Saturday, September 23, 2017

Fischer Conducts Saint-Saens & Dvorak

Last night I spent another lovely evening at Abravanel Hall listening to the Utah Symphony play works by Berlioz, Saint-Saens, and Dvorak.  For those of you keeping score at home, this was the third Friday in a row that I found myself similarly occupied and, honestly, I could spend every Friday night at Abravanel Hall (next week I will be out of town).  The orchestra played Roman Carnival Overture by Hector Berlioz, Symphony No. 2 by Camille Saint-Saens (which was recorded for commercial release!), and Concerto for Cello and Orchestra by Antonin Dvorak with Harriet Krijgh as the soloist.  All three pieces had beautiful and lively melodies and I found myself swept away by the music.  Over the years I have come to love the music of Saint-Saens more and more so I really enjoyed hearing a piece I wasn't familiar with (I really love his Organ Symphony which will be performed in December!) and I was so impressed with Krijgh's performance of the Dvorak piece because she was so expressive.  I highly recommend getting a ticket to tonight's performance of the same program (tickets may be purchased here).  I guarantee a lovely evening of beautiful music!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

U2 in Phoenix

I was nineteen when U2 released their seminal album The Joshua Tree and to say that it affected me would be an understatement.  I had been a U2 fan already but this album rocked my world, literally and figuratively.  I was wide awake, for maybe the first time in my life, and I was deeply passionate about history, philosophy, literature, politics, and activism.  Bono was my guru and I worshiped at the altar of his poetry.  So when U2 announced a tour in commemoration of its 30th anniversary, I was really bummed when I noticed that SLC (or even Denver) was not on the schedule.  The closest city to me was Phoenix and since it is completely crazy to drive ten hours just for a concert I tried to put it out of my mind.  After all, I had seen them in concert so many other times.  I held out until mid-August and then, in a moment of madness, I bought a ticket.  You see, whenever I do crazy things like drive ten hours just to see a concert I am always so glad that I did it when it's all over.  Experiences like this become some of my best memories!  The concert was absolutely amazing!  Bono's voice is definitely not what it was but I've never really considered him to be a virtuoso.  Rather, I have always thought of him as an incredibly passionate performer and he gave an epic performance on Tuesday night!  Bono somehow has the ability to make a venue like the University of Phoenix Stadium feel intimate and that, out of a crowd of 50,000, he is singing just for you!  I love Bono.  I love him unabashedly!   The stage featured a massive panoramic video screen with an outline of a Joshua tree and a runway leading out to the floor with a smaller stage that also looked like a Joshua tree.  When the house lights dimmed, it looked like someone was walking along the runway and it turned out to be Larry Mullen, Jr. who began the instantly recognizable militaristic drumbeat of "Sunday Bloody Sunday."  The Edge and Adam Clayton soon joined him on guitar and bass and then the crowd went into a frenzy when Bono started singing.  They continued with "New Year's Day," "Bad," and "Pride (In the Name of Love)" out on the small stage.  Then the the screen turned red with the giant Joshua tree in black and I had goosebumps when I heard the opening notes of "Where the Streets Have No Name."  U2 played The Joshua Tree in its entirety track by track, in order!   The videos accompanying each song were shot by Anton Corbijn, who did all of the iconic photography for the album.  The images were dazzling.  My favorite songs were "With or Without You" because it is my favorite song on the album, "Bullet the Blue Sky" because it always gets me riled up, and "One Tree Hill" because it is rarely performed and Bono gave such an emotional performance of it (it was written for his friend Greg Carroll who died in a motorcycle accident and Bono dedicated it to him before singing it).  Honestly, it was worth the ten hour drive just to hear that song!  For the encore, the band sang "Miss Sarajevo," "Beautiful Day," "Elevation," "Vertigo," "Ultraviolet," and their new song "You're the Best Thing About Me."  They ended the evening with a mind-blowing performance of "One."  All of the lights were turned off and the audience used their phones to light up the arena.  I will never forget that!  It was a crazy thing to do but I am so very glad that I drove ten hours to see this concert!

Note:  The opening act was Beck.  I have always wanted to see him so this concert killed two birds with one stone!  He also put on an amazing show because he is just so damn cool!  My favorite songs were "Loser," "Where It's At," and "Wow."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Silver Screen Classics: Cool Hand Luke

