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Archive for April 5th, 2010

Ildar Abdrazakov playing lead in Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘Attila’

 by Sam Juliano

     Verdi’s Attila was written in 1846, but this ninth opera from one of opera’s greatest geniuses has, until this year escaped the attention of planning executives at the Metropolitan Opera, who have shunned the work, largely due to uneasiness with the demand on the singers.  But as part of the company’s commitment to bold resurrections of harmonic works with strong prospective appeal to the core traditionalists, Attila received some impassioned contributions from the director, set designer, singers, and especially veteran conductor extraordinaire Ricardo Muti, who proved to the world that this opera is a rhythmically charged work, with an abandance of solos, and rich musical lines.  With full choruses at the disposal of a polished orchestra who faithfully transcribed Verdi’s lyricism in supple chords and rifts, Muti demonstrated that as a stand alone, Atilla’s music is far from the lowest bracket of the composer’s work.  And when the singing is considered, it’s nearly a towering achievement.  I’d go as far as to contend that it belongs in a short group after La Traviata, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Aida and Otello, with the likes of Nabucco, La Frorza Del Destino, Un Ballo in Maschera, Simon Bocanegra, and Falstaff.  On the best of days it may possibly lead that group, and such was certainly the case on the Monday night I was in attendance.  This was a visionary performance in stark, imaginary staging, forceful singing and rich orchestration, which compellingly blends the youthful, patriotic vigor of its then young composer with the nuance and human insight that would become the hallmark of his long  career that included 28 operas.  (more…)

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Filmmaker stars Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones in impressive inde debut 'Breaking Upwards'

by Sam Juliano

Here’s hoping that all WitD readers and affiliates had a peaceful and enjoyable Easter Sunday, and others a comforting Passover.  It’s been a quiet lead-up week here at WitD, as we are between polls, but both James Clark and Marc Bauer have furnished the site with some great reviews on Inland Empire and The Secret of Kells.  The absolute deadline for the receipt of silent film poll ballots is 11:00 P. M. this coming Wednesday night, April 7th.  Allan Fish has plans to post his “nearlies” for the 2000’s poll on Friday the 9th, while Voting Tabulator Extraordinaire Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. will be doing his thing once again.  On Saturday or Sunday Allan will begin his ‘Top 100’ of the 2000’s, a polling that will run until late July.  During that time, as always the countdown will be intersperced with future reviews by both Mr. Clarks, Joel Bocko, Marc Bauer, Jamie Uhler and Yours Truly, with possible interviews from Dee Dee.

Our wonderful pal Dave Hicks, Ohio’s best, continues to impress mightily with his fantastic ‘daily’ film noir essays, the latest of which is a stellar appraisal of Max Ophuls’s This Reckless Moment, which checked in at #22.  Other reviews of films by Jules Dassin, Fritz Lang, Robert Wise and Charles Vidor prove that Mr. Hicks is not only a great writer, but he’s got his turf down to a tee.  This 100 strong project really cannot be underestimated, as it’s a show case for tireless commitment and sustained enthusiasm.  And it’s the second time Hicks has taken on a gargantuan project at his place over the past two years.  Here’s a link to the Ophuls review: http://goodfellamovies.blogspot.com/2010/04/21-reckless-moment-max-ophuls-1949.html

Meanwhile, down in the Bayou, filmmaker par excellence Jeffrey Goodman has maintained an amazing resilience at his place, especially since plans for his newest film Peril have really taken off in recent weeks.  Goodman’s ‘annual countdown’ inspired by Dave Hicks’s similar venture, has unearthed some amazing filmgoing anecdotes, where Jeffrey admits he saw many of the greatest French masterworks in Paris theatres while at school, and as always his command of sylistic influences is spoken from the inside by a talented guy.                     http://cahierspositif.blogspot.com/2010/04/1983-largent-robert-bresson.html

On the cinema front I calmed down a bit from last week, but still managed to see four films in the dark: two in local multiplexes and two in Manhattan exclusives, and all with Lucille; two with the kids, and two with Broadway Bob.  I saw:

