The World of Composer Richard Wagner and his operas. www.wagneroperas.com with frequent forays into the world of art, culture, and film.
- Name: Vincent Vargas
- Location: New York, New York, United States
Vincent Vargas is a foreign language teacher at a private school in New York City. He runs websites dedicated to Casablanca (www.vincasa.com) and Richard Wagner (www.wagneroperas.com).
Sunday, January 31, 2016
Friday, January 29, 2016
Welcome Jaap van Zweden
Sunday, January 03, 2016
The Hateful Eight: 70mm Roadshow Edition
This is Tarantino's second attempt at a western. His previous film, Django Unchained riffed on one of the lesser-known works of the "spaghetti western" canon, but he derailed his own tribute by fusing the western story to a racial (and some will argue racist) homage to an even lesser-known film: 1975's Mandingo -- a blaxploitation movie that should have remained forgotten, except for its brilliant tagline which I remember from my own youth: "He's more than man, he is mandingo."
With The Hateful Eight, Tarantino returns to a West devoid of the legacy of John Ford, Howard Hawks or Anthony Mann. He's back inside the spaghetti western, but this time he goes straight to the main source, the director that best exemplifies all things spaghetti: Sergio Leone. His The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West revealed an elliptical, operatic Old West that forever changed the look, feel, and sounds of the genre. Tarantino has even used Leone's favorite composer, Ennio Morricone to score this film. And of course, he's used the widescreen and the length of the film (the roadshow version clocks in at 187 minutes) to resurrect the spirit of the Italian westerns of the maestro. But at the same time, Tarantino has admitted that the true inspiration for the film lies in the many westerns that played on TV during the 1960s.
Ironically, even though 70mm lends itself so well to outdoor vistas, 80% of the film is confined to Minnie's Haberdashery, a rugged, frontier stagecoach lodge that is a stopover before reaching the town of Red Rock. Cinematographer Robert Richardson does wonderful work whenever he has the opportunity to use antique Panavision lenses in order to capture fleeting but beautiful panoramic shots in wonderful snowstorms. But the heart of the film takes place indoors in a claustrophobic setting that thanks to the 2.76:1 aspect ratio never manages to feel claustrophobic.
It's the performances, driven by Tarantino's customary strong script, that drive this violent tale, and there are so many excellent stand-outs in this film. Samuel L. Jackson offers his customary Tarantino performance, which is to say that he nearly steals the show. Kurt Russell (it's nice to see him back on the screen) is no slouch either, at times reading his lines with a John Wayne cadence to his voice. And Jennifer Jason Leigh is a trooper, starting the movie with a black eye, and ending it with a face full with so much blood and gore that she reminded me of Linda Blair in the last reels of The Exorcist. Other great performers in the cast include Demián Bichir as a laconic Mexican, Tim Roth as a derby-wearing Englishman, and Bruce Dern as a grizzled confederate general. Quentin Tarantino wisely stays put behind the camera, but offers his talents as a cynical narrator.
It's a western, it's a homage to a forgotten genre, it's an attempt to revive careers, it's even an Agatha Christie mystery. But truth be told, it is a Quentin Tarantino film, and that's all you need to know. Attending the roadshow version will allow you to see more of the film, and to enjoy it (if that's the right word) in a format that, like the western itself, is destined to become a dinosaur.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Bryan Cranston in TRUMBO
Most people my age, myself included, did not know anything about him. I was fascinated by the name I saw in my friend's book (which had a picture of a soldier running against a hand doing a victory sign -- which to us in the 1970s was a peace sign). I did not know anybody called Dalton or Trumbo, for that matter. I'm sure my classmate, a tall, lanky boy with buck teeth named John O'Toole, was reading the book because it had been reissued in paperback as a result of a film having been released in 1971 (with a screenplay by Trumbo himself). And I'm sure he was curious about its lurid content. In the early 70s, the story of an American soldier, horribly deformed as a result of a mortar shell explosion in World War I was a thinly veiled anti-war comment on our involvement in Southeast Asia.
The film Trumbo feels as if its creators also had little knowledge of the man and the period. The film doesn't really feel like it was written, but more like it was cut and pasted from Wikipedia articles. Somehow, this biopic should have been told as a theater piece, and not as a movie. Film is too inquisitive and too exacting. Actors can bring to life such luminaries from the silver screen as John Wayne and Edward G. Robinson onstage, aided by the magic of theater. However, film puts up a roadblock whenever well-known icons have to be represented. As a result the attempt to recreate Hollywood in the late 1940s and 50s fails to persuade us. It feels like a sendup of Hollywood and not a loving recreation. Bryan Cranston's performance as Trumbo has its moments, but often he opts for an over-the-top approach. And unfortunately, it is also very clear that there are scenes that have been included only to make sure that he has a chance to garner a Best Actor nomination.
