Monday, February 29, 2016

Eddie the Eagle

The second movie in our Saturday night double feature was Eddie the Eagle, yet another feel-good true story about the Olympics.  To be sure, this is a formulaic underdog sports movie full of cliches (there is a training montage to "You Make My Dreams" by Hall & Oats) but I think I liked it for the same reason I cheered for Eddie at the 1988 Calgary Olympics despite the fact that he came in last:  Eddie is so irrepressibly endearing you just can't help liking him!  The movie tells the story (with much poetic license) of how a young boy who wore leg braces dreamed of being an Olympian.  Eddie (Taron Egerton) actually becomes a good downhill skier but narrowly misses making the Olympic team in 1984.  He decides to switch to ski jumping because Great Britain doesn't have a team and, if he competes in one event, he will automatically qualify.  Despite the fact that he has never jumped before, he moves to Germany to train and meets Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), an alcoholic snow plow driver who happens to be a former ski jumper with his own inner demons.  Eddie convinces Peary to train him because of his sheer determination to succeed.  After overcoming many obstacles, Eddie finally has the chance to be an Olympian and Peary proves to his former mentor (a comatose Christopher Walken) that he takes ski jumping seriously.  Egerton perfectly captures Eddie's goofiness and Jackman just looks great (my favorite scene is when Peary jumps the 90m hill with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth).  As I mentioned, the screenplay takes many liberties with Eddie's story (Bronson Peary is a fictional character based on several of his coaches and he trained in Lake Placid rather than Germany) but, no matter!  I literally cheered out loud, like I did in 1988, when Eddie landed his 90m jump and I definitely enjoyed watching his story.  I suspect that anyone who remembers watching the 1988 Olympics will enjoy it, as well!  It is a bit of fun and I recommend it as such.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Race

A weekend spent watching movies is always a good idea so Marilyn and I decided on a double feature last night.  Our first movie was Race, the true story of Jesse Owens and his four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  It begins when Owens (Stephan James) arrives at Ohio State to train with Coach Snyder (an excellent Jason Sudeikis), a former Olympic athlete trying to make a name for himself as a coach.  Despite many obstacles, such as being treated unfairly by other athletes at Ohio State, most notably the football team, needing to work constantly to support his out-of-work father and his girlfriend and their daughter, and clashing with his coach, he begins winning race after race.  When he qualifies for the Olympics, he is approached by the NAACP to boycott the Olympics in protest of Hitler's racial policies.  Ultimately, he decides to participate to show Hitler that his policies are unsound, particularly when he competes head to head in the long jump against Hitler's poster boy for Aryan superiority, Carl "Luz" Long (David Kross).  The movie ends, not with his stunning victories in Berlin, but with Owens and his wife being made to use the servant's entry to the hotel where a dinner is being given in his honor.  It is a powerful portrait of bigotry that is particularly salient in these troubling times.  I love inspirational sports movies and this is a pretty good one.  The scenes during the Olympics are epic (they reminded me of the Olympic scenes in Unbroken) and, even though I knew the outcome of every race, I was holding my breath and willing him to win!  James gives a very earnest portrayal of Owens and I felt totally invested in his story.  Where the movie bogs down is in its telling of other stories such as Snyder's failed opportunities at the Olympics, the long protracted debate between American Olympic Committee members about whether to boycott the Olympics (lots of speeches), and the efforts by filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Hounten) to make a propaganda film about the athletic superiority of Germany.   These subplots somewhat detract from the power of Owens' story (it is compelling enough) and make the movie much longer than it needs to be.  However, I really did love it and highly recommend it!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Witch

The Witch premiered at Sundance last year to much acclaim, even winning the Directing Award in the U.S. Dramatic category.  Several of my friends, whose opinions I hold in high regard, saw it at Sundance and absolutely raved about it so I have been looking forward to its wide release.  I saw it last night and it is the real deal!  I like to be genuinely scared by a horror movie rather than shocked and, let me tell you, I was scared by The Witch.  In 17th century New England, a farmer (Ralph Ineson), his wife (Kate Dickie), and his family are expelled from a plantation for heresy.  They settle in a remote area on the edge of a dark and foreboding forest.  When a tragedy befalls the family, who are isolated and in the grip of religious hysteria, they begin to suspect that their oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is involved in witchcraft.  It is brilliant!  The cast is absolutely perfect and the production design is so full of period verisimilitude that it sometimes feels like watching a documentary about Puritan life.  The historical setting makes the events seem so plausible (in fact, the script is based on the folklore of the period) that I doubt I will be able to sleep in the foreseeable future.  It is atmospheric, shot in muted gray and sepia tones; intense, to say the least; suspenseful, almost to the point of being unbearable; and scary, more for what you don't see than for what you do.  I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

