Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Marriage of Figaro (Movie Glutton Opera Edition)

Kelly, Elliot, and I attended the Sunday matinee of the Fort Worth Opera's presentation of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.  This is one of those classic operas that define opera.  It might also serve as a litmus test to determine, Are you an opera lover or not?

Just as I have come to expect, the FW Opera put on a fantastic performance.  The lavish sets and world-class singers, accompanied by the terrific Fort Worth Symphony, came together for a performance that surely would match any put on anywhere in the world.  The singers in the lead roles had a flawless performance, as did the supporting cast.  If I had to come up with one criticism, it would be some of the slapstick staging; it is a comedy, but sometimes the silliness seemed a bit over the top.

The count doesn't recognize his wife because she . . . changed coats?
Which brings me to my next point.  I am not a musician (okay, I sang in the choir and play a little guitar), so I am really in no place to criticize the music.  It all sounds great to me.  But I do read a lot of fiction and watch a lot of movies.  Again, my tastes may not be the most refined, but I feel like I can judge a good story.  I have to say that the story of Figaro is stupid.  It's a sit-com, and not a very good one.  The misunderstandings, jealous lovers, then the whole let's-switch-clothes-and-meet-our-lovers-under-cover-of-night deal, it all adds up to a movie that would not be made or a novel that would not be published.  At least if I was the editor.

And I was surprised at the audience, refined opera lovers, guffawing at the most inane semi-comedic moments.  Sure, it's mildly funny at times, but these people are laughing like it's the funniest thing they've ever seen.  Maybe it is.  The music is great, for the era in which it was composed, and some of the arias are very beautiful.  But taken as a whole--musical theater that tells a story--I just don't get why this thing has endured for over 200 years and ranks as one of the most-performed operas.

I did enjoy it, even though it is pretty long and I was feeling sleepy, not having had time after church for my Sunday afternoon nap.  Did I love it?  Am I an opera lover?  Maybe not.

Once again, I probably sound like an idiot trying to talk about opera.  Here's the Star-Telegram review, from someone who actually knows what he's talking about!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Living My Own Life: Adults with Disabilities

Through the years, families of people with disabilities have chosen to place them in institutions, nursing homes, and group homes.  This is an especially crucial decision for families when the parent or other family member dies or otherwise can no longer care for the family member with disabilities.  But these are not the only options available.  There is a growing movement paving the way for individuals with disabilities to live independently.

Skeptics may object and argue that it's impossible, but in Michael Loukinen's film Living My Own Life: Adults with Disabilities, we meet several adults who, in spite of their disabilities, have managed to live on their own.  The argument of the film is that "people with disabilities have the same vision of adult life as everyone else does--a chance to live as independently as possible in their own home, to control who comes in through the door, to work at a real job and to be surrounded by friends."

Each of the individuals profiled in the film have disabilities which at first glance appear to need constant assistance and supervision.  While each does have support from others, whether from parents or home health assistants who come to the home, each one makes decisions about his or her life on his or her own.

The mother of one man profiled in the film summed up her own acceptance of the goal of her son's independence: "The most I ever hoped for was him just to be able to get out of the house. . . . and here he is, he's surviving by himself."  She had to give up her overprotectiveness, but, like any parent, came to see that he could manage independent of her.

Several of the subjects of the film have jobs, not aimless tasks in a sheltered workshop, but in actual businesses among non-disabled people.  Dohn Hoyle, an advocate and friend of one of the men, points out that some would say "that some people don't have the capacity to work.  What we have to look at is what can people do, not what their limitations are, not what their disabilities are, but what can people do."

Can the individuals in this film and other people with disabilities live completely independently of anyone?  Likely not.  Like all of us, they depend on others for support and community.  Their support may be more deliberate and intensive, but the key is that they choose their community and their support.  They have achieved a high level of self-determination.

Hoyle concludes, "This is possible for everyone.  The level of disability, medical needs, they don't matter; what matters is early planning and giving them a chance. . . . Limitations mean far less than letting people . . . get their piece of the American dream. . . . That's all any of us can ask."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I haven't seen The Avengers yet, but I'm guessing I'll be glad to know a little back story on Thor.  In Thor, we learn that the Nordic gods were actually aliens, and Thor was exiled to Earth by his father.  During his brief time here, he comes to admire humans and to consider us worthy of his protection.
Thor with his traitorous brother.
There's lots of action, of course, but Thor goes beyond the action to inter-planetary political intrigue and an operatic story line.  Thor probably would not win any awards for the acting, but it's still pretty good.

