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1) My concussion turns a year old today. I still occasionally have words just stop, but all the other symptoms seem to have gone. This isn't what most of my parents' generation describe as "getting old" which seems to be the feeling that the right word is "just on the tip of my tongue," but a literal blank wall where I can't remember any words related to the topic for anywhere up to a minute. I don't like it, but I'm really grateful everything else has gone away and hope never to be concussed again.

2) [livejournal.com profile] neotoma73 was very kind and saw Now You See Me 2 with me last night. I know the rating at Rotten Tomatoes is only 38%, but I loved it and grinned all the way home. Visually it's very stylish using objects as framing devices to give an impression of an eye. One of the big complaints in the reviews is that the illusions aren't really shown, but talked about afterward. The biggest misdirection sequence is all visual, though and it's beautifully done. I felt exhilarated after watching it. There's also a very nice line in subtle foreshadowing throughout. In some ways, I feel like the critics didn't pay attention and then got cranky because they missed stuff.

3) I've started really walking again, just this week. I've done the 1.3 miles between my apartment and the Archives metro stop four mornings this week and did the 1.7 mile walk home from the movie last night. I iced my foot when I got home and had no more pain than usual on my walk this morning. I hope that I can keep this up.
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First of all -- if you haven't seen it in the theater and it's still playing near you, go see it. The scene in Paris alone is worth the price of admission.

I'll be honest. I'm not entirely sure what I expected from the film. I know that the three adults I've met who'd seen it would only say some variation on "it's a head trip" with no spoilers. Now that I've seen it, I completely agree. I can't give away spoilers because I think it will reduce the impact of the movie.

So. This is Brad Bird's first live action movie. It's well directed and cast. He's also one of the screen writers with Damon Lindelof.

The young actors are all excellent, particularly Raffey Cassidy who's only 12 (probably 11 when it was being filmed) and is still able to carry a good portion of the action -- both in terms of plot and kicking ass -- on her shoulders.

The effects, since many of the gadgets are supposed to be prototypes from home inventors, are very imaginative. Plus, that scene in Paris. *sigh*

I cried at the end. I see too many people talking about "the millenials" as self-centered. (One report on the Charleston shooting suggested that it was at least partially because the shooter was a millenial and trying to be "unique" which is a hallmark of the generation. Working in employment services, I can show you that the millenial generation is the only age group who's hiring level has not increased in the last two years. We may be in a burgeoning economic recovery, but not for them.) I see them, in general, interested in ideas, in learning new things -- whether it's programming, knitting, or both -- and, in my city at least, working locally to make things better for themselves and their younger siblings. This movie sees this generation in the same way, but what I found thrilling and touching was that people my age and older were also seen as part of Tomorrowland's ethos.
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Last night, I dragged [livejournal.com profile] neotoma to Shakespeare Theatre to see Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge. I admit, I'm not a huge fan of Miller. Who I am a huge (rabid?) fan of is Mark Strong who was playing Eddie.

The production was directed by Ivo van Hove who, with his production designer, stripped the play to its bare bones. It also stripped it to its bare feet. Shoes are only worn twice: once by Catherine, the 17 year old who is trying to impress a boy, and the lawyer who narrates wears them until he becomes a character in the play. Among other things, this facilitates characters entering quietly without the other characters seeing them; it also emphasizes the domesticity of this particular tragedy.

Filmed plays can be a problem. I'm enjoying the NTLive productions, but I always feel a slight distance. The greatest actors I've seen live (Alan Cumming in his one-man MacBeth, Kenneth Branagh in just about anything, Derek Jacobi as Cyrano de Bergerac, Vanessa Redgrave in just about anything, Tom Wilkinson in An Enemy of the People) are able to make a nearly physical connection with the audience. The audience dynamic becomes part of the experience and on some nights creates a wave of emotion (remember, I'm an NF. I'm big on the feels.) which sweep through and leave the inner person bare -- even if just for a moment. I can recognize how bloody good Cumberbatch was in Frankenstein, but I can't grab the connection the same way.

This particular filmed play made an interesting choice, not one I've seen with the other NTLive productions. In several instances, rather than having the camera focus on the character or characters speaking, the camera focused on the character affected by either the actions or the dialogue. In many cases, that character was Eddie, but it wasn't exclusively him (it was a star turn, but not because of the camera work). This made it far more like the way I tend to watch plays. The speaker is important, but the person spoken to -- or overhearing the dialogue -- can be the person whose reaction matters to the overall scheme of the play. By making this focus choice, I felt at several points like I could almost touch the connection I craved.

