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.