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Normally, the cover blurb "from the guys who brought you Superbad" wouldn't turn me on to a movie.  But this one sounded promising, so I gave it a shot.  It has the crude humor of Superbad but speaks to a wholly different coming of age type of story.

Meet 27-year-old Adam, played by Uncertainty's Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  He likes his job, has a girlfriend, a faithful best friend, and seems to have a good life.  Then he's diagnosed with rare type of cancer, a tumor on his spine.  Chemotherapy doesn't shrink the tumor, so he has to have surgery.  Along the journey of treatment, he learns about family, friendship, and life.
Adam's not to excited about being only his therapist's third patient.
The best thing about 50/50, which makes the movie believable and moving, is that the writer, Will Reiser, wrote from his own experience with cancer.  The result is an honest and surprisingly moving and thought-provoking account of the effects of cancer on the patient as well as on those whose lives bump against his.

I saw this quote in Bob Hoose's review on, which describes how I feel about putting such a potentially great movie under the cover of a foul language filled sex comedy:
The lowball dross seriously cheapens the powerful statements they set out to make. The truth is, if you have something that's cinematic gold and you cover it with a layer or two of filth, nobody can see the value lurking underneath. And if they discover it accidentally, they're still going to be left longing for a good scrub brush and a hose.
Bring on the scrub brush!  But besides all that, still,

Bottom line, 3 stars.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Robots.  Explosions.  Guns.  Robots.  Exotic cars.  Explosions.  Hot British girl in tight dresses.  Explosions. Over-the-top special effects.  Explosions.  Exactly what you expected.  Entertaining, but not very memorable.
Let's blow up downtown Chicago!

Bottom line, 1 1/2 stars.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Uncertainty starts off with one of the more compelling set ups in recent memory.  On the morning of the Fourth of July a young couple in the middle of a bridge tosses a coin.  Based on the outcome, the sprint in opposite directions, where, strangely enough each meets the other at the end of the bridge.  The two couples then spend the rest of day on separate time lines, one visiting with her family in Brooklyn, the other caught up in a criminal conspiracy, running for their lives in Manhattan.
Spend time with family or running from vicious criminals?  Let's toss a coin.
It's a little intriguing watching as the movie switches back and forth between the two stories, but I had trouble drawing a connection between the two.  The lesson I came away with is this: given the choice, spend the holidays with your family.  Otherwise, you'll get into all sorts of trouble with some terrible people.

Bottom line: 2 stars.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tosca (Movie Glutton Opera Edition)

This weekend marked the start of the 2012 Fort Worth Opera Festival!  Opening night was terrific, with a performance of one of the classics, Puccini's Tosca.  As usual, the Fort Worth Opera put on a fabulous, world-class performance.    My mom and dad joined Elliot, Kelly and me at Yucatan Taco Stand (yum!), then we headed downtown to Bass Hall for the opera.

Tosca, set in Rome in 1800, opens with Mario Cavaradossi painting the Madonna in a church.  He is surprised by the appearance of Cesare, an escaped political prisoner with whose case Mario sympathizes.  They plan to go to Mario's villa, where Cesare can hide.  Before they can leave, Mario's lover Tosca, a famous singer, shows up, wanting to rendezvous after her performance.  After Mario and Cesare flee, the evil Scarpia (with a name like that, he just has to be a bad guy!) comes to the church, searching for Cesare.  He manipulates Tosca into thinking that Mario is having an affair with Cesare's sister, who happens to have been the model for Mario's painting of the Madonna.
I can't say enough good about Carter Scott's performance.
A beautiful voice, a perfect performance.
Scarpia's deception works, Mario is captured, Cesare commits suicide rather than be captured, and Tosca is distressed.  Scarpia offers Tosca a horrible bargain: he will let Mario live and give them safe passage out of the country if she will succumb to his lustful desires.  She agrees, and he gives the order to spare Tosca by faking his execution, and writes a letter giving them passage.  But before he can fulfill his desires, Tosca kills him.  She meets Mario before his scheduled execution, letting him know that the firing squad will be firing blanks, so he will simply need to fake being shot, then they can run to her waiting carriage and on to freedom.  Since happy endings don't seem to be allowed in grand opera, the firing squad somehow didn't get the memo and used live ammo, killing Mario.  Just as Tosca discovers that Mario is dead, officers come after her, having discovered Scarpia's murder.  Distraught, Tosca jumps to her dead.  The fat lady has sung, and it's over.
The production featured gorgeous, elaborate sets.
Puccini based the opera on Victorien Sardou's play, La Tosca.   It's one of those melodramatic stories which make you think, why would it come to this?  Deception, manipulation, torture, suicide, jealousy, lust.  Sounds like a modern soap opera.  I was actually struck by the timelessness of the story.  The opera does refer to its historical setting, but it could easily be set to take place in any time and setting.  (I can't help but think surely it has been. . . .)

