Monday, November 20, 2017

Lady Bird

Ever since the film Lady Bird got glowing reviews at TIFF I have been eagerly anticipating its release at my favorite art house theater and I finally had the chance to see it yesterday.  I thought that I would probably love it because I am a huge fan of Greta Gerwig's particular brand of humor (go here and here) and I have loved every one of Saoirse Ronan's performances since I saw her in Atonement but I was unprepared for the deep emotional connection that I had to the film.  It perfectly captures the narcissism of youth as it follows Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Ronan) throughout her senior year of high school as she struggles to assert her independence and yearns to leave her hometown and her critical mother behind.  What I loved most about this typical coming-of-age story is that two flawed people, who have an incredibly combative relationship, are finally able to realize how much they love each other.  Ronan is brilliant as is Laurie Metcalf (who plays the mother) and the scene where she drives away from the airport is completely shattering.  I also really enjoyed Lucas Hedges (who is outstanding in Manchester by the Sea) as Danny, her theatre geek boyfriend, and Beanie Feldstein as Julie, her best friend, especially in the scene where Lady Bird and Julie listen to "Crash Into Me" by the Dave Matthews Band as they commiserate over their failed romances.  Everything about this film feels so authentic because the script is incredibly well-written and the ending, especially, made me emotional because it completely mirrored my own experience of going away to college.  I laughed and cried and, when I walked out of the theater, I wanted to call my Mom and thank her for everything she has done for me (even though she always criticized my hair).  I loved this movie so much and I highly recommend it!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Wonder

A few years ago my niece recommended the book Wonder by R.J. Palacios to me but I never had the chance to read it.  I decided to pick it up again in anticipation of the movie adaptation and I read it all week during free reading time in my classes (I noticed quite a few of my students reading it, too).  When I was over at my parents' house last week, I noticed that my Mom was reading it as well so I mentioned that we would have to see the movie when she finished with it!  My Mom is a lot like my nephew in that when I hypothetically mention doing something they both interpret it to mean that the plans are set in stone!  My Mom had planned in her mind that we were going to see it on Saturday and she talked about it all morning.  My sister gave me a head's up so I decided we better go see it!  When we got to the theater the only seats available were on the very front row because every other seat was taken.  There were lots of families with elementary school age children in the audience.  Now that is usually enough to make me run for the hills but in this instance I was actually glad to see so many kids because I think bullying is such a huge problem and I hope they got the message that kids who are different can be remarkable people.  When I picked my Mom up she made sure that I grabbed some Kleenex on the way out the door and I am actually glad that she did because I cried in about four places (my Mom cried through the whole thing and ended up sharing her Kleenex with the woman sitting next to her).  I loved this movie about a boy with a facial disfigurement who is going to school for the first time so much!  I was particularly struck by the scene where the bully's parents are called in to talk to the principal about his behavior.  Unfortunately the parents' reaction is an all too common occurrence that I see in education all of the time.  Parents want to blame the victim for being too sensitive, that their student was just playing a joke and that being picked on is just a part of living in the "real world."  I was so happy to see that the bully received a punishment despite the fact that the parents were influential members of the school board!  Bullying in never okay!  Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, and Owen Wilson all give great performances.  I especially loved Izabela Vidovic as Auggie's sister and she does a great job showing the impact of having a sibling with special needs and I loved seeing Daveed Diggs (the original Lafayette/Jefferson in Hamilton) as the teacher who helps the students choose kindness.  Definitely go see this movie!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

I have been anticipating last night's Utah Symphony concert for weeks!  It featured one of my favorite guest conductors, Mark Wigglesworth (with a name like that how can you not love him?), one of my favorite soloists, Jon Kimura Parker, and one of my favorite pieces by one of my favorite composers, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff!  It was worth the wait because it was a never-to-be-forgotten night at Abravanel Hall (stop reading right now and go here for a ticket to tonight's performance of the same program).  The orchestra began with the Overture to Rossini's The Barber of Seville, an opera I really enjoy.  As wonderful as this performance was, honestly, I could hardly contain myself waiting for Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.  I love this piece so much because it is deeply emotional and lush but I especially love the 18th variation (it is featured in the movie Somewhere in Time) because it is so unbearably romantic and I was literally swooning.  Parker gave an incredibly passionate performance and I loved watching his fingers fly up and down the keyboard.  The audience was also thrilled with his performance and gave him a thundering ovation after which he played "Blues Etude" by Oscar Peterson as an encore!  After the intermission the orchestra played Edward Elgar's Symphony No. 1.  I really loved the stately theme (Elgar also composed Pomp and Circumstance) played in variations throughout the piece.  The stirring conclusion (I loved the harps) was a wonderful way to end an amazing concert.