Only John Goodman as scumbag producer Frank King, and Helen Mirren as Hollywood's power broker Hedda Hopper survive the superficial approach this film takes. Christian Berkel as Otto Preminger and David James Elliott as John Wayne create minor caricatures, while Diane Lane, playing Cleo, Trumbo's wife, is just another person that we want to get to know better, but the film does not allow us to do so.
I learned a few facts about Mr. Trumbo but the film does not get under the man's skin, which is what any successful biopic must do. In many ways I was reminded of myself back in grammar school, a boy who did not know who this Dalton Trumbo was even though I had just been with the man for over two hours.
Sunday, November 15, 2015
Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera
The complete Lulu was first presented at the MET in 1980 with Teresa Stratas taking on the challenging title role and James Levine conducting the angular, expressionistic, taxing score: a musical revelation for those of us that were lucky enough to be present at those performances. In this go-around, Mr. Levine was supposed to take up the challenge of conducting once more, but unfortunately it seems that his failing health has not allowed him to do so. I'm not sure if given his current health issues he would be able to take up the challenge of conducting this complex work. Last month I noticed that his Tannhäuser was lackluster. Some might argue that Mr. Levine is mellowing with age; that might be true, but what I heard coming from the pit was a lack of energy, not a deepening of musical ideas. His choice to step down for this production was a wise one, since German conductor Lothar Koenigs, who is a specialist in 20th century music, led a vibrant reading of Berg's score. His conducting was sinuous and sultry at times, and he trusted the forces of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra enough to let go of their reins and allow them to make some earth-shaking sounds during the dramatic moments of the score.
Taking on the title role in this production is German soprano Marlis Petersen, who has made a career playing this role (and who will put the role to rest after this production). She has no problem bringing this heroine to life: her strong soprano is able to sail the high tessitura that the role demands, and her sexy body conveys the erotic side of the character (is there another side?) beautifully. On a personal level, I am glad that she is putting this role to sleep. Too much twelve-tone singing and pretty soon you will find yourself without any legato! She will play Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus at Munich's Bavarian State Opera. I'm sure that will be a much more "pleasant to the ear" and it will sit in her voice beautifully.
Johan Reuter playing the dual role of Dr. Schön/Jack the Ripper was strong of voice and proved to be a gifted actor. Susan Graham made deep impressions as Countess Geschwitz (perhaps the only decent character in this story) and Paul Groves as the painter and the African Prince was vocally memorable.
Although it might not be for everybody (I saw a lot of young kids with their parents last night -- I hope their parents tried to explain something about the music to them!) this production of Lulu is not to be missed. Just go in there with an open mind, and chances are that your perception of what music can be, and what it can be achieved will be challenged. After all, that's what good opera should be doing through every performance.
Saturday, November 07, 2015
Spotlight: the Best Film of the Year
When Martin Baron (Liev Schreiber), a Jewish newspaper editor arrives in Irish Catholic Boston from the Miami Herald he encourages a small group of reporters to dig into the labyrinthine world of the Boston archdiocese, which at that time was headed by Cardinal Bernard Law. As New York Times critic A.O. Scott noted in his fine review of this film, Cardinal Law's opinion that "the city flourishes when the great institutions work together," is the major reason why the sexual molestation of thousands of children was covered up by the powers that be. Mr. Scott added that "when institutions convinced of their own greatness work together, what usually happens is that the truth is buried and the innocent suffer." Truer words were never spoken.
The incredible cast is headed by Michael Keaton and John Slattery as Boston Globe editors, and it features Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d'Arcy James as Globe reporters. Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup give memorable performances as attorneys, and Len Cariou is chilling as Cardinal Law. To watch this amazing cast at work is to marvel at the power of great filmmaking. The script by Josh Singer and director Tom McCarthy is a marvel of economy, deserving of all the praise that it will receive come award season.
Is it possible that Hollywood has awaken from its horrid summer slumber and is once again producing films for adults featuring three dimensional characters and issues of real importance? I hope that Spotlight serves as the game changer, and that it heralds a new generation of smart, thought-provoking cinema.
Sunday, October 04, 2015
NYFF: Steve Jobs
As usual, Michael Fassbender morphs effortlessly into the title character, giving a subdued performance where he balances the Zen-like public Jobs with a private man who is acquainted with personal demons. Kate Winslet is also brilliant in her role of an Apple executive who is part lion tamer to Steve Job's beast, and part unfulfilled love interest. Jeff Daniels as Apple's CEO, Michael Stuhlbarg as a member of the original Macintosh team, and Seth Rogen as Apple co-creator Steve Wozniak give memorable performances.
At the heart of this film is Steve Job's rocky relation to Chrisann Brennan (played by Katherine Waterstone), Jobs's high school girlfriend, and his daughter Lisa, who throughout the film grows to a college-age student, and is memorably played by Brazilian newcomer Perla Haney-Jardine.
Behind the scenes, Alwin Küchler's cinematography runs the gamut from grainy filmstock for the 1980's scenes, and switches to digital as the story progresses, and Daniel Pemberton's score has a driving, subliminal beat. Danny Boyle's direction is surprisingly subdued, as is required by this very subtle script.