I was also struck by the role of Tosca's faith.  She is presented as a faithful church member and believer.  As she's struggling with giving in to Scarpia, first to give up information about Cesare to spare Mario from torture, then to sleep with Scarpia to spare Mario, she cries out to God in a "Why me?" moment that most believers can relate to:
I lived for art, I lived for love, I never did harm to a living soul!  With a secret hand I relieved as many misfortunes as I knew of.  Ever in true faith my prayer rose to the holy shrines. . . . In the hour of grief why, why, Lord, why do you reward me thus?
Alas, the Lord does not come to her rescue, so she resorts to murder, then suicide, to find respite.

While I did enjoy the performance, I was not as moved as was the opera lover we spoke to as we were leaving.  Several minutes after the ovations ended and the curtain fell, she was still dabbing her eyes.  Apparently she has seen Tosca performed many times.  "I know how it ends, but it still makes me cry every time!"

Even if you're not an opera lover, make time to take in Tosca.  Yes, it's in Italian, but English translation is provided on screens above the stage.  I love the step back to the past, the musical delight, and the pageantry that classic operas like Tosca give.  It's not too late to catch it; there are three more performances, May 20 and 25, and June 2.  Check it out!

Here's a review by someone who might actually know what she's talking about!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Dark Water

I don't watch many horror movies.  They rarely tell a satisfying story, and when they get close they often have some supernatural theme that I can't buy.  Dark Water tries hard, sets an appropriately creepy tone, and creates characters you can care about.  But the end result--and the ending--were disappointing.

A young mom and her daughter, separated from their husband/dad, find an inexpensive apartment on Roosevelt Island.  Soon they see a strange leak on the ceiling, and hear noises from upstairs, in an apartment that isn't supposed to be occupied.  The little girl gets an imaginary friend, who, of course, isn't just imaginary, and the mom keeps having flashbacks to her childhood and her own neglectful mom.  While there is some sense of anticipation through the film, the "reveal" left me with an Oh, is that all? feeling.
Better call the plumber.  The ceiling's leaking again.
Maybe I should give the movie a little more credit, but ultimately I can't buy into the worldview that it espouses: that the souls of the dead hang around their old homes, looking for some satisfaction.  I know, I know, it's just a movie, but still, it's a rare movie that can take that idea and make it compelling (like The Sixth Sense).

Bottom line, 1 1/2 star.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

30 Minutes or Less

Pros: very funny, and filmed in Grand Rapids, Michigan, my home for four years.
Cons: crass and crude, which overshadowed the humor and story.

I love a good comedy, and I (confession time) have a rather high tolerance for low-brow humor.  But it seems that a spate of recent comedies have pushed the bar lower than ever.  30 Minutes or Less does fall into the low-brow category, but tells a rather entertaining story in a very funny way.  I love Jesse Eisenberg; his everyman persona, sort of clueless and earnest, was perfect in this role as Nick, a pizza delivery man who isn't sure what to do with his life.
Are you guys really that dumb?  Yes.  Yes they are.
Nick gets a little more focus to his life after a couple of nitwits strap a bomb to him as part of a hare-brained scheme to raise some cash--they're forcing him to rob a bank so they can hire a hit man.  Of course it gets all messed up, resulting in more violence than I would have expected from a goofy comedy.

I have to admit, I did somewhat enjoy the inane, yet sort of clever story line and some of the resulting "How can they be so stupid?" comedy.  But with the constant cursing and crude elements, I cannot recommend it.

Bottom line, 1 1/2 stars.