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.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Silver Screen Classics: Forrest Gump

I have really enjoyed the Silver Screen Classics series this year and I honestly can't believe how fast ten weeks has gone by!  I hope that the Megaplex Theatres will continue with this series every year because it is so much fun to see classic films on the big screen where they were meant to be seen.  The final film in the series was Forrest Gump which is a film that I did not particularly enjoy when I saw it on the big screen the first time.  I know that I am in the minority with my opinion and most of my friends think I am completely pretentious.  Last night I decided to give it another chance and tried to watch it with an open mind.  It is a beautiful movie with an incredible central performance by Tom Hanks.  It is definitely one of his most affecting performances and I did get a tear in my eye when he talked to Jenny's grave about how smart their son is.  The rest of the cast, including Sally Field, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, and Mykelti Williamson, also do a great job.  The soundtrack is definitely one of the best out there, featuring incredible songs from Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Mamas & The Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, and Buffalo Springfield among others.  My problem with the film is the story itself.  I am unable to suspend my disbelief enough to accept that a man with intellectual disabilities could have such an impact on the history of the U.S. through sheer dumb luck.  He most certainly did not inspire John Lennon to write the song "Imagine" (I almost walked out of the theater during that scene the first time I saw it because that just offends me on so many levels).  Forrest doesn't do anything but react to the tumult around him and I find him to be an incredibly static character.  Also, as someone who likes to question everything, I find the message to be somewhat alarming because Forrest is rewarded time and again for simply doing what he is told while Jenny, who stands up for herself and challenges the status quo, is seemingly punished at the end.  This film is just not for me and that is all I have to say about that.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Casablanca

The first time I saw Casablanca was when I was living with my Aunt June in Canada.  She loved classic movies and was appalled when she learned that I had reached the ripe old age of eighteen without having seen what she considered to be the greatest movie of all time.  She made me watch it forthwith (I watched a lot of classic movies with her that summer) and, of course, I loved it because it is all about sacrificing love for a higher purpose and that really appealed to my idealistic younger self.  It was interesting to have the opportunity to see it on the big screen yesterday as someone older and a little more cynical (this time I think Rick should have chosen love but I understand that his choice made him a more noble character).  Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is a hard-drinking club owner who is only out for himself in Casablanca, a haven for European refugees desperate for exit visas to escape the Nazis during World War II.  He ably navigates the world of black marketeers, corrupt officials, and German officers until Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) walks into his club with her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a hero of the resistance who is in need of safe passage.  Ilsa was once Rick's lover in Paris but she abandoned him and, even though he has documents that will ensure safe passage for them, he is bitter and refuses to help.  Ilsa loves Rick but admires and respects Victor and will do anything to help him continue his work with the resistance.  Even though I knew the outcome, I still found the final scene to be filled with intrigue and suspense.  In fact, I found some of the scenes to be even more poignant the second time around.  When Ilsa sees Rick for the first time in his club, the expression on her face was even more heartbreaking to me because I knew her past with Rick and I knew the outcome.  My favorite scene is when Victor has the crowd sing the "Marseillaise" to drown out the German officers singing a drinking song.  It is so incredibly powerful and it made me understand Victor's appeal for Ilsa despite her love for Rick.  I really loved anticipating all of those famous lines, and there are a lot of them, but I think my favorite one is said by the corrupt prefect of police (Claude Rains):  "I'm shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here."  I laughed out loud!  Seeing this movie reminded me that today's actors don't have anything on the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains.  Bogart is so handsome and debonair in a dinner jacket and I was captivated by the way Rains smoked a cigarette.  Definitely try to see this brilliant movie on the big screen on Nov. 15 (go here for tickets).

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sean Requested a Jazz Game!