An Inspector Calls at PTC

Last night I saw PTC's production of An Inspector Calls and I really enjoyed it!  The play takes place in an industrial city in England in 1912 (which I find to be a particularly interesting time in history).  The Birling family is enjoying a celebratory dinner announcing of the engagement of their daughter, Sheila (Katie Wieland), to Gerald Croft (John Skelley) who, as the son of Sir George and Lady Croft, is their superior socially.  Arthur Birling (Joseph Dellger), a wealthy factory owner, is particularly pleased about his daughter's engagement as it will certainly elevate his own status.  After dinner, Inspector Goole (Christopher Kelley) calls to question the family about the suicide of a former worker in one of Birling's factories.  Each family member, including the aforementioned Sheila and Gerald as well as Arthur's wife Sybil (Mia Dillon) and his dissolute son Eric (John Evans Reese), professes having no knowledge of the girl.  However, as the investigation continues, it is revealed that each of them is somehow complicit in her death.  The tension mounts and mounts as each person is questioned until there is a surprise twist at the end (the fact that there is no intermission only serves to heighten the suspense).  Sheila and Eric are completely shattered by this tragedy, while Sybil feels that she has done nothing wrong, Gerald wants to find someone else to blame, and Arthur only cares about the potential for scandal (in my opinion, this foreshadows the crumbling of the Edwardian facade during the war).  It is an interesting murder mystery but it is also a powerful indictment of the rigid social classes in the Edwardian era.  The ensemble cast is excellent but I particularly enjoyed Wieland's portrayal of Sheila (think Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary).  The stage is particularly effective as there is a factory, populated by "factory girls," located above an elegant dining room serving to emphasize that the wealth of the aristocracy was dependent upon the drudgery of the working classes.   Once again, PTC has given me a thought-provoking evening of theatre and I highly recommend this compelling show (particularly if you are a fan of Downton Abbey).  It runs through March 5 at Pioneer Theatre and tickets can be purchased here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Dinner at Bistro 222

Since I spend so much time downtown, I wanted another option for dinner before attending a performance at Capitol Theatre.  I recently found Bistro 222 and it has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants.  Located in the heart of downtown, Bistro 222 has a very sophisticated vibe with black and white decor that is modern and contemporary.  I love the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on Main Street because you can people watch to your heart's content!  I feel like I'm in the middle of a big city whenever I eat there!  The seasonal menu features contemporary American cuisine which is simple yet elegant.
I am very partial to their artisan pizzas and my server informed me that they have an authentic wood fired pizza oven!  I recently had the Ratatouille pizza ($14.00) with zucchini, yellow squash, red onions, eggplant, red peppers, marinara, whole milk mozzarella, and torn basil.  It was delicious and I really appreciate the fact that Bistro 222 has so many vegetarian options.
The desserts change nightly and this bit of deliciousness is called the "Chocolate Tower."  It is chocolate cake stuffed with a decadent mousse topped with cream ($8.00) and I loved it!  The service is always great and there is often live music on the weekends.  Bistro 222 is located at 222 S. Main Street in downtown SLC making it a perfect place for dinner before a performance at Capitol Theatre!  It is open Monday-Thursday: 11:00 am - 9:00 pm, Friday: 11:00 am - 10:00 pm, and Saturday: 5:00 pm - 10:00 pm.  Entrees range from $18.00 - $45.00.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Lady in the Van

Last night I went to see the charming film The Lady in the Van at the Broadway.  It tells the (mostly) true story of how a homeless woman named Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smith) came to park her van in the driveway of playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) for fifteen years and the development of their unlikely friendship.  It is a slow moving film filled with lots of dialogue but, as I said, I found it to be charming, mostly on the strength of Maggie Smith's wonderful performance.  She excels at playing irascible old women!  My favorite device is depicting Alan Bennett as two separate characters: the one who lives life and the one who writes about it.  Alan Bennett, the participant, slowly discovers that Miss Shepherd has had a fascinating life as a world-renowned musician, a nun, and an ambulance driver during the war.  He also discovers the events which drove her to her lowly condition.  Alan Bennett, the writer, makes critical comments about the passivity which has allowed Miss Shepherd to take up residence while simultaneously wishing that he could write about her.  When the two characters, both played by Alex Jennings, argue with each other it is quite amusing.  To be sure, this is a comedy with lots of funny contributions from the ensemble cast playing Bennett's eccentric neighbors and, of course, Maggie Smith doing what she does best, but there is an incredibly poignant moment near the end of the film which had me in tears.  Ultimately, Miss Shepherd helps Bennett figure out who he really is.  The ending is a bit hokey (Bennett, the participant, frequently points out the events which didn't happen to Bennett, the writer) but, overall, I really enjoyed the film.  Fans of Maggie Smith are sure to enjoy it, as well.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ballet West's Romeo and Juliet

Last night I saw Ballet West's beautiful production of Romeo and Juliet at Capitol Theatre. The story is based on the well known Shakespearean tragedy and features music composed by Sergei Prokofiev and choreography by John Cranko. I loved it! Even though Romeo and Juliet is not my favorite play, Prokofiev's dramatic score gave me goosebumps, especially during the Capulets' ball, and the choreography is absolutely riveting. The ensemble scenes in the marketplace are athletic, playful, and so much fun to watch; the sword fights between the Capulets and the Montagues are tense and passionate; and the three central pas de deux between Romeo and Juliet are incredibly romantic and I frequently found myself holding my breath, especially during the balcony scene and the bedroom scene. I was very impressed with the principal cast. One of the most powerful moments on stage is when Lady Capulet (Katlyn Addison) mourns over the body of Tybalt (Ronald Tilton) and climbs on to his funeral bier. Addison (who has become one of my favorite dancers because she reminds me of my niece, Tashena) gives an incredible performance filled with palpable despair. I also enjoyed Christopher Sellars' performance as Mercutio (he was greeted with thunderous applause during the final bows) because he is so charismatic. I loved it when he kisses a peasant girl as he lays dying. Rex Tilton, as Romeo, and Sayaka Ohtaki, as Juliet, dance their roles beautifully. Their pas de deux are quite acrobatic but they make them look effortless, graceful, and very emotional. This was one of the most ambitious Ballet West productions I've seen (with 75 cast members, 250 costumes, a 50-piece orchestra, and several elaborate sets) and it was quite impressive! I thought it was absolutely lovely!  Unfortunately, the run ended last night but you can go here to see upcoming Ballet West performances.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