Nicola Walker -- an actress I've found bland when I've seen her in TV series -- was excellent. Her character can come across as either shrewish or beaten down, but Walker gave her presence and warmth. Michael Gould played the lawyer, Alfieri, and, other than an occasionally wandering accent (Brooklyn by way of Golders Green), provided quiet insight and commentary on the action, even when he wasn't speaking. The two brothers from Sicily, Emun Elliot (Marco) and Luke Norris (Rudolpho), could have underplayed a little more; each at different times came across a little over the top. The weakest actor for me was Phoebe Fox who played Catherine, partially due to wandering accent, partially because she lacked the sense of presence the other actors had.

Mark Strong won this year's Olivier Award for Best Actor. He used stillness beautifully. (Legend has it that Noel Coward once told a young Method actor "Don't just do something: stand there.") It pulled the audience toward him and made Eddie more sympathetic in spite of the flaws which make him the tragic protagonist. Eddie is definitely a character who doesn't know himself, doesn't comprehend his own emotions or motivations, and through that ignorance brings down hell.

This was wonderful.

Kingsman

Feb. 14th, 2015 08:58 pm
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[livejournal.com profile] pleasance, another friend, and I saw this today before the snow hit.

It's bloody. It has moments of vulgarity (no, I'm not referring to the language, although there's some of that, too.). In short, there are a few issues with it.

I loved it.

For one thing, the villain had an actual plan. Through the villain's plan there was actually some good information about climate change.

There were a huge number of references to classic spy stories, mostly from the 60s. I saw references to the Bond franchise, of course, several of them through Mark Cross. There were also references to:

* The Avengers (Steed and Peel, not Cap and Hulk)

* The Man from UNCLE (and we also saw a preview for the new movie. Their Illya Kuryakin isn't pretty enough.)

* The Harry Palmer movies (Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, Billion Dollar Brain)

* Secret Agent (John Drake as played by Patrick McGoohan)

There's a lot to see, but I think one of the big takeaways for me is that most of them don't enjoy killing -- even with a blood ballet that Sam Peckinpah would envy.
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This is going to be shown on PBS as part of "The American Experience" series.

The first twenty minutes were, as an audience member pointed out at the end, way, way too whitewashed about the situation in Saigon in the wake of the Paris Peace accords. The filmmakers didn't even mention that one reason it would have been impossible to send troops back to Vietnam was that the draft had been abolished.

Ambassador Martin came across as venal. Stuart Herrington came across very well (he was a captain at the time and privately got several people out as well as helping on the final day), but I also know the man (not my father) who authorized his black op, so it wasn't as much under the radar as the film implied.

I couldn't have sat through the whole thing and the panel without [livejournal.com profile] neotoma sitting beside me. It was sweet of her to volunteer and even nicer that she actually made the long trek for a movie that began at 10:45 a.m. Brunch afterward was all the sweeter. Must find a way to afford Co Co. Sala again.

Gershwin

Mar. 28th, 2014 11:54 am
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Last night I attended a lecture with performances by Robert Wyatt on George Gershwin's life and work. The information about his life was fairly pedestrian, but I learned a couple of new things. The first was that his jawline was irregular because he'd been kicked by a horse. The second was that the Lullaby for Strings pre-dates "Vi's Song" in Blue Monday. The tunes are nearly identical and, for various reasons, I was under the impression that the Lullaby was the later setting.

Mr. Wyatt is not a brilliant pianist. He played the single piano version of the Rhapsody in Blue correctly, but without a great deal of variation. There are a couple of places of great warmth and poignancy in the Rhapsody and they were distinctly cool.

The bits that were best were where we heard new, for a given value of new, Gershwin music. Josefa Rosanska shared a composition teacher with George Gershwin (and they may have been an item for awhile) and she had two pieces called the Novelettes that were left to the Library of Congress upon her death. He played a few sketches from Gershwin's 1924 Composition book, one of which was clearly an inversion of one of the themes used in Rhapsody in Blue, and two of which were part of the Five Preludes (only three were published) which he performed in 1926. They were thrilling to hear, even in their somewhat unfinished states. He also introduced me to "Sleepless Night" in both its forms which is another unpublished work. Those moments were lovely.

As is so often the case when talking about Gershwin's music, no mention was made of the Second Rhapsody or the Cuban Overtures among the classical works and very little was discussed about the major transition in Gershwin's tunes that occurs when he begins to work with his brother Ira in 1924.

There were some notes about Gershwin's private life. A list of his known girlfriends, including his long-term relationship with Kay Swift, was included. I know I shouldn't be surprised, but no mention was made of the fact that, based on independent diary entries by several different people, it was a fairly open secret that Ms Swift was his domme. Other than bare mentions in a couple of biographies, no one has ever explored that dynamic and what it might mean to his music.

Personal anecdotes under this cut. )

I feel like last night had many missed moments. There were sheet music pictures that should have had some commentary, including one that was definitely drawn by Gershwin himself. I'm really glad I went to the lecture, but I also wanted so much more.