My nephew got a smartphone at the beginning of the school year because he is going to a charter school instead of his home school and it is a bit further away from home.  Sometimes he randomly calls me during the day and I have to admit that I really love it when he does.  One day he called me to ask me to help him organize his school work and I made arrangements to meet him one day and go through his backpack.  We talked about various other things and, as we were finishing our conversation, he casually mentioned that we hadn't been to a Jazz game for a long time.  It was at that moment when I understood the purpose of his phone call.  I told him we would have to look at the schedule to see when the next Saturday home game was and he said it was against the Brooklyn Nets!  You have to admire his preparation!  We went last night and had so much fun!  I usually buy him a shirt (I only take him to one or two games a year and, besides, spoiling is the first article in the aunt by-laws) and he picked the cool shirt he is wearing in the picture.  It conveniently did not have a price tag on it and when it was scanned at the register we found out that it was $55.  What?  It is actually an NBA limited edition shirt for Veteran's Day and the Jazz players were wearing them during warm-ups so I guess it is worth it (said in a sarcastic voice). The Vivint Arena has undergone a really cool renovation so there are lots of great restaurants inside now.  We ate at Hire's which was fantastic but expensive!  Then we always have to get ice cream at half-time.  Ka-ching!  He is an expensive date but I love him so much (either that or I have the word “sucker” on my forehead!).  The Jazz played really well, leading the Nets for most of the game.  Donovan Mitchell had a great game, leading the team with 26 points, and Rodney Hood electrified the crowd with five three-pointers!  The Jazz ended up winning 114-106!  Sean thought he was the good luck charm!  I had so much fun with him and he is already planning our annual winter break Jazz game!

Note:  Ladies and gentlemen I am pleased to announce that my new Jazz crush is Ricky Rubio!  He has great hair!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Mozart's Great Mass

November is shaping up to be a wonderful month for Utah Symphony concerts!  Last week I got to hear the music of Rachmaninoff and last night I got to hear the music of Mozart (both of whom are favorites of mine).  The orchestra began last night's concert with Four Preludes and Serious Songs by Johannes Brahms with an arrangement by Detlev Glanert.  I really enjoyed this piece because it is a dark and mournful meditation on death which ultimately ends in triumph.  The orchestra was joined by Patrick Carfizzi who gave an incredible vocal performance and, of course, I really loved the woodwinds.  After the intermission the audience heard a magnificent performance of Mozart's "Great Mass."  I think that the Requiem Mass will always be my favorite piece by Mozart but this is definitely a close second.  The orchestra was joined by the University of Utah Chamber Choir and The Utah Symphony Chorus and soloists Celena Shafer, Sarah Shafer, Thomas Cooley, and Patrick Carfizzi.  The soloists were amazing, especially Celena Shafer who was last seen by Utah audiences as Musetta in Utah Opera's production of La Boheme.  The music in this mass is so beautiful and so powerful.  Listening to all of those voices was almost overwhelming so sometimes I just closed my eyes and let the music carry me away.  It was a beautiful concert, one that will be repeated at Abravanel Hall tonight.  I definitely recommend getting a ticket (go here).

Friday, November 10, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

It seems like I have been waiting forever for Murder on the Orient Express to be released!  The wait was finally over last night because I went to an early Thursday preview with my family and boy did I love it!  I am a huge fan of Agatha Christie.  I have read every one of her mysteries multiple times and Murder on the Orient Express is a particular favorite because of the clever plot twist.  Kenneth Branagh's version is stylish and entertaining but it also adds a bit of poignancy that the other versions lack.  Hercule Poirot (Branagh) boards the Orient Express in Istanbul hoping for a few days of rest and relaxation.  However, one of the passengers, Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp), is stabbed to death just as the train is derailed during an avalanche.  Poirot is enlisted to solve the crime before the murderer can strike again while the train is stranded.  Everyone, it seems, is a suspect:  Ratchett's assistant Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad), Princess Dragomioff (Judi Dench) and her companion Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman), Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), the missionary Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz), Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom, Jr.) a governess named Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley),  Professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe) Ratchett's valet Edward Masterman (Derek Jacobi), Biniamino Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and the Count and Countess Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton and Sergei Polunin).  I really enjoyed the all-star cast, especially Pfeiffer who has an incredibly affecting scene and I can think of no one better to play an imperious princess than Dame Judi Dench.  They all have their moment to shine as they are interrogated one by one.  Branagh's iteration of the famous Belgian sleuth is a bit more emotional and tormented than the ones I've seen before and I actually really liked his portrayal (although his accent was a bit affected).  I also liked the claustrophobia of the sumptuous train cars juxtaposed with wide sweeping shots of the train traveling through the snow covered mountains.  Since I've read the book countless times and seen several versions, my enjoyment was not derived from trying to figure out "whodunnit" but from seeing a classic tale told in a new and surprising way.  I loved this movie and I would definitely recommend it!