Note:  So far I have spent every weekend in November at Abravanel Hall.  Next weekend I will be taking a break for another one of my passions: hockey!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Justice League

Last night I went to a Thursday preview of Justice League, one of my most anticipated films of the fall, and I loved it!  Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), feeling tremendous guilt over the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), begins investigating a threat known as Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), a mythological being released from his imprisonment by the loss of hope felt throughout the world.  Steppenwolf is trying to locate three Mother Boxes (one is entrusted to the Amazons, one to the Atlanteans, and one to humans) which, when united, will destroy the world.  He and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) begin recruiting other meta-humans to help:  Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher).  After one attempt to stop Steppenwolf fails, Wayne decides to use one of the Mother Boxes to resurrect Superman stating that the team needs his leadership.  I loved so many things about this movie!  The character development is really fun for Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg and I look forward to their standalone movies.  Miller, especially, has a lot of fun with the role and Momoa is definitely easy on the eyes.  I also really liked the character arcs of both Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince as they grapple with their leadership roles.  The return of Superman was, perhaps, my favorite part of the movie.  I've always been a fan of the darker and grittier tone of the DCEU but I did like that this installment is much more hopeful and Superman's character is a big part of that.  The fun and rowdy crowd at my screening cheered when Superman joined the final battle.  The other aspect that I really enjoyed is that it took all of them, individuals who are loners and often viewed as misfits, to work together to defeat Steppenwolf.  Each of them, at one point in the final battle, is rescued by another.  Danny Elfman's score is a lot of fun and I loved when we got to hear some of the original Batman theme!  The only problem I had was that the visual effects, especially the scenes with Steppenwolf, looked too much like a video game.  I loved this movie despite that criticism and I think that most people will enjoy it, including die-hard DCEU fans because it is just dark and brooding enough as well as more mainstream fans because it is a lot of fun.  The crowd at my packed theater clapped and cheered well into the credits!

Note:  Stay for the mid-credits and end of credits scenes.  They are great!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wonderstruck

Yesterday afternoon I went to see the film Wonderstruck and let me say at the outset that it is not for everyone.  I am quite sure that many people will find it tedious and boring but I, however, found it to be a lovely and often magical meditation on the need for human connection.  The story is about two children, both deaf, who travel to New York City fifty years apart looking for a lost loved one.  In 1927, Rose (Utah native Millicent Simmonds) takes the ferry from New Jersey looking for her mother (Julianne Moore) who abandoned her to be a silent film star.  In 1977, Ben (Oakes Fegley) travels by bus from Minnesota looking for the father he has never known.  After following a series of clues they both end up at the Museum of Natural History looking for an exhibit known as the Cabinet of Curiosities.  Scenes seem very episodic and there were many times when I wondered what the narrative was leading up to.  There is a connection but it is a little bit understated and, once I knew what it was, I realized that it really didn't matter.  It is more about the process of discovery, of finding out who you are and where you belong before you can find who you are looking for.  There are some achingly beautiful scenes of Rose wandering the city with such a sense of wonder on her face (Simmonds, who is actually deaf, is wonderful) at everything she is seeing and Ben has similar scenes exploring the museum.  The added dynamic of having deaf children as the protagonists made what they were seeing all the more poignant and there are long stretches of this film where there is no dialogue so the audience is forced to focus on the visual as well.  Speaking of which, the cinematography is enchanting.  The scenes in 1927 are in black and white and have the aesthetic of an old silent film while the scenes in 1977 are suffused with a soft golden hue, almost like a Polaroid photo from that era.  This film is like its own Cabinet of Curiosities:  some people are going to love it and marvel at everything there is to see and some people are going to be bored and want to find a more exciting exhibit.
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