Archive for September, 2008

by Sam Juliano

     The 2008-09 season is now underway at the Metropolitan Opera, as the schedule kicked off early last week with the staging of Richard Strauss’ Salome, in a production that has been showcased at the opera house for several years.  Karita Mattila has won wide praise for playing the central title role.  Both Ponchielli’s La Gioconda and Mozart’s Don Giovanni have already been staged, with both still having a number of performances left in the upcoming weeks.  The Metropolitan is at the center of an exterior cosmetic facelift this season as the center fountain and courtyard between the world-famous opera house and both Avery Fisher Hall and the New York State Theatre.  As a result, unseemly wooden barriers obscure the the ornate structure’s front facade, and will probably remain for several months.  Wonders in the Dark will be there for a number of this year’s offerings, which contain an attractive mix of the traditional warhorses and some brand new productions.  The schedule, which will run through May, includes a generous number of performances of the following operas:

Salome (Richard Strauss)

La Gioconda (Amare Ponchielli)

La Boheme (Giacomo Puccini)

Cavalleria Rusticanna/Pagliacci (Mascagni-Leoncavallo)

La Cenerentola (Rossini)

La Damnation de Faust (Hector Berlioz)

Doctor Atomic (John Adams)

Eugene Onegin (Tchaikovsky)

Gotterdammerung (Richard Wagner)

Lucia di Lammermoor (Gaetano Donizetti)

Madama Butterfly (Puccini)

The Magic Flute (Mozart)

Orfeo ed Euridice (Gluck)

The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky)

Das Rheingold (Richard Wagner)

La Rondine (Puccini)

Rigoletto (Verdi)

Rusalka (Dvorak)

Siegried (Richard Wagner)

La Sonnambula (Bellini)

Thais (Massanet)

Tristan und Isolda (Richard Wagner)

La Traviata (Verdi)

Die Walkure (Richard Wagner)

Although I have seen every one of the these operas except for three (Doctor Atomic, Thais, La damnation de Faust) at the Met over the years, I plan on seeing some of the new productions of some of these timeless masterpieces, and reviewing them for Wonders in the Dark.  In a year of cosmetic transition it is clear that the Met is taking few gambles, and is mainly going with the traditional works that fill all the seats.  I am still excited about the new season, and plan to see Salome sometime over the next week.

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by Sam Juliano

     A festive and star-studded atmosphere greeted Lincoln Center Film Society Chairperson Ann Tenenbaum as she took to the podium to introduce program director Richard Pena, before the festival’s opening feature The Class (Entre les Murs), was screened before a near-sell out crowd at Avery Fisher Hall as the opening feature of the 46th annual New York Film Festival on Friday evening at 8:30 P.M.  Tenenbaum drew laughter from the audience when she suggested that those who bypassed the scheduled Obama-McCain debate on television to see the French Palme’s Or winner, “made the right choice.”  Pena applauded the board of directors’ decision to open the popular film event with the French film, and he introduced director Laurent Cantet to sustained and rousing applause.  Cantet, who helmed the impressive Human Resources several years back, then introduced his producers and writers as well as ten members of his youthful cast, all of whom flew in from Paris for the big event.       


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by Allan Fish

(UK 1992 85m) DVD2

Shining a torch into the night sky

p  Olivia Stewart  d/w  Terence Davies  ph  Michael Coulter  ed  William Diver  md  Robert Lockhart  art  Christopher Hobbs  cos  Monica Howe

Marjorie Yates (mother), Leigh McCormack (Bud), Anthony Watson (Kevin), Nicholas Lamont (John), Ayse Owens (Helen), Tina Malone (Edna), Jimmy Wilde (Curly), Robin Polley (Mr Nicholls),

Watching Terence Davies’ autobiographical piece was, to this reviewer, rather like flicking through a family album, heralding from a family barely removed from that depicted in the film, in location, time and spirit.  It isn’t a prerequisite to be acquainted with the north, or with Catholicism, or remembrances of the 1950s, but it certainly helps.  And though those who cannot tick those boxes can and do enjoy and celebrate the film, they do miss something in the translation. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano


    The most celebrated cultural “event” in New York City over the summer was unquestionably the first-ever public display of the works of Britain’s greatest painter and one of the world’s most revered landscape artists,  J.M.W. Turner at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Showcasing 150 paintings and watercolors, the exhibition was that rarest of opportunities to get the full measure of the man, who lived from 1775-1851, first in Covent Garden and then in Brentwood until his acceptance to the Royal Academy of Art.  For those with stamina and patience (the hall was a veritable mob scene on the afternoon of Sunday, September, 21st, the last day of the retrospective) one was rewarded with a thrilling cascade of evanescent images, which essayed subjects from the Old Testament and classical myths to post-Napoleonic politics, the whaling industry and the common people living near the sea trying to survive.  Certainly the contemporary viewer is challenged by such anachronistic imagery, but in a series of large canvas images, including the huge wall mural of a colonial ship that adorned the multi-roomed display, you can’t help but be awestruck by the sheer scope and veracity of the presentation. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 2007 158m) DVD1/2