O.C. Tanner Gift of Music

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the O.C. Tanner Gift of Music concert in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.  It was quite the experience!  Over thirty years ago, Obert C. Tanner and Gordon B. Hinckley created and endowed this concert series as a way to share performances of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Utah Symphony as a gift to the community.  I have been lucky enough to attend several of these concerts (including the 30th Anniversary concert featuring James Taylor in 2013).  This year Thierry Fischer conducted the Utah Symphony, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Choristers of the Madeleine Choir School and soloists Orla Boylan, Celena Shafer, Amy Owens, Charlotte Hellekant, Tamara Mumford, Barry Banks, Markus Werba, and Jordan Bisch in a stirring rendition of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 8.  Oh my goodness, it was absolutely spectacular!  I had never heard this piece before and I had goosebumps from the very first note of the magnificent organ to the final crash of the cymbals!  I absolutely loved it.  I can't even describe how beautiful this performance was, especially in such a gorgeous setting, and I am profoundly grateful for the generosity of Obert C. Tanner and his wife Grace in providing such a memorable experience for the community and for the opportunity to have world class organizations like the Utah Symphony and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir right here in Salt Lake City!  This event is free, but all available tickets for tonight's performance have been claimed.  However, stand-by seating is available and the line will begin at the flagpole by the Tabernacle.  I would plan on being there as early as possible (the concert begins at 7:00 pm).  It is well worth the effort for a chance to see this unbelievable performance!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Pirate Queen at HCT

When HCT announced their 2016 season, I think I was most excited to see The Pirate Queen. After all, it is composed by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil (better known for a little show called Les Miserables). I couldn't wait to see it and I got my wish last night.  It is, essentially, the story of two women who are enemies yet face the same limitations as women and ultimately triumph. Queen Elizabeth I (Cecily Ellis-Bills) has just assumed the throne of England and needs to prove herself by conquering the Irish barbarians. Grace O'Malley (Heather McDonald) becomes the chieftain of the O'Malley clan after proving herself in battle on her father's ship The Pirate Queen and fights to keep her people from submitting to the English Crown. It is an incredible story and, of course, the music is absolutely magnificent! I loved McDonald's voice (I thought she was a hoot as Ado Annie in Oklahoma) and I especially loved how her voice blended with Jacob Theo Squire's, as Tiernan, in the songs "Here On This Night" and "If I Said I Loved You" and with Ellis-Bills' in the songs "She Who Has It All" and "Terra Marique Potens." There are so many powerful scenes in this show but my favorites are "Dubhdara's Farewell" when Grace's father is given his final send-off to sea (the candles and the torches are incredible), the scene between Grace and Queen Elizabeth where the woman in the regalia of a monarch wants what the woman in chains and rags has in her life, and "I'll Be There" when Tiernan has to watch the woman he loves marry someone else to unite the clans. The show is staged very well, especially all of the battle scenes.  It is always so amazing to me what they can do on such a small and intimate stage and the battles are very realistic, especially in the song "Surrender." The choreography is so much fun to watch, particularly the Irish dancing during the wedding and the christening and I absolutely loved the staging of the song "Boys'll Be Boys." (Nathan Gibb Johnson is very easy on the eyes as Donal O'Flaherty, even if he does betray Grace to the English).  Brad Schroeder, the fight choreographer, and Alan Scariff, the Celtic choreographer, are to be commended. The costumes are fantastic, especially all of the over-the-top gowns worn by Queen Elizabeth and her attendants.  I love stories about powerful women and this story is told very well by HCT.  I highly recommend getting a ticket!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Deadpool

I was on the fence about seeing Deadpool because Ryan Reynolds is hit or miss with me (I hated The Green Lantern).  However, my officers raved about it when we decorated for the dance (one of them has seen it three times) so I decided to see it last night.  It is an irreverent satire of the superhero genre filled with sex, violence, and profanity.  I loved it!  Oh how I loved it!  I started laughing during the opening credits and pretty much didn't stop throughout the whole movie.  I don't think I've ever written a review focused on the opening credits before but, in this movie, they are brilliant.  With Juice Newton's "Angel of the Morning" underneath, the opening features a super slow-motion sequence from the movie with credits that do not show names but, rather, tongue-in-cheek descriptions of the cast and crew.  It is distributed by Douchebag Films, it stars God's Perfect Idiot, a Hot Chick, a British Villain, Comic Relief, a CGI Character, a Sullen Teenager, and a Gratuitous Cameo, it is directed by an Overpaid Tool, it is produced by Asshats, and is written by the Real Heroes Here.  I laughed so hard I couldn't breathe and the credits set the tone for the rest of the movie which continually makes self-deprecating references to superhero movies from mocking the superhero landing (hard on the knees) to a quip about meeting Charles Xavier ("McAvoy or Stewart? The timeline is so confusing.")  Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is a wise-cracking former member of the Special Forces who now works as a mercenary.  When he meets call girl Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), his wise-cracking equal, they fall in love and decide to get married.  When Wilson discovers that he has late-stage cancer which has spread to the liver, lungs, prostate, and brain (all organs he doesn't need), he leaves her because he doesn't want to subject her to watching him waste away.  He eventually decides to undergo a treatment which will cure his cancer by unlocking dormant mutant abilities.  However, Ajax (Ed Skrein) and Angel Dust (Gina Carano), former patients themselves, have little regard for the torture they put him through and finally resort to a procedure which disfigures him.  Wilson creates the persona of Deadpool, with a mask to cover his face, and goes after Ajax and Angel to get revenge with the help of Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) who are trying to recruit him to the X-Men.  The action sequences are fantastic but it is so funny with great physical humor, references to popular culture (I laughed so hard about the Sinead O'Connor reference to Warhead which many in my audience didn't get), and lightning fast dialogue!  Reynolds frequently breaks the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience with hilarious results ("Fourth wall break inside a fourth wall break?  That's, like, sixteen walls!")  With all of the sanitized PG-13 action in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I give a lot of credit to the filmmakers for going all out with this character.  It's a great movie but I definitely wouldn't recommend it to everyone.