Breaking Upwards **** (IFC Film Center)  Saturday night
The Secret of Kells **** (IFC Film Center)  Sunday afternoon
The Clash of the Titans  ***  (Edgewater multiplex)
Hot Tub Time Machine  **   (Edgewater multiplex)
     The week’s big surprise was the independent dramedy BREAKING UPWARDS, a kind of ‘mumblecore entry’ directed by the film’s star, Daryl Wein, and co-written by the female lead, Zoe Lister-Jones.  An engaging after film Q & A moderated by Rein, Jones and well-known supporting player thespians Andrea Martin and Julie White followed.  The film, shot on a shoe-budget for $15,000 on video, but appearing as if it were negotiated on real film, due to the color work of cinematography wizard Alex Bergman – talked about insightfully in the discussion – concerns the real-life relationship in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village of the two leads, one a writer, the other an actress, who decide to proceed with some drastic revisions.  The film doesn’t say anything new about ‘angst’ but it’s still sharply detailed and insightful, even if the screenplay meanders a bit.  At the end of the day, it delivers what so many other mumblecore films don’t: exhilarating emotion.  It’s a promising debut for this talented group, and the Q & A was one of the best I’ve ever attended.
Marc Bauer’s review last week on the animated gem THE SECRET OF KELLS was pretty much dead-on as far as I’m concerned, and while I won’t put this in a category with Pixar’s UP and the recent HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, this is really a different animal altogether – it’s an intelligently-crafted, vibrant and stimulating film set in the medieval ages.  It could have elaborated, but it’s a scant 75 or so minutes, yet it’s a thought-provoking work indepted to our most revered forms of artistry.  An even higher rating is possible down the line, as I look forward to a second viewing.  I found myself looking up ‘The Book of Kells’ this afternoon.
And then there’s THE CLASH OF THE TITANS, which seems to have (mostly) been ruthlessly mauled by critics, who again seem to expect a screenplay written by William Faulkner or Ernest Hemingway.  It’s a film with a load of narrative problems, this is true, and it’s dull patches are excrutiating, but it boasts some splendid set pieces with stunning effects (the Medussa sequence near the end in the high point) and another interesting performance by Sam Worthington as demigod hero Perseus (who slays Medussa), and Liam Neeson as his father Zeus.  This of course is a re-make of a popular original, but all things considered I’d say it’s passable.
Finally, I saw HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, but I winsed at the overt sexual material in front of the kids, not realizing this was part of the presentation.  A few funny moments for sure, but a hodgepodge of nothing, a lazyily written, disjointed and vulgar train wreck that is forgotten within an hour after you leave the theatre.  It’s a practical ‘stoner’ comedy about (again!) people who are bored with their lives.  The film aims to wear you down, but never really takes hold, hence the ‘anything goes’ approach never connects here.
Some of the Easter Sunday posts in the blogosphere are carry-overs, but I’ll do my best to post as many links as time will allow on this particularly hectic but joyous day, where I have actually managed to get away from the computer for some of the time.
Dee Dee has a lead-in announcement of her planned interview with film editor Gilcrist Anderson, who worked on the restoration of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.  It’s priceless stuff, and it’s all there will a you-tube clip at “Darkness Into Light”:                     http://noirishcity.blogspot.com/2010/04/my-special-guest-for-this-month.html
Tony d’Ambra has had a tremendous week at ‘Films.Noir.net’ where he posted a superlative review of Carne’s Hotel du Nord, and a fascinating post on the neo-realist-like condemnation of capitalism, Christ in Concrete, by Edward Dmytryk, which he reviewed months ago: http://filmsnoir.net/film_noir/christ-in-concrete-not-on-wall-street.html
John Greco has written a great review of Dassin’s noir masterpiece, Night and the City, joining Tony d’Ambra and Dave Hicks, who have also written great pieces.  As usual John examines the film from many angles: http://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/2010/04/04/night-and-the-city-1950-jules-dassin/
Troy Olson, who soon will be embarking on a trip he’ll never forget to China, has the’mother of all posts’ up now at The Life and Times of Troy on his best films of 2009 in advance of WitD’s polling.  It’s truly a magnificent accomplishment:                             http://troyolson.blogspot.com/2010/04/troys-best-movies-of-2009-fixed.html (more…)

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