Sunday, March 26, 2017

Life

Last night I went to see the movie Alien Life.  Like the 1979 classic by Ridley Scott, this movie features six crew members who must battle an alien life form in a confined space as it hunts down and kills them one by one.  In the near future, the crew of the International Space Station, including Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), CDC representative Miranda North (Rebecca Furgason), engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), pilot Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) and captain Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), intercepts a probe from Mars and discovers a single cell organism which is proof of life on Mars.  Of course, the organism grows rapidly and turns malevolent and, in a breach of quarantine (never go in and rescue a crew member who is being attacked by an alien!), it gets loose in the space station and begins attacking crew members until there is one left to escape back to Earth.  Sound familiar?  This movie is unbelievably predictable and the only thing that kept me engaged was trying to determine the order in which the crew members would be killed (I was actually surprised by which crew member was killed first).  There is a bit of a twist at the end but I predicted it well before it was revealed.  The scenes with the alien are intense and incredibly graphic.  That is not necessarily a good thing because, if you are least bit squeamish, you may need to turn away.  I think zero-gravity is depicted very well and I like how the claustrophobia of the space station is emphasized.  The characters are pretty well developed, although I felt like Ryan Reynolds was playing an astronaut version of Wade Wilson (lots of swearing).  Overall, it is a pretty good sci-fi thriller but if you want a great one I would recommend watching Alien instead.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

An Evening of Bach

I spontaneously decided to get a ticket to last night's Utah Symphony concert featuring the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and I am so glad that I did because it was wonderful.  Guest conductor Richard Egarr was charm personified as he spoke to the audience about the various pieces.  He not only conducted the orchestra, but he also played the piano which was amazing and so much fun to watch.  The concert began with Suite No. 3 and the price of admission was entirely worth it for the second movement of this piece alone!  It was so beautiful and evocative and, as Egarr mentioned in his commentary, instantly recognizable to me.  I was completely undone by it!  I also really enjoyed the theme played by the trumpets in the third movement, which Egarr described as angelic rather than militaristic.  Next, the orchestra played Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 with Egarr on piano, Madeline Adkins on violin, and Mercedes Smith on flute.  All three of them were amazing, especially in the second movement where they were featured without the rest of the orchestra.  After the intermission, the orchestra played Concerto No. 1 and I really enjoyed the "pyrotechnics," as Egarr described it, on the piano.  Once again, I especially liked the second movement (what is it, structurally, that appeals to me about the second movement in most pieces?) because it was very moody and atmospheric.  The concert concluded with Suite No. 4 and this piece was so pleasant.  I kept picturing couples twirling on the dance floor in an opulent palace.  It was such a lovely evening and I highly recommend that you get a ticket (go here) to tonight's concert which will feature the same program.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Sense of an Ending

Last summer I read the best-selling novel A Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and in my review I wrote that people would either love it or hate it.  I loved it and so I have been eagerly anticipating the film adaptation.  After seeing it last night, I have the same assessment of the film that I did of the novel.  It is definitely not for everyone but it is a poignant exploration of one man's life as he is forced to reexamine the past after receiving a letter from an old girlfriend.  Jim Broadbent is Tony Webster and Charlotte Rampling plays Veronica Ford, Tony's first real girlfriend at university.  Their story, as Tony remembers it, is told through a series of flashbacks, with Billy Howle and Freya Mavor playing the younger characters, as Tony recounts the story to his ex-wife (an amusing Harriet Walter).  Then their story, as it really happened, is revealed as Tony arranges a series of meetings with Veronica.  As he sheds his delusions about the kind of person he was and is, he begins to make amends with the people in his life, namely his daughter (Michelle Dockery).  The mystery unfolds very slowly but I really enjoyed this character study because I think that we all view our pasts the way we need to in order to validate our opinions of ourselves.  Jim Broadbent is marvelous (I think that his portrayal of Tony is much more sympathetic than the character is written on the page) and Charlotte Rampling, once again, gives a haunting performance.  I highly recommend this film but, as I said, I think people will either love it or hate it.

Note:  My favorite line in the film comes when the young Tony goes home with Veronica to meet her parents.  Her mother asks him what he plans to do with an undergraduate degree in English literature.  I laughed out loud...

Thursday, March 23, 2017

My Life as a Zucchini

My Life as a Zucchini is a French stop-motion animation movie about a boy, nicknamed Zucchini, who is sent to a foster home after his alcoholic mother dies and learns the true meaning of friendship.  This movie was screened at Sundance this year and several of my friends recommended it to me so I saw it last night.  Even though I had an almost visceral reaction to this movie I loved it so much!  It just might be my favorite movie of the year so far!  The subject is one that is very close to my heart.  Both my niece and nephew are adopted and they were both in foster homes before they came to my family so many of the scenes depicted in this film brought tears to my eyes, especially when one of the children says that there is no one left to love them and when another child runs out to see if her mother has come back for her every time someone visits.  It was difficult for me to see children in such distressing situations but I admire the filmmakers for tackling these issues in a way that feels authentic.  They are all wise beyond their years and they have been exposed to things that no child should ever have to deal with but they are, nevertheless, still children so their explanations for things, such as sex, are hilarious.  Despite the grim subject, there is quite a bit of humor in this film.  I absolutely loved the children and I thought they were all fully realized characters with distinct personalities (something to be commended as the film has such a short run time).  I was particularly touched by Simon, who initially comes across as a bully but has a few vulnerable moments.  I really enjoyed the relationships between the children and the love story between Zucchini and Camille is very sweet.  Finally, I really loved the quirky look of all of the characters.  They have oversize heads with large expressive eyes and red noses as if they are all perpetually suffering from a cold and this makes them incredibly sympathetic, in my opinion.  I cannot recommend this film enough!

Note:  I saw it in French with English subtitles but there is a dubbed version, as well.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pink Martini

Pink Martini has been to Salt Lake City several times to perform with the Utah Symphony but I have always had a conflict whenever they have been in town.  When I saw that they were included in the 2016-2017 lineup, I made sure to get a ticket and have eagerly been anticipating last night's concert for months.  I enjoyed every minute of it.  In fact, it was probably more fun than should be allowed in SLC on a Tuesday!  Pink Martini is a self-described "little orchestra" with 12 members, plus the incredible China Forbes on vocals, created by Thomas Lauderdale, a classically trained pianist with political aspirations, who was dismayed by the bland Muzak he heard at political functions and thought he could improve upon what he heard.  The group he put together is anything but bland!  Their repertoire includes classical, Latin, jazz, pop, and world music and their eclectic mixture was a hit!  They began with "Amado Mio," with a performance by Forbes which gave me goosebumps, and they ended with "Brazil," which featured the American Fork High School marching band and basically turned Abravanel Hall into Carnival in Rio!  In between, they played songs in Spanish, German, Turkish, Armenian, and Japanese along with several in French and, at one point, had the audience singing along in French!  Before each number, Lauderdale, an enthusiastic master of ceremonies, would ask for members in the audience who spoke the language of the song to come to the stage to sing back-up.  The Armenian group even gave an impromptu performance of another folk song.  The highlight of the concert, for me, was when Forbes sang "Song to the Moon" from the opera Rusalka.  This just about blew my mind because it was so beautiful!  Even though I did not know the words to this aria, I had tears in my eyes!  Rusalka just went to the top of my list of operas that I want to see!  Another favorite moment came when Forbes did the traditional introduction of the band members after which they literally introduced every member of the Utah Symphony!  I thought that was hilarious.  I had so much fun at this concert and I will definitely make sure I get a ticket every time Pink Martini comes to town.
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