Note:  Stay for a post credits scene spoofing Ferris Beuller's Day Off.  It's hilarious!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sweethearts Dance 2016

Last night my officers sponsored the annual Sweethearts Dance.  I think this dance was the hardest to plan and the easiest to execute!  We had to have three different planning meetings to come up with a theme (their first idea was rejected by the administration) and in the end I put every possibility on the white board and had them all vote by a secret ballot.  "A Night in Shangri-La" had the most votes but then everyone had different ideas about the motif for the decorations.  We tried to incorporate every idea so was I worried that it wouldn't look cohesive but it ended up being beautiful.  We turned the concrete pillars into cherry trees and spent weeks making cherry blossoms out of tissue paper.  Then we hung Chinese lanterns, which we purchased from the Oriental Trading Company, in between the pillars.  We put battery operated tea lights inside each lantern and it did look quite spectacular in the dark.  Finally, we made a pagoda as the entrance into the dance which was quite dramatic.  It was a problematic pagoda because it kept falling down but it stayed up through the whole dance!  We also had major issues with the DJ and the refreshments!  My officers wanted to have a different DJ than the one I always use and, since it is actually their dance, I agreed to let them find one.  They all kind of dropped the ball on this assignment and I had to give them a deadline after which I would call my DJ and they agreed.  The deadline came and went but, by the time I contacted my guy, he was already booked!  I was in a panic!  With two weeks to go I literally found someone on the internet and, luckily, he was available!  However, he was not in our system so it was extremely difficult to pay him.  It was a nightmare and I actually had a bit of a meltdown last week but it all worked out.  I usually have the Culinary Arts class make our refreshments but they had a big dinner to cater last week and couldn't do it.  We decided to have fortune cookies and I went to a few Asian specialty stores but couldn't find any in bulk (the cute little Asian ladies couldn't understand why I needed so many and I think they thought I was crazy).  One of my officers ended up going to a local Chinese restaurant to get some and I think they were a hit because the kids liked looking at their fortunes.  We spent our day off from school last Friday decorating the Commons and it was so much fun!  It was probably the easiest installation I have ever had for a dance and, except for the pagoda, everything went exactly as planned!  We even had a fabulous lunch brought in by several of the officers.  The dance went off without a hitch (even the pagoda).  We changed the configuration of the pictures and the refreshment table which avoided some of the problems we usually have so the actual dance was pretty stress-free for me.  The kids looked like they were having a good time, too. I'm happy with how it turned out and I'm very proud of my officers for persevering in what was an unusually difficult process but I'm so glad that Monday is another day off from school!

Note:  We had quite a few parents of younger students (we have the ninth grade this year) come to chaperon which I think is a very good idea.  One Dad, in particular, was absolutely adorable!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bravo Broadway

I am a huge fan of musical theatre (I'm going on a theatre trip to New York in a few months and I couldn't be more excited) so an evening celebrating the music of Broadway with four amazing soloists and the Utah Symphony was definitely one of the first concerts I chose when creating my season package!  Under the baton of Maestro Jerry Steichen (who I just love) the orchestra played the Overtures to Gypsy, Guys and Dolls, and An American in Paris which was just lovely.  Throughout the evening the orchestra was joined by some incredibly amazing soloists who regularly perform on Broadway, including Melissa Errico, Hugh Panaro (very easy on the eyes), Stephen Buntrock, and Morgan James, to sing some of my favorite songs from some of my favorite musicals.  The highlights included "Oh What A Beautiful Morning" from Oklahoma, "There's Nothing Like a Dame" from South Pacific, "Something's Coming" and "Tonight" from West Side Story, "Cabaret" from Cabaret, "The Rain in Spain" from My Fair Lady, "To Life" from Fiddler on the Roof, "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha (which just about brought the roof down on Abravanel Hall), "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" from Evita, and "Defying Gravity" from Wicked.  My favorite moment was when all four soloists sang "Seasons of Love" from RENT.  I absolutely love that song (and that musical) and I may or may not have sung along with them!  They ended the program with a fun medley of songs from Mamma Mia (without the spandex jumpsuits, alas) which got Abravanel Hall rocking.  For the encore, Hugh Panaro sang an incredible rendition of "The Music of the Night" from The Phantom of the Opera.  I still get chills when I hear those distinctive opening notes!  Finally, all four soloists came out for a fun version, complete with costumes, of "Aquarius" and "Let the Sun Shine In" from Hair.  I loved every minute of this concert and I wanted it to go on all night!  If you are a fan of musical theatre like me, I strongly suggest that you go here to get a ticket for tonight's performance if you can (there was nary a seat to be had last night).