Note:  The ending implied that Poirot's next case would be in Egypt.  Dare we hope that Death on the Nile will be next?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

LBJ

Last night I went to the Broadway once again to see LBJ and I hate to admit it but I was a bit disappointed.   The film begins on that fateful day in November when President Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan) is assassinated and Lyndon Johnson (Woody Harrelson) assumes the presidency.  Then the film flashes back to when Johnson was the most powerful member of the Democratic Party as Senate Majority Leader only to lose all of his power once he becomes the Vice President.  Despite a fantastic performance by Harrelson, as well as one from Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird, my biggest problem with the film is that it really isn't about Johnson.  Rather, it is about the Kennedys.  The script takes great pains to point out that Johnson was thwarted at every turn by the Kennedys, starting with losing the 1960 presidential nomination to John Kennedy then being relegated to a bit player at the White House by Bobby Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David) and finally having the first days of his presidency overshadowed by the nation's grief over President Kennedy's death.  The film ends with President Johnson giving a speech to a joint session of Congress advocating for President Kennedy's Civil Rights Act.  His one shining moment in the film is fighting for President Kennedy's legacy.  Then we see a few seconds of text on the screen outlining everything Johnson was able to accomplish during his presidency such as his Great Society legislation, Head Start, Medicare, and Medicaid, as well is his disastrous escalation of the Vietnam War.  I wish the filmmakers had focused on that.  I also felt that for being a biopic about such a bombastic character it was rather dull.  There is a lot of talking and many of the characters are difficult to distinguish from each other.  My mind definitely wandered.  The most stirring moment came during Johnson's speech when the film was practically over.   I would recommend giving this one a miss.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most provocative directors currently working.  His film The Lobster definitely generated more conversations with people in line for screenings at Sundance two years ago than any other film I saw.  Honestly, I still think about it and I am certain that I will be thinking about his latest film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, for a long time to come.  Cardiologist Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) begins spending time with Martin (Barry Keoghan), the son of one of his patients who died.  Their relationship is very undefined until Martin insinuates himself into Steven's life which makes him uncomfortable.  Soon his children fall ill with a strange paralysis.  We learn that Steven may have been responsible for the death of Martin's father and, seeking justice, Martin demands that Steven kill a member of his family or all three of them, including his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), will eventually die of their illnesses.  The narrative is deeply disturbing on so many levels and some of the images are absolutely horrifying and yet I could not look away!   Every single shot evokes such a sense of menace and the crescendo of strings at key moments adds to the general unease.  I found myself nervously laughing several times.  Farrell is absolutely brilliant, speaking the oddly stilted dialogue in a monotone voice which serves to highlight his detachment from everyone and everything (he even has his wife pretend to be under anesthesia when he has sex with her).  This makes his emotional undoing all the more powerful.  Kidman gives an incredibly intense and chilling performance as a woman who can't quite accept the fact that her perfect life is crumbling around her and Keoghan gives one of the best performances I've seen this year as a twitchy teenage psychopath.  It is definitely not for everyone (I can't remember when I've felt more uncomfortable watching a film) but it is bold and brilliant.  Whether you love it or hate it, I guarantee that you will have a strong reaction to it and, in my mind, that is what the best films are able to do!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Silver Screen Classics: High Noon

High Noon, the next installment in the Silver Screen Classics series, is another film I remember watching in college.  I vaguely remember writing a paper about the political overtones found in it.  Last night I got to see it on the big screen with my Dad which was really fun because he remembers watching it on the big screen with his Dad when he was a little kid.  Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is leaving his job as the marshal of Hadleyville, a western frontier town, after marrying Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly) who is a Quaker.  Just as they are leaving town the news arrives that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), an outlaw who Kane sent to prison, is on the noon train and looking for revenge.  Amy begs Kane to leave with her but he refuses to run because the new marshal hasn't arrived yet.  Kane's deputy (Lloyd Bridges) abandons him because he didn't recommend him as the new marshal and all of his attempts to round up a posse from the tavern and the church are met with hostility until he is forced to face Miller and his gang alone.  What I love about this film is that it isn't a typical western with lots of action but a tense character study of a man who won't abandon his principles.  The shots of the train tracks as the town anticipates the coming of the train and the shots of the ticking clock are extremely effective at building suspense (the action happens in real time).  The shot that slowly widens to reveal Kane standing all alone in the deserted town square is incredibly effective at conveying the futility of his final stand and the battle with the outlaws is quietly powerful rather than thrilling.  The final shot of Kane throwing down his badge as the townspeople emerge is also a great moment.  My Dad clearly enjoyed this film and grabbed my arm at several key moments!  What a hoot!  At the end he told me that they don't make movies like this any more!  They certainly don't!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Loving Vincent

