people trying to do the accents. It's hit or miss. Even in THE TOWN, Ben Affleck forgot to do his own natural Boston accent on a few lines in the film. For the most part the major players get it right in this movie, although some of the sisters sound (and look) like they just moved there from New Jersey.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


When I heard that the Coens were remaking TRUE GRIT, I wondered why. Not that the original is perfect, in fact, the performances have dated badly. Instead, I wondered what about this story attracted the Coens, and what they possibly thought they could do to make it interesting or relevant.

Well, I was right, they really didn't do much with it. Jeff Bridges growls his way through the film, having played a much more interesting drunk last year in CRAZY HEART, but does not instill much more character than the wooden John Wayne did. The girl fares much better, although the character is still fairly one dimensional. Matt Damon brings a little more to his character, but in the end, it's basically a remake of a not terribly interesting film in the first place.

The final scenes in particular really ruin the mood of the piece. The overall pacing seems a little odd as well; it seems to jump to a conclusion much too quickly.

The film's technical aspects are quite good, but cinematography, music and sound are not enough to make this movie memorable.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Going to THE TOWN

There are a lot of reasons that I really wanted to like THE TOWN, not the least of them being that the town in this case was my hometown of Boston (well, Charlestown, but close enough). They did make excellent use of the city as a location and photographed it beautifully. The movie has a great cast, well directed by Ben Affleck, and there are individual scenes that are very well written. Affleck himself has a great monologue early in the film. The first act of the film is very involving, but the plot meanders too much, takes too long to get where it's going, and ultimately falls apart in the third act.

The single biggest problem in the film is that all of the characters are unlikeable. I kept rooting for the lead characters, a group of bank robbers led by Affleck's character, to get caught. The most sympathetic character in the film is the girl who is a victim of the robbers. He ends up dating her, which should have made him sympathetic as he softened, but instead, she disappears from the movie in the second act and their relationship is never really fleshed out. As a result, there is no emotional payoff in the final scenes.

It's too bad, the movie had a lot going for it, and a few simple script changes early on could really have made the film a lot better.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


In a year with a movie like BLACK SWAN, why are people even talking about movies like SOCIAL NETWORK or 127 HOURS? This film is a million times more intelligent than any of the other film I've seen so far this year. Of course, it's much more of an art film than a traditional narrative, which inherently is going to be much more interesting than a talkie drama.

The film is very stylish and the acting is fantastic (except for Winona Ryder, who seems to have wandered onto the wrong set). I expect there will be quite a few nominations for the film. It's a little tough to write much more about the film without ruining it, so I'll just say that if you have liked Aronofsky's other films, you will probably like this as well.

The film also has outstanding sound design. And you can't go wrong ripping off Tchaikovsky as the score for your film. Nice work.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Finally got around to watching the third film in the EVIL DEAD series. I liked this a lot more than the other two, mostly because it's much more of an action film that the previous two, and most of the gore is gone. The comedy makes more sense, although the number of Three Stooges references was way over the top. Just about everything about the film has raised the bar significantly over the previous two films. It is a bit weird after the first two films seeing Bruce Campbell in scenes with other real actors. They do make him look quite bad by comparison.

Clearly the movie was very influential on many other films. It was fun, but bogged down in the third act. It would be interesting to see what another director might do with this franchise. Although the movie ends quite stupidly, it's hard to imagine a fourth movie picking up where this one ends.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Dear Pixar -

You owe me a box of Kleenex.

TOY STORY 3 might not be quite the home run as its two predecessors, or several other Pixar films, but it is a worthy ending to the trilogy. Most of the old friends return, and a few new ones are added, most notably Barbie and a metrosexual Ken. The animation is amazing; almost too good at times. I felt like I was watching live action with a few animated characters.

The story, like the first sequel, revisits the themes from the first film, but for the most part puts new spins on things. The first act starts off quite promisingly. However, the film has its weaknesses, particularly in the early second act, when the plot becomes too predictable and take too long to reunite Woody with the rest of the gang.

But the last act of the film really gels with all the characters.

Perhaps even more amazing is the short DAY & NIGHT which preceded it. A real throwback to an earlier style, I would love to see more of this type of creative storytelling animation from Pixar in the future.

Sunday, December 05, 2010


The Colorado Symphony gave a nice performance of some Tchaikovsky works this evening. Three standards that we've all heard many times before. Four selections from the Nutcracker were a nice way to open the evening, although only our make it a bit unsatisfying, and the orchestra was not always together. Peter Oundjian was the guest conductor; it was the second time we saw his this season. My first review was no so good. You can read it here.

The second piece on the program was the Piano Concerto Number 2. The Bb concerto is so well known that it is overplayed (we've seen it at least three times). Comparatively, this makes #2 underplayed. It's not a great piece of music. The harmonies rely heavily on the cliche of ascending diminished chords played very heavily. Time has not been as good to this piece as #1. Stephen Hough played very emotionally, and quite well on the intimate, quiet parts, but he pummeled the piano with his fists on the runs far too much.

By far, the highlight of the evening was the Symphony #5. This is another overplayed piece, but I have to say it was conducted and played so well that it made me rethink my criticisms of the conductor. He managed to conduct very emotionally and freely, yet kept the orchestra together at all times. Everyone played well, but the horn solo was outstanding.

This was our last concert until New Year's Eve. Our last one was Halloween. I look forward to New Year's!

Friday, December 03, 2010


For the first hour of HEREAFTER, Clint had be transfixed. Inter-cutting three stories, one French, one British, and one American, made the movie fascinating. Much of the plot was told through subtext, and the characters drew me in. Two of the three stories used actors unknown to American audiences, which made it seem real, even though the film is obviously a fantasy.

But then, at the halfway point, the film falls apart completely. I'm convinced that there is a way to cut out half an hour , restructure the movie, and make it a million times better (although there would still be literally no ending to the film). Halfway through, the film becomes about Matt Damon and Ron Howard's daughter. She overacts, as she always has, and the dialogue goes into very long, slow expository mode to tell the audience everything that had already been told through plot and action in the last half hour. It's like a different director took over at this point. Or maybe Clint just couldn't bear to cut his friend Ron's daughter out of the movie.

The French story is interesting and well acted, and the British story is even better. The film opens with a big FX sequence from the French story, which is dramatic, but I think it would have opened better with the British story, which is much more emotional, and would have built nicely to a climax with the intro to the French story. The American story needs to be cut way down, with Bryce Howard all but eliminated, and a better plot device needs to be contrived for the three stories to intertwine.

Even with all this, the movie is essentially lacking a third act, with no resolution to anything. This is without a doubt one of the most unsatisfying films I have ever seen. It's a shame, I'm a big fan of Eastwood, but he blew it on this one. I almost wonder if he took this crappy script only as an excuse to shoot in three cities in three countries as a paid vacation, as Woody Allen has been doing the past few films.

Skip it.