Friday, February 12, 2016

45 Years

I've had a lot going on this week and I really needed to unwind a little bit last night so I decided to see 45 Years at my favorite art house theater.  It is the anatomy of a long and happy marriage in crisis and it is brilliant!  Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) are about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary with a lavish party when Geoff receives the news that a former girlfriend's body has been found in a melting glacier in Switzerland.  Katya, the girlfriend, had been killed while she and Geoff had been hiking together over fifty years ago and he was listed as her next of kin.  Kate reacts to the news with equanimity but soon becomes consumed with jealousy as Geoff begins reminiscing about his romance with Katya, including sneaking up to the attic in the middle of the night to look at photos of her.  In an incredibly powerful scene, Kate goes up to the attic when Geoff isn't home to look at the photos for herself.  Kate eventually confronts Geoff, in another highly charged scene, and they appear to reconcile.  He buys her a beautiful necklace for their anniversary and gives a loving tribute to her at their party but the ending of the film left me absolutely shattered!  I haven't been able to stop thinking about it!  It is an incredible, but devastating, exploration of two people who have spent their lives together but don't really know each other at all.  Their relationship is depicted by their daily routine during the six days leading up to their party (with intertitles designating the days).  It is so well done!  Although very little happens in the film, the tension increases little by little every day until the aforementioned confrontation and I was quite unsettled while watching it.  Courtenay is superb as a man driven to distraction by his memories and Rampling just might be a dark horse contender in the race for the Best Actress Oscar (you can read my commentaries on the other nominees Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, and Brie Larson) for her subtle, yet nuanced, performance.  Her close-up at the end of the movie alone is worthy of an Oscar!  This movie might not appeal to everyone but I found it to be very compelling.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Dinner at Bambara

I spend a lot of time in Downtown SLC, especially at Capitol Theatre.  Every once in a while I like to have a really nice dinner before I see a performance and Bambara, one of my favorite restaurants, is right across the street!  Dining at Bambara is a lovely experience because it is housed in the elegant lobby of a former bank with high arching windows, brass fixtures, and travertine tiles which really set the mood for a memorable evening.  I also really love the houndstooth upholstery!  The kitchen is in the center of the space allowing Executive Chef Nathan Powers to put his culinary skills on full display.  The cuisine is New American with a seasonal menu emphasizing an exotic twist on familiar dishes.  I tend to stick with vegetarian dishes, which can often be a bit boring, but at Bambara I am always surprised by unexpected flavor combinations.  I recently had dinner there and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
I started with Mixed Baby Greens with Beehive Smoked Cheddar, Cinnamon-Ancho Almonds, and Rosemary Cider Vinaigrette ($10.00).  
For the entree I had Black Kale and Asiago Ravioli with Butternut Squash, Cipollini Onion, Walnuts, Artichoke Heart Puree, and Fancy Balsamic ($25.00).
The dessert menu is also quite wonderful.  I had the Turtle Ice Cream Sandwich with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Pecan Crusted Dark Chocolate Cookie, Salted Caramel Drizzle, and Cocoa Nib Crackle ($8.00).  I must confess that I have this every time I come to Bambara!

The wait staff is extremely knowledgeable and friendly and I've never been led astray by any of their recommendations.  The hostesses frequently greet me by name which is always a nice touch.  The menu is a bit pricey but I think it is a lot of fun to get all dressed up and have a beautiful evening every once in a while.  Bambara is perfect for a pre-theatre dinner or for a special occasion (there is a special menu for Valentine's Day).  Bambara is located at 202 S. Main Street in Downtown SLC.  It is open for Breakfast: Monday - Friday 7:00 am - 10:00 am, Brunch: Saturday - Sunday 8:00 am - 2:00 pm, Lunch: Monday - Friday 11:00 am - 2:00 pm, and Dinner: Every Night 5:30 pm - 10:00 pm.  Entrees vary from $25.00 - $43.00.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar! is another movie that I have been anticipating for weeks which left me somewhat disappointed.  Normally I am a fan of the Coen Brothers (I love O Brother, Where Art Thou?) but this movie just didn't do it for me.  In the 1950s, the Golden Age of the Hollywood studio system, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a "fixer" for Capitol Pictures.  Throughout the course of one day, Mannix must deal with a brassy Esther Williams-like actress (Scarlett Johanssen) who is pregnant out of wedlock, a hysterical director of drawing room comedies, Laurence Laurentz (an ascot-wearing Ralph Fiennes), who has been forced to cast an actor more known for his singing cowboy roles (Alden Ehrenreich) as the lead in his picture, and the abduction of his biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), by a communist cell, all while trying to avoid not one, but two, rival Hedda Hopper-like gossip columnists, Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton), who happen to be twin sisters.  We see the dim-witted Whitlock filming an incredibly complicated scene for Hail, Caesar! (a biblical picture modeled on Ben Hur) with chariots, horses, and an endless array of extras, only to flub a line, DeeAnna Moran (Johanssen) filming a synchronized sequence underwater in a mermaid costume, Burt Gurney (a blond Channing Tatum) filming a song-and-dance number (reminiscent of Singing in the Rain), Hobie Doyle (Ehrenreich) filming an exciting chase scene on horseback, and, in what might be the funniest moment of the movie, Laurence Laurentz trying to coach Doyle through a single line of dialogue ("Would that it were so easy.")  Most of the time I felt like I was watching TCM and falling asleep during one movie and waking up during another because these vignettes had only the thinnest of narratives tying them together:  Mannix is being headhunted by Lockheed and is, therefore, trying to decide if the pictures he produces are worth the hassles of his job.  The pacing is oftentimes very disjointed and the comedy is frequently interrupted by philosophizing on religion, ideology, art, and entertainment (the scene with the Communists is excruciatingly boring).  It's funny, at times, but it wasn't funny enough to sustain my interest for very long.