Some of my favorites:
Dave Grusin's arrangement of Prelude II
Solo Piano version of Rhapsody in Blue I was unfamiliar with the performer, Jack Gibbons, before this. (If it feels fast to you, remember, Gershwin's Piano Roll version is nearly six minutes shorter.)
The Second Rhapsody by Michael Tilson Thomas and the LA Symphony
The aria "My Man's Gone Now" performed by Florence Quivar I couldn't find the version I first heard, with Wilma Shakesnider.
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Under the cut are spoilers for a 200 year old book, a play that ran in 2011, and a filmed version of that play that's on its third showing. Here's one trailer for it. And here's the other trailer."
Read more... )
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I tried to read Le Carre in high school, because I knew they were among the few books my father read for fun. He never understood the appeal of James Bond, and always said that Le Carre got it right. Spies were "boring little men in trench coats with bad breath."

In 1983, he'd just retired from the military to work for BU overseas programs. I was in drama school in London and visited them in Mehlem, a small suburb of Bonn (then the capital of West Germany). We drove past the Israeli Embassy, and I noticed the razor wire threaded through the rose bushes. I'd also run out of books to read, so Dad loaned me A Small Town in Germany. It was my first Le Carre. I then read The Little Drummer Girl, and attempted one of the Smiley books. Smiley was beyond me at that point.

I had another minor Le Carre binge about seven years later when The Russia House came out as a movie. I loved it. I recognized several RSC actors in minor roles, and I really loved the film. I saw it first as a test preview and even answered follow-up questions put to me a few days afterward. I saw it again for free with an advance pass, and then paid to see it a third time. I also read the book and was thrilled that Ned Palfrey (played in the movie by James Fox), who was my favorite character, had a book entirely from his point of view, The Secret Pilgrim.

Smiley's in The Secret Pilgrim and, once again I tried to read the Karla trilogy, the main books featuring Smiley as a central character. I didn't succeed.

The film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy finally, finally got me to read the books. Gary Oldman makes him more sympathetic than the books do, but Smiley is the consummate intelligence agent, and, truly, the perfect mix of compassion and the particular brand of ruthlessness that the British have honed to a point. (See the series MI-5 to understand more of what I mean.) Americans are also ruthless, but it's much more indiscriminate. (*waves at the NSA*)

I just saw the movie of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Smiley is in it. It's a small role, probably a little larger in the book, but it's key to the outcome. And I am once again reminded that Gary Oldman made the character FAR more sympathetic than he actually is.

The Berlin of 1962 had more in common with the Berlin I lived in, briefly, in the late 1980s than it does with immediate post-war Berlin or modern Berlin. The fact of the wall, the fact that Berlin was not a German city, but a city under occupation (the traffic laws were actually different in the three sectors that made up the Western side which was one reason my parents rarely drove in the city). My first time coming up the escalator from the U-Bahn at Kufurstendamm, I noticed a list. I couldn't figure out why I knew the name Theriesenstadt, but by the time I got to Dachau I realized that this, the busiest entrance at the busiest stop on the Western side of the city, was a punishment: A constant daily reminder of the camps and a war that had ended more than forty years earlier.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is bleak. It's well acted, but it's not fun. If you've seen Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, there's a little bit of fun to be had figuring out that Cyril Cusack is playing the same character as John Hurt, etc. But that's really the only fun. I still want to recommend it. The movie came out in 1965. The book came out in 1963, the same year that Philby defected, the same year that Le Carre left MI-6. It's fiction. Of course, it is.
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I actually saw this last Tuesday. I enjoyed it very much.

It wasn't exactly modern dance, but it also wasn't ballet. He used the Tchaikovsky score and based a few parts on the Petipa choreography, but Bourne's telling was more straightforward in many ways. Rather than have the last act be specialty dances by other fairy tale characters, it resolved the central story going right back to the original story -- with a little Disney thrown in.
Read more... )
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ETA: Found the names at the troupe's website! Yea, me.

So. One of the things I signed up for years ago was a site called Goldstar. They sell tickets, often at a cut rate (I've even gotten a few for free), with a fee tacked on to cover their expenses. Depending on the venue the fee can be as little as a dollar, though it's usually between $3 and $5. Late last week, I had my usual weekly email with a show called Flames of Desire by a troupe called Tango Fire. If I'd had half a brain, I'd have invited [livejournal.com profile] neotoma, [livejournal.com profile] pleasance, and [livejournal.com profile] greenygal to join me, but possession of half a brain seems to be one of the slower returning parts of my recovery. *sigh*

Anyway, I went last night for $20 and had a wonderful evening. The first act was structured as a history of Tango. The sets were minimal, but effectively used and the dancing as it evolved from Milonga (which is also the term used for dances, but was an earlier form of tango) to street dance to social dance was lovely. The dancers obviously had set couples, but, especially in the group Milonga, changed partners often. There was also male fighting dances with the leg flicks that were half mocking/half teaching patterns.