The next movie in the Silver Screen Classics series was Cool Hand Luke.  It has been a really long time since I first saw it and I was thrilled to see it again on the big screen.  It is awesome to revisit a film and see something new which is what happened to me last night.  I appreciate this film so much more upon a second viewing many years after the first.  Lucas Jackson (Paul Newman) is sentenced to a Georgia road gang after some petty vandalism and disorderly conduct.  He is a devil-may-care sort of guy with a ready smile and a penchant for talking back to the guards.  He wins the respect of his fellow prisoners by standing his ground in a fight, winning a round of poker by bluffing (which is how he gets the nickname "Cool Hand Luke"), eating 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour, and getting a road tarred two hours early.  He becomes a reluctant hero to the men by repeatedly trying to escape but after the third such escape the guards break him with beatings, solitary confinement, and other forms of torture.  When he begs for mercy, the men lose hope in him. After his final attempt to escape, he is shot by the guards but dies with his mischievous grin on his face, thereby giving some hope back to the men.  In my opinion, Luke is a Christ figure who willingly sacrifices himself for the men so they have the will to go on.  He has a dramatic scene in a church at the end of the film where he asks God why he has forsaken him and there is even a Judas figure who betrays him by bringing the police to him and arranging a deal for surrender.  I never really noticed any of that the first time I watched it.  Of course there is the now iconic line, "What we've got here is failure to communicate."  When I mentioned that I would be seeing this film to my Dad, he immediately quoted that line to me!  I loved Paul Newman in this role because he is so charismatic that it is easy to see why the gang comes to admire him so much.  That smile!  I also really enjoyed seeing so many familiar faces in the supporting cast, especially Harry Dean Stanton (who recently passed away), George Kennedy, Dennis Hopper, Ralph Waite, and Wayne Rogers (from TV's M.A.S.H).  It is a true classic and, as ever, I am so happy I had the opportunity to see it on the big screen as it was meant to be seen!

Monday, September 18, 2017

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

September has been Spielberg month for me!  Earlier in the month I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind for its 40th Anniversary, a few weeks ago I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark with the score played live by the Utah Symphony, and I got to see E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (celebrating its 35th Anniversary) yesterday thanks to the TCM Big Screen Classics series.  Seeing this wonderful movie on the big screen once again was such a delight and I loved every minute of it.  I remember two things very distinctly when I saw this movie for the first time.  The design of the alien was keep very secret until the movie was released and I was so excited to see what E.T. looked like.  I thought he was adorable!  I also remember that my sister threw up during the movie and we always reminded her of this every time we watched our VHS copy of it!  The story of the relationship between an alien accidentally left on Earth and a lonely boy dealing with his parents' separation is so lovely.  There are so many fun and iconic moments in the movie that made me cheer once again (there were many kids in the audience seeing it for the first time who squealed with delight at these same scenes): when Elliott uses Reese's Pieces to lure E.T. out of the woods, when Gertie dresses him up, when Elliott releases all of the frogs at school, when E.T. first says "E.T. phone home," when Elliott's bicycle is lifted in the air on the way to the mountain, and when E.T.'s heart lights up after it appears that he has died.  While E.T. needs Elliott to help him get back home I think Elliott needs E.T. just as much and their goodbye at the end of the movie made me tear up just a little bit!  Like Close Encounters, this movie was just as magical as it was the first time I saw it on the big screen and I'm glad I had the opportunity to do so again.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Mother!

I debated with myself back and forth about whether I should see the film mother!  Darren Aronofsky is very hit or miss with me (I liked Black Swan and couldn't stop thinking about it for days but I thought Requiem for a Dream was one of the worst films I've ever seen) and the polarizing reviews did little to help me make up my mind.  Ultimately, I decided to see it Saturday afternoon and, now that I have, I honestly don't know what to make of it.  I appreciate the message about destroying Mother Earth that Aronofsky is practically hitting the audience over the head with and the Biblical allegories about creation are quite brilliant but many of the images on the screen upset me deeply.  The first two-thirds of the film are about a writer (Javier Bardem) and his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) who live in a house, which they have rebuilt after a devastating fire, in a remote and isolated area.  A man (Ed Harris), thinking that their house is a bed and breakfast, arrives and is invited to stay by the writer despite his wife's objections.  Next, a woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives and completely takes over the house, even trying to see a room which is forbidden and breaking a priceless artifact.  Soon, their sons arrive (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson) and, arguing over an inheritance, one kills the other.  More and more people come to the house and begin destroying it until the wife demands that the writer force everyone to leave.  The references to the Garden of Eden are obvious and, despite my extreme frustration at the wife's subservience and powerlessness, it worked for me as a taut and intense psychological thriller.  The close-up camera shots which track Lawrence's character from room to room as she becomes increasingly more desperate create a tension which just keeps building and building.  Pfeiffer gives one of her best performances to date, dominating each scenes she appears in.  In my opinion, the film should have ended there but it doesn't.  The third act descends into a visceral, disturbing, and surreal mess which, at times, made me sick to my stomach.  The Biblical allegories continue but I didn't like the portrayal of God as vain and selfish and His followers as fanatical and destructive (It should be noted that this is my interpretation and others may view it differently).  I don't consider myself to be a very religious person but this just seemed very offensive to me.  I was also disturbed by the portrayal of the destruction of Mother Earth because the way Lawrence's character is treated was too much for me to watch.  There is one particular scene where she is literally thrown to the ground and beaten that had me sobbing and don't get me started on the scenes with her baby, which are horrific  Again, I appreciate the message but the images are so repulsive.  I guess you could say that I really liked mother! until the main character became a mother!
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