Note:  Who knew that Channing Tatum could sing and dance so well?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I am a huge fan of Jane Austen in general and of the novel Pride and Prejudice in particular so you might think that a contemporary novel which combines the classic tale about Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy with the undead would be unappealing to me.  You would be wrong!  I think the novel by Seth Grahame Smith is brilliant because it is a clever parody (I actually think the zombies are just a metaphor for the social conventions Austen pokes fun of in her novels) but the integrity of the original story is maintained.  I have eagerly been anticipating the movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for months and I had the chance to see it yesterday with my sisters, my brother-in-law, my niece and my nephew.  They loved it.  I, however, could not have been more disappointed.  The movie begins so well.  Lily James and Sam Riley are perfect as the fiercely independent Elizabeth and the brooding, yet handsome, Darcy.  Matt Smith practically steals the show as the ridiculous Mr. Collins (I laughed and laughed at the scene with him dancing at the Netherfield ball) and I loved Lena Headey (and her eye patch) as the warrior version of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  The first half of the movie is a hilarious spoof, following the book faithfully.  I especially enjoyed seeing the Bennett sisters tucking their weapons into their garters as they get ready for the Netherfield ball, seeing Mr. Darcy shoot the head off a zombie who is talking to Elizabeth, and seeing Jane (Bella Heathcote) fighting zombies while traveling to Netherfield for tea with Miss Bingley.  In my opinion, it is perfect.  Then, mid-way through the movie, a completely new storyline involving Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston) is introduced, turning the movie into an epic battle for England against the zombies.  It becomes just like every zombie movie you have ever seen before and it is not even particularly well done.  From this point forward, the plot of the book is completely ignored.  Charlotte (Aisling Loftus) does not become one of the undead, Elizabeth does not visit Pemberley (the turning point of the novel), Lydia (Ellie Bamber) does not elope with Wickham, Elizabeth does not fight a duel with Lady Catherine (what I was most looking forward to), and Elizabeth and Darcy do not fight against a horde of zombies after their engagement.  In fact, the two main couples get together at the end of the movie almost as an afterthought.  The only reason Elizabeth falls in love with Darcy is because he is a great zombie killer but he was a great zombie killer at the beginning of the movie.  There is no character arc whatsoever!  Ugh!  With a perfect cast, gorgeous costumes, atmospheric locations, and great fighting sequences, this movie could have been so great with a decent screenplay.  Instead, it turns into third-rate zombie apocalypse movie.  Don't waste your money.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto

Last night's Utah Symphony concert featured guest conductor Jun Markl.  I have seen him before and I find him to be wildly entertaining because he is incredibly enthusiastic, to say the least!  I loved watching him leap around the podium!  I also really enjoyed the music!  The orchestra began with the Overture to Der Freischiitz by Carl Maria von Weber.  I must confess that I knew nothing about this piece but I enjoyed it because it was very atmospheric and moody.  Then the brilliant Stefan Jackiw joined the orchestra for Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto.  I was blown away by his dazzling performance of this piece which I found to be incredibly beautiful with moments of both sadness and joy.  All of my attention was riveted on Jackiw as his bow flew over the strings!  It was an incredible performance and the audience rewarded it with a rousing standing ovation!  I am so glad that I got to experience it.  After the intermission, the concert continued with Stravinsky's Petrushka and I really enjoyed the themes played by the solo flute, the brass, and the solo piano.  It was so dramatic!  This was followed by the "Ritual Fire Dance" from El amor brujo by Manuel de Falla and I thought it was very passionate and stirring!  While I certainly enjoyed the second half of the concert, I would highly recommend that you get a ticket (go here) to tonight's performance for a chance to hear Jackiw play so magnificently.  You absolutely do not want to miss it!

Note:  By the way, have you seen the sneak preview of the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera 2016-2017 Season?  I couldn't be more excited!  So many of my favorite Russian composers, such as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Mussorgsky, are being performed plus Mozart's Requiem and Don Giovanni! Squeal!

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Producers

Last night I had the opportunity to see the musical The Producers and I could not stop laughing!  I have seen this show several times before so I have been looking forward to its return to SLC ever since the Broadway in Utah 2015-2016 Season was announced!  Max Bialystock has just had one of the biggest flops on Broadway (Funny Boy, a musical version of Hamlet).  When his mild-mannered accountant, Leo Bloom, tells him that he could actually make more money with a flop than a hit, the two of them team up to produce the biggest flop Broadway has ever seen!  Their plan is simple:  all they need to do is find the worst play ever written, Springtime for Hitler, hire the worst director in town, Roger "Keep it Gay" De Bris, and hire the worst actors in New York, most notably, a blond bombshell from Sweden named Ulla.  Max raises two million dollars to finance the show by shtupping every little old lady with a checkbook in New York and they begin holding rehearsals. Of course, the show is a huge hit and instead of running away to Rio, Max and Leo end up in Sing Sing (where they produce the show Prisoners of Love).  It is completely over the top with jokes about Hitler, Nazis, women, and homosexuals that are so tasteless that they are hilarious!  David Johnson and Richard LaFleur are great as Max and Leo, respectively, but in my opinion Thomas Slater, as the fanatical playwright of Springtime for Hitler, and John B. Ross, as the flamboyant director, steal the show!  My favorite moments were "Der Guten Tag Clop-Hop" (especially the pigeons), the aforementioned "Keep It Gay," and "Heil Myself," complete with tap dancing brown-shirts!  I really loved it and I definitely recommend it for a fun night out.  It runs at Capitol Theatre through Feb. 7 and tickets may be purchased here.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Anomalisa