The second act was pure show tango with each couple doing at least one spectacular specialty and a couple of group dances in varying styles. All of the dancers were spectacular, but the two who caught my eye the most were the tall blonde (Louise Junquera Malucelli: her legs made Cyd Charisse look stubby) and a redhead (Victoria Saudelli) who was absolutely fearless in the the throws and lifts with her partner. Since Ms Saudelli's specialty was performed in a nude body stalking with strategic black embroidery, her dance was VERY memorable. The redhead's partner (I'm sorry to be using hair color to distinguish the female dancers, but the program was unhelpful for differentiating them as it was just a group listing of names), Sebastian Alvarez, was the most memorable of the men.

In addition, there were a singer, Jesus Hidalgo, and a live quartet. The singer was good in a strictly tango style. He danced a few steps when called upon and featured as a still centerpiece in one of the group dances in the first act.

The quartet blew me away. The pianist, Matias Feigin, was a steady professional; his one solo was nothing special, but showed off his abilities. The bandoneon player, Clemente Carrascal, was startlingly good. Accordion wouldn't have the bad/dull rap it often has in the US if everyone could play like he could. The violinist, Estafania Corsini, was the only woman and she was excellent in her solos and had some interesting rhythm techniques using the back of the bow and scratching where called upon by the music. My eye, when the dancers were't onstage, was continually called back to the double bass player, Facundo Benavidez. When the rhythm needed emphasis, he used the bass as a percussion instrument, drumming on it in different places and in different ways (back of the hand, tips of fingers, flat slap) to bring out different tones. More interesting to me was the combination of bowing and pizzicato (also used occasionally by the violinist) that had a very different tone from anything I've heard in concert halls or American jazz combos. I noticed that, often, when he was bowing, the Ms Corsini would be pizzicato, and when she bowed, he would pluck. But the technique of bowing then plucking the same string he used made for an interesting sustained note that resonated through the music.

I would like to make one side rant. I'm still on a cane when I'm likely to be on stairs or uneven surfaces. Four people were late to the performance. I was on the aisle, so they had to get through me. I stood and exited the row to let them pass and they were slow, talkative, and disorganized in getting to their seats. I missed most of the milonga group dance (though what I could see was excellent) because they couldn't be bothered to show up to the theater on time.
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Earlier on the day I got my diagnosis, I bought season tickets for this year's contemporary dance season at the Kennedy Center. My first ticket was in mid-September, but I was still recovering from the surgery and there were horrible thunderstorms, so I made the decision to miss it. Based on the review in The Washington Post the next day, it was probably wise. People left early because the work was so bleak.

Hubbard Street Dance is a small company which presented four pieces. None of the music, with the exception of the shortest piece, was particularly memorable. The dancers were marvelous, but the choreographic vocabulary seemed very limited for the first two pieces (Little mortal jump and Fluence). In fact, for these two, the stage was grey, the floor was grey, and the costumes were grey. There were some interesting visual effects in the first one -- a soloist leaping forward and disappearing over the edge of the stage as another dancer leapt up onto a wall at the back of the stage created the illusion of continuous movement, for instance. There was a pas-de-deux that began with the dancers being stuck to velcro walls, too.

Fluence explored romance including a male/male pas-de-deux that was gentle and touching.

The third piece, PACOPEPELUTO, a seven minute series of solos (with a couple of peek-in moments from the other soloists), used flesh-toned (and, yes, I mean toned to the color of the dancer's skin) dance belts as the only costumes which surprised the teenagers to my right. They thought they were seeing nudity at first and were very titillated. The music for this one was 50s pop songs sung by Dean Martin.

All of the pieces had a great deal of energy; the series of solos was witty and fun.

The final piece, Casi-Casa, was originally choreographed for a group in Havana, Cuba. Hubbard Street, according to the program, made changes to it and added some incidental material. This piece had color in the costumes, though, with two exceptions, the colors were very subdued. The overall intent seemed to be a commentary on modern life beginning with a man watching and interacting with a television. The props were minimal, but used to good effect, especially the "vacuum cleaners" used by the women in one section. This segment combined Irish step dancing, references to Scottish sword dances, and the daily drudgery of cleaning with the implication that the women were professional cleaners.

I think it was a mistake to have the short, funny piece before this one. One segment was a pas-de-deux about a break-up. There were titters of laughter in places, and a big laugh from much of the audience when the woman opens the oven and slams down the item she's been cooking. It's a baby (a doll, of course), but she walks off and the man is left in anguish. Had the funny item not been immediately before, I think the audience would have paid more attention to the emotional tone.

I loved the dancing. The dancers moved beautifully, but I was very aware that there was only one person of color in the group, Jessica Tong, whose movement drew my eye even when she was not the intended focus.

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