I drink your milkshake

p  Daniel Lupi, Joanne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson  d/w  Paul Thomas Anderson  novel  “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair  ph  Robert Elswit  ed  Dylan Tichenor  m  Jonny Greenwood  art  Jack Fisk

Daniel Day-Lewis (Daniel Plainview), Paul Dano (Paul Sunday/Eli Sunday), Kevin J.O’Connor (Henry Brands), Ciaran Hinds (Fletcher Hamilton), Russell Harvard (H.W.Plainview), Barry del Sherman (H.B.Ailman), Paul F.Tompkins (Prescott), Sydney McAllister (Mary Sunday),

Following No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford came a third masterpiece of 2007 to be set in the west.  All three depict very different worlds, and all three are resoundingly successful in recreating them.  All three have, in different ways, contentious endings, and though the ending of There Will be Blood may not be quite as out there as the Coens’ film, it comes darned close.  Andrew Dominik’s film about the legendary outlaw took the documentaries of Ken Burns as inspiration, while the Coens were indebted to John Sayles’ Lone Star and their own earlier works.  Anderson borrows left, right and centre, from George Stevens’ Giant (it was shot in much the same location), from John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, from Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed, from the visual palette of Terence Malick (helped by employing Malick’s old designer Jack Fisk) and even the stylistic touches of Stanley Kubrick.  Not only that, but he creates a film worthy of comparison to all of them.

            After making his fortune in gold and silver at the turn of the century, Daniel Plainview turns his attention to the black gold, trying to set up drills throughout the Midwest and con naïve homesteaders out of their property for peanuts.  He travels with his small boy, H.W., and, following the tip off of one Paul Sunday, he turns up at the Sunday property in Little Boston, California, with the intention of getting rich on the oil just waiting to be pumped.  While there, he runs into competition from the young fire and brimstone teacher, none other than Paul’s twin brother, Eli.  Their confrontation ultimately proves fatal to one of them.

            At first glance, Blood may seem a more subdued film for Anderson, with none of the trademark camera flourishes of Boogie Nights and Magnolia.  Yet the stylistic subtexts are clear to see, and the influence of Kubrick is most striking.  Take the opening prologue set in 1898, which retrospectively seems to evoke the Dawn of Man sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and compare it to the finale, which not only evokes the apes at the watering hole but Alex and his droogs at the casino in A Clockwork Orange, only with a bowling pin the weapon of choice rather than a large bone or cane.  (As if to emphasise the parallel, he accompanies the credits with a bit of Brahms.)  He’s not afraid to make the film basically a two-header, as no other actor besides Day-Lewis and Dano get a look in and, with Day-Lewis holding centre stage throughout.  To say that it is a magnificent performance is not even close.  It’s not only his greatest performance but one of the great performances of 21st century cinema.  On one level, there are similarities to his previous psychotic, Bill Cutting, in Gangs of New York, but to listen to, though there’s just a hint of Sean Connery in there, he’s essentially a mix of Walter and, especially, John Huston.  That in itself is very much deliberate and at one with Anderson’s own vision, evoking memories of not only the aforementioned Madre but even more so John’s performance as the equally evil Noah Cross in Chinatown.  Indeed, one could almost imagine Plainview and Cross related.  Plainview deals in oil, Cross in water, but both tried to bleed California dry with sheer greed.  To Plainview, in his parlance, it’s drinking the other fellow’s milk shake, to Cross it’s bringing Los Angeles to the water or vice versa.  One could discuss the parallel till Doomsday, if we’re honest, but that would give us no time to mention the first time score of Radiohead’s Greenwood, whose almost minimalist strings could not be more perfect.  There Will be Blood; there will be greatness.

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Paul Newman Has Passed Away

 by Sam Juliano

     An unconfirmed report at Awards Daily has revealed that acting icon Paul Newman, who has been fighting cancer for several years, has lost his battle.  The report indicates that a close friend of Newman told Sasha Stone, who manages AW, that the acting legend passed away overnight, and that the news would be made public sometime Saturday morning.   Newman, who won an Oscar for The Color of Money was 84, and was the longtime husband of actress Joanne Woodward.  This is a sad day for movie lovers, many of whom, no doubt, have many of their own stories to tell, and of their own favorite films by this American treasure.  R.I.P.  Paul Newman.

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by Allan Fish

The loss of favourite sites for moviegoers on the internet can be quite an emotional time.  Those with long memories will recall such suppliers as Machiaveldvd and others, gone but not forgotten.  The last month or two has seen three more such sites hit the dust.

Firstly, there’s the empire that was SuperHappyFun.  This American site had been going for numerous years and with its smiling child with shouting Japanese welcome, was a favourite haunt for those seeking DVDRs of films not in the public domain.  In its time, such films as Bresson’s Une Femme Douce, Fassbinder’s World on Wires (which I reviewed earlier this week) were available on their books, while for a joyous period in 2006-07, they had a subsite specialising in the Japanese New Wave, with English subtitled translations of various great works of Nagisa Oshima, Susumu Hani and Shohei Imamura, which I for one benefited greatly.  If one goes to the site (www.superhappyfun.com) now, it will take you to another site who have inherited much of their library.  I have not used this new site, so cannot comment, only to say that SHF, the acronym by which so many film buffs knew it, will be sorely missed. (more…)

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