I have been so intrigued by this movie and I finally had the opportunity to see it last night.  Anomalisa is a brilliant tale about loneliness and existential angst using stop-motion animation.  Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is a motivational speaker who has traveled to Cincinnati for a conference.  We see him painfully avoid conversations with a seatmate on a flight, with a cab driver, with the bellboy at his hotel, and even with his wife and son during an awkward phone call.  He is so lonely that, in a fit of desperation, he arranges a rendezvous with a former girlfriend that ends in disaster.  Then he meets Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), a sales-rep who has splurged on this conference just for the chance to meet Michael.  Even though she is plain and unsophisticated, he sees her as a breath of fresh air in his dismal life, the one person he has been waiting his whole life to meet, and invites her up to his hotel room (for one of the most interesting sex scenes you will ever see involving puppets).  He feels a deep connection and actually proposes that they run away together but, eventually, she becomes like everyone else and he ends up returning home to his boring life in Los Angeles.  One of the most intriguing aspects of this movie is that every character, other than Michael and Lisa, has the same voice (Tom Noonan) which highlights why Lisa is so special to Michael, an "anomaly" if you will.  When Michael becomes disenchanted with Lisa, her voice becomes Noonan's as well.  At first I found the use of one voice for all of the minor characters to be disconcerting but it ends up being an incredibly powerful device.  It is a beautiful and heartbreaking commentary on our desire for human connection that I haven't been able to stop thinking about.  I highly recommend it with the proviso that it might not be for everyone (the aforementioned sex scene is quite graphic).

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Finest Hours

One of the things I love most about living in my new house is that I am now close enough to my family to participate in their spontaneous dinner and a movie nights!  Last night we saw The Finest Hours which I might not necessarily have seen on my own.  I'm glad my sister suggested it because I ended up really enjoying it.  The movie tells the real-life story of a 1952 Coast Guard rescue operation which saved 32 men from a tanker that had split in two during a massive winter storm off Cape Cod and to say that it is intense would be an understatement.  There are so many elements which contribute to the tension.  The engineer on board the damaged SS Pendleton, Raymond Sybert (Casey Affleck), is an antisocial introvert who must take control of the survivors amidst vocal opposition from a few who want to launch a lifeboat.  Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), the commanding officer of the Coast Guard station, is perceived as an outsider who doesn't understand the treacherous weather and his decision to send a crew is perceived by many as a suicide mission.  Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), the captain appointed to lead the rescue operation, is tormented by his previous failure to save another vessel and takes many risks, including continuing on even after the compass has been destroyed.  Adding to the suspense is the fact that the majority of the Coast Guard's available resources have already been deployed to help another crippled tanker leaving only a small wooden lifeboat to transport 32 survivors.  I was on the edge of my seat!  The only storyline that didn't really work for me was the framing device depicting the romance between Bernie and Miriam (Holliday Grainger) and her efforts to get the mission called back.  In fact, I was less engaged whenever the story moved from the sea back to land, but the incredible special effects at sea, both practical and CGI, definitely kept me riveted to the screen, especially when the small lifeboat crashed through the waves.  The cinematography is so immersive that I sometimes felt like the waves were crashing into me!  Pine, in an uncharacteristically low-key role, and Affleck give great performances which drew me in and made me care about their plight (my Mom covered her eyes whenever they were in peril).  This is a typical man overcoming the elements movie but I would recommend it for the compelling story, great special effects, and affecting performances.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Sundance Film Festival 2016

