Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Overlord

I was very intrigued by the idea of a movie involving World War II intrigue and elements of horror so I decided to see Overlord last night.  I liked it so much more than I thought I would!  On the eve of the D-Day invasion in France a squadron of paratroopers is sent to destroy a German radio tower attached to a church in a tiny village.  When their plane is shot down, only five members of the squadron survive:  Ford (Wyatt Russell), Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Tibbet (John Magaro), Chase (Iain De Caestecker), and Dawson (Jacob Anderson).  Ford insists that they carry on with the mission to destroy the radio tower despite the odds and they encounter a villager named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) who hides them.  While scouting the area around the church, Boyce discovers that the Nazis have been using a serum to experiment on the villagers in the hope that they can create a super soldier to win the war.  He eventually rescues a paratrooper who was captured (Dominic Applewhite).  They decide that not only do they need to blow up the radio tower but they also need to destroy the Nazi's lab which leads to an epic showdown.  There are some elements of the story that do become rather silly, especially involving a German officer who injects himself with the serum, but I found it to be incredibly suspenseful and entertaining.  The action sequences are intense, particularly the opening scene in which the plane is shot down, and the scenes where Boyce explores the lab in the church are really creepy and atmospheric (thanks to great sound design) even if they do contain many horror tropes.  My favorite scene involves Chloe taking out a particularly persistent monster (I may or may not have cheered out loud).  Most of the characters are very thinly drawn and stereotypical (the war-weary veteran, the innocent newcomer, the wise-cracking prankster, the self-sufficient survivor) but I did find them to be sympathetic and I was rooting for them to succeed.  This movie is pretty gory and violent (lots of war and zombie imagery) but it is a lot of fun.  I am actually very surprised by how much I enjoyed Overlord and I would recommend it to fans of action/horror movies.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Die Hard

The next selection in the TCM Big Screen Classics series is Die Hard which is celebrating its 30th Anniversary.  I distinctly remember seeing this in the theater when it was first released (which makes me feel old) and I absolutely loved it!  I got to see it again yesterday and it is just as fun as I remember.  John McClane (Bruce Willis), a New York City police officer, has come to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to reconcile with his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) who has taken a high power job with the Nakatomi corporation.  He arrives at the Nakatomi high rise building during a Christmas party which is interrupted by a group of terrorists, led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), who seize control of the building and take everyone but John hostage.  The terrorists are heavily armed and attempt to open the vault to steal $640 million in bearer bonds.  The police and the FBI are in over their heads, so John, with the help of a lone LAPD officer (Reginald VelJohnson), attacks the terrorists one by one until an epic confrontation with Gruber.  Even thirty years later, this movie is still suspenseful and exciting with great action sequences, especially when McClane jumps off the roof ahead of an explosion.  Bruce Willis became the ultimate action hero after this movie and its easy to see why with his wisecracking bravura touched with a little vulnerability.  This movie was my first introduction to Alan Rickman and I loved him as the suave and sophisticated, yet ruthless, villain Gruber (many believe Gruber to be one of the best movie villains ever).  This movie has often been imitated but, after seeing it again on the big screen, I realize how vastly superior it is to many that came after, especially this one!

Note:  Do you consider Die Hard to be a Christmas movie?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Girl in the Spider's Web

I am a huge fan of the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson (I've read all three books multiple times) so I was very intrigued by a new novel involving the antisocial hacker Lisbeth Salander called The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz.  I didn't initially like it because I was constantly comparing it to the first three books which probably wasn't very fair of me.  I decided that if I saw the movie adaptation I would try to judge it on its own merits rather than compare it to David Fincher's moody and atmospheric adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  My Dad and I decided to see it yesterday and we both thought it was a pretty good thriller.  Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) has become a sort of avenging angel for battered women when she is asked by a former NSA agent named Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) to steal a computer program that he designed, which can access nuclear codes around the world, because he's having second thoughts about its use.  Stealing the program is a simple job for Salander but it attracts the attention of the NSA, who send Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield) to Stockholm to retrieve it, and it also attracts the attention of a Russian gang known as the Spiders, who bomb Salander's apartment to steal it from her.  She enlists the help of Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) to discover who is behind this gang and ultimately must confront her own past to get the program back.  This is not the dark and psychologically complex murder mystery that the original is but, in my opinion, it is not meant to be.  It is meant to be an action thriller and on that level it succeeds.  The car chases, explosions, and fight scenes are fantastic and Foy delivers a kick-ass performance.  The screenplay deviates quite a bit from the source material, especially in regards to Lisbeth’s backstory, but I think it improves upon an meandering and overly technical story.  It is quite entertaining and I really enjoyed it.  This movie might not be what you are expecting if you are a fan of the original trilogy, but if you can appreciate it for what it is, I highly recommend it