This year at the Sundance Film Festival I had the opportunity to see sixteen films in nine days in five venues and I would say that I had an even greater experience than last year!  I loved every minute!  A week ago last Saturday I saw Maggie's Plan at the Grand Theatre and it was really funny!  A woman (Greta Gerwig) decides that she wants to have a baby and devises a plan to do it.  However, she soon falls in love with a married man (Ethan Hawke) and realizes that you can't plan love.  This is a typical offbeat Greta Gerwig comedy and I really enjoyed it, especially the hilarious supporting cast: Julianne Moore, Maya Rudolph, and Bill Hader.  Later that night I drove to Ogden (which is not as far away as it used to be now that I live in Bountiful) to see The Lobster.  This was the strangest film I saw at Sundance but I admit that it is pretty intriguing.  In a dystopian future everyone who is not married by a certain age must report to a hotel for 45 days to find a match or be turned into an animal of his or her choice.  David (Colin Farrell), recently divorced, enters the hotel and goes through the motions of finding a mate (in some hilarious scenes) but soon escapes to join the "singles" who are frequently hunted down by the hotel guests.  Ironically, the "singles" have even stricter rules, especially against coupling, and, of course, David finds his soulmate (Rachel Weiss).  It is a fascinating indictment against social norms, but it's pretty weird. Sunday morning I was back at the Grand for a documentary about Gloria Vanderbilt and her son Anderson Cooper called Nothing Left Unsaid.  I really enjoy documentaries about interesting people and this one was very well done (as were all of the documentaries I saw at Sundance this year).  Vanderbilt's story of notoriety and heartbreak is told through her art and I thought it was an effective device.  Anderson Cooper was there to conduct the Q & A after the screening, to my delight, and he was charming and quite funny.  Later that evening I saw Love & Friendship, which was one of my most coveted tickets because it is based on a Jane Austen novella called Lady Susan.  For those of you who don't know this, I love Jane Austen!  Recently widowed and penniless, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) schemes to marry off her daughter to a foolish, but wealthy, man and to marry the eligible brother of her sister-in-law.  It is an engaging comedy of manners with a fabulous cast, especially Tom Bennett who steals the show as the dim-witted Sir James.  I also loved the the introductions of the dramatis personae with fish-eye close-ups and amusing character descriptions.  So much fun!  Monday night I drove up to the Sundance Mountain Resort to see the documentary Weiner.  Filmmaker Josh Kriegman had unprecedented access to Anthony Weiner as the embattled politician attempted a comeback run as New York mayor.  Just when it looks like he has a chance of winning the nomination, another sexting scandal, similar to the one which forced him to resign from Congress, erupts which causes his campaign to derail while the cameras continue to roll.  It is a fascinating look at politics today, where every move is choreographed.  I especially loved when Weiner practices different inflections of "...and for that I am profoundly sorry."  Good stuff!  Tuesday morning I took a group of my students to see The Fits at the Rose Wagner Theatre.   Toni (Royalty Hightower) is an eleven year old tomboy who trains to be a boxer with her brother at a local community center.  One day she watches a drill team practicing and eventually decides to join.  It is a powerful story about identity and fitting in and my students loved it (so did I).  That night I drove back to Ogden to see Manchester by the Sea which was another highly coveted ticket.  Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a janitor/handyman in Boston who is clearly tormented.  When he receives the news that his brother has died, he returns to his hometown for the funeral and learns that he has been appointed as guardian to his nephew (Lucas Hedges) which leaves him reeling.  He does not want to stay because he is constantly reminded of a tragedy that occurred, which is revealed through perfectly timed flashbacks, and his nephew doesn't want to leave his life.  What I loved about this movie, aside from the brilliant performances, is that, while there is a sort of resolution, there isn't a happy ending where Lee's grief is magically abated.  This film is definitely my favorite of the festival.  Wednesday night I was back in Ogden for Little Men, which I thought was a lovely little gem.  When Jake's (Theo Taplitz) grandfather dies, his family moves back to Brooklyn to live in his grandfather's apartment.  A single mother from Chile runs the shop downstairs, paying significantly less rent than market value.  Her son Tony (Michael Barbieri) befriends the shy Jake and their friendship deepens as their parents battle over rent.  The boys give very affecting performances, especially Barbieri, and I really enjoyed it.  Thursday night I had a double feature at the Rose Wagner beginning with Certain Women.  It is a tale of three desperately sad and lonely women living in Montana who search for a connection.  Laura (Laura Dern) is a lawyer whose client will not accept that he doesn't have a Worker's Compensation case.  She spends all of her time trying to help him, eventually even visiting him in prison.  Gina (Michelle Williams), emotionally estranged from her husband and daughter, is obsessed with building a vacation house in the wilderness and badgers a family friend to give her the sandstone on his property.  A nameless ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) with nothing to do follows a group of people into a school for an adult education class on school law taught by a lawyer (Kristen Stewart) who lives hundreds of miles away.  She becomes fascinated by the lawyer and attends the class every night with the hope of talking to her afterwards at the local diner.  It is simultaneously beautiful and depressing and I can't get the scene where Gina's family is inside a tent eating dinner while she sits outside staring at the pile of sandstone out of my mind.  Some of my friends met me for Lovesong next.  A frazzled young mother (Riley Keough) who feels neglected by her husband goes on a road trip with Mindy (Jena Malone), her best friend from college.  Their feelings deepen for each other and they begin an affair.  Three years later they must deal with their feelings before Mindy gets married.  It is very intense, particularly a scene where the women look at each other while on a Ferris wheel.  Friday night I had another double feature, this time back at the Grand Theatre.  The documentary Gleason follows Steve Gleason, a former NFL football player, from his diagnosis with ALS to the present.  It began as a video journal to his unborn son and turned into a triumphant story about living life to the fullest!  It is very powerful and his wife, Michel Varisco, was there for a powerful Q & A.  Next up (it is quite amusing to walk out of a movie and get right back in line for another one) was The Intervention which is hilarious!  A group of friends plan a weekend getaway to stage a marriage intervention for Ruby and Peter (Cobie Smulders and Vincent Piazza) unbeknownst to them.  In the process, each of them must deal with their own problems.  Melanie Lynskey is absolutely brilliant in this film and I laughed and laughed (which was good after crying through Gleason).  Saturday was a full day at the festival with three screenings at three different venues!  First was Newtown, a documentary about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, at the Rose Wagner.  It follows the lives of three families who lost children that day and how the tragedy impacted the entire community.  I cried so hard that I had to find Kleenex in my bag and the woman sitting next to me asked for some, too.  One of the mothers was there for the Q & A which was also very moving.  Next was Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny at the Broadway.  This documentary follows Richard Linklater, one of my favorite directors, as a Hollywood outsider who makes movies on his own terms with discussions about all of his movies from Slacker to Boyhood (which I think is a masterpiece).  I really enjoyed it.  Finally, I saw Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall with my sister Marilyn at the Grand.  Marilyn loves Michael Jackson and I'm so glad that we were able to see it (another very coveted ticket).  Spike Lee focuses on Michael Jackson's transition from a member of the Jackson 5 to a solo artist with archival footage and interviews with those who were there.  I know that most people view Thriller as Jackson's masterpiece but I have always really loved Off the Wall because it is brilliant (I had a copy on vinyl when I was in Jr. High) and it is before he became so weird.  Marilyn loved it and so did I.  Yesterday was my final screening at Sundance!  I saw Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures at the Rose Wagner.  This documentary explores the scandalous life of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and his controversial photographs.  I found it to be fascinating but it is not for everyone (in fact, it was the only film that required ID to enter).  Once again, I loved talking to people about film (and, occasionally, snowshoeing) while standing in line.  I had a conversation with a guy from Florida about all the films we had seen at the festival (most notably, The Lobster) which turned into an epic discussion about Wes Anderson.  Talking to people who are just as passionate about the things that I am makes me come alive!  It was a wonderful nine days and I'm already looking forward to next year!
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