Hunter Killer

My Dad and I are huge fans of espionage novels and movies so we have been anticipating Hunter Killer for quite a while.  We finally got to see it yesterday and we both loved it!  When the submarine USS Tampa Bay goes missing in the Arctic Ocean, Rear Admiral John Fisk (Common) sends the USS Arkansas, commanded by the unorthodox Captain Joe Glass (Gerard Butler), to investigate.  The NSA also sends a Navy SEAL team to the Polyarny naval base in Russia for a covert mission to investigate the build up of their northern fleet.  The USS Arkansas finds the USS Tampa Bay and discovers that it was sunk by a Russian torpedo under highly suspicious circumstances.  Meanwhile, the Navy SEALs discover that the Russian Defense Minister (Mikhail Gorevoy) has taken the Russian President (Alexander Diachenko) hostage in a coup d'etat and is trying to provoke a war with the US.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Charles Donnegan (Gary Oldman), wants to ready the fleet for war but Fisk suggests that the SEALs go in and rescue the Russian President and that the USS Arkansas go through the Murmansk Fjord, and area that is heavily mined, to rendezvous with them in the hope of stopping a war.  What follows is tense, suspenseful, and action-packed!  This movie feels like a throw-back to the Cold War thrillers that I watched in my teens and, apparently, I've really missed having Russia as an enemy!  The story is compelling, with some great plot twists and edge-of-your-seat action sequences, especially when the USS Arkansas evades a torpedo.  Hunter Killer is exciting and wildly entertaining and I recommend it to fans of the genre (or people like me who miss Cold War intrigue).

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Bernstein's Candide

I ended a really fun week of culture and the arts last night with a semi-staged version of Leonard Bernstein's opera Candide performed in collaboration with the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera.  I sometimes teach the satirical novella by Voltaire, upon which this opera is based, to my seniors so I have been looking forward to this since the 2018-2019 season was announced.  It was absolutely delightful and I laughed out loud more times than I can count!  Candide (Jonathan Johnson) is an illegitimate young man living in Westphalia with his uncle, the Baron Thunder-ten-Tronck and his son, Maximilian (Mark Diamond), daughter, Cunegonde (Amy Owens), and an accommodating serving girl named Paquette (Alecks Romano).  The four young people are taught by an eminent philosopher, Dr. Pangloss (Hugh Russell), that life equals happiness.  When Candide falls in love with Cunegonde, the Baron disapproves and banishes him.  Candide then wanders around the world, including Bulgaria where he is pressed into service in the army, Lisbon where he faces the Spanish Inquisition, Paris where he inadvertently kills two men, Spain where he flees arrest, Uruguay where he inadvertently kills Maximilian, El Dorado where he discovers golden sheep, Suriname where he buys a leaky boat, and Venice where is is reunited with everyone.  While he is having his adventures, he wonders why all of these bad things keep happening to him when life is happiness.  He finally realizes that life is just life and settles down with Cunegonde to grow his garden.  The music in this opera is beautiful and I especially enjoyed "The Best of All Possible Worlds," "It Must Be So," "Glitter and Be Gay," "My Love," "Universal Good," and "Make Our Garden Grow."  Both Johnson and Owens are spectacular and I also really enjoyed the Utah Opera Chorus who provide much of the comedy.  This performance is absolutely hilarious and my favorite bit of business is when Candide borrows Maestro Thierry Fischer's baton to use in a sword fight!  The costumes are fabulous and the staging is incredibly innovative for such a small space.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I highly recommend getting a ticket to tonight's performance (go here).

Note:  I really enjoy watching the principal timpanist (translation: I have a small crush on him).  At this performance an adorable older lady sitting in front of me turned and asked me if she was obstructing my view by leaning forward slightly.  When I said no, she went on to say that her favorite member of the orchestra plays the timpani and since he was in the corner of the stage she couldn't see him without leaning forward.  I laughed and said that I liked him, too!  She mentioned, while blushing, that she had met him and that he was just so charming.  I told her that we could swoon together!
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