After spending Saturday night seeing a blockbuster at the megaplex I went for something totally different on Sunday afternoon.  I saw the independent film Loving Vincent at my favorite art house theater and I was completely captivated by this beautiful and heartbreaking film!  Every one of the frames of this film was hand painted by over 100 artists to mimic the style of Vincent Van Gogh so the images on the screen are absolutely dazzling.  I was spellbound by the beauty of what I was seeing!   I also really enjoyed the narrative about the last weeks of Vincent Van Gogh's life.  Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) is tasked by the Postmaster, his father, to deliver a letter written by Vincent to his brother Theo Van Gogh.  Roulin travels to Paris but when he learns that Theo has also died, he travels to Auvers, where Vincent died, to interview everyone who knew him during his final weeks.  What I loved about this portrayal is that Vincent is not depicted as a madman but as a profoundly lonely man who had a sensitive soul and felt things deeply.  There is a scene between Roulin and Marguerite (Soairse Ronin), the daughter of Vincent's doctor, that had me sobbing.  I also loved this film because it doesn't definitively answer the question of how Vincent died because his life is more important than his death (which is what Marguerite conveys so beautifully in that pivotal scene).  I also loved that this portrait is not from Vincent's point of view (which is how other biopics tend to present his life) because there is no way we can fully understand this enigmatic artist and the story is as much about Roulin's journey as it is Vincent's.  His paintings must speak for themselves and I have always loved his paintings!   I absolutely loved this film, as well, (I suspect that I will be haunted by it for some time to come).  I highly recommend it!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok

Last night I finally had the opportunity to see Thor: Ragnarok and I had a blast watching this movie with a rowdy late night crowd.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) battles against his long-lost sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) for control over Asgard but first he must escape from the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), the leader of the planet Sakaar, by fighting in a gladiator battle with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and enlist the help of the treacherous Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and a disillusioned Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson).  This movie is absolutely hilarious and I was laughing out loud within the first minute as was the rest of the crowd.  Hemsworth is a great comedic actor and I especially enjoyed all of Thor's goofy banter with Loki (my favorite character in the series) and the Hulk.  I also really liked the villain Hela and it is clear that Blanchett had a lot of fun with the role, vamping and strutting around.  There are so many funny lines in this movie but I think my very favorite is said by Korg, a rock creature who is also imprisoned by the Grandmaster, when he explains how he came to be working as a gladiator: "I tried to start a revolution but I didn't print enough pamphlets."  I laughed and laughed at that!  The production design is fantastic, especially on Sakaar with all of the psychedelic colors and retro patterns.  There are some great action sequences and the use of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" in the opening and final battles got my adrenaline pumping.  It is really lighthearted and zany but I actually did enjoy the story because the notion of Ragnarok, or apocalypse, where an old world is destroyed and a new and better one is reborn is particularly compelling.  I definitely recommend this entertaining movie for a great time at the movies!

Note:  There are some fabulous cameos, especially in the play performed on Asgard (pay attention to who is playing Loki!) and the scene where Thor's hair is cut (I think I prefer Thor with long hair, though).  The scene with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) had me laughing the whole time ("I have been falling for 30 minutes!").

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances

If you read this blog on a regular basis you surely know by now that I absolutely love all of the Russian composers and that Rachmaninoff is my very favorite of all the Russians (with Tchaikovsky a close second).  So a program featuring his Symphonic Dances was definitely on the top of my list when I was creating my season package.  However, this concert also featured two pieces which made me think about putting Maurice Ravel on my list of favorite composers.  When I think of Ravel I automatically think of Bolero, which I love, but the pieces performed last night were absolutely wonderful as well.  The orchestra began with Ma Mere l'Oye (Mother Goose) and it was so enchanting and whimsical, telling the stories of Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb, The Princess of the Pagodas, Beauty and the Beast, and The Fairy Garden. I especially loved it when the instruments would mimic the sounds of nature, such as chirping.  I really, really loved the themes played by the harp in this piece!  The orchestra also played Ravel's Tzigane, which means gypsy.  I was absolutely blown away by the lengthy opening which featured the solo violin, played by Utah native William Hagen.  His performance was incredibly passionate just like a gypsy.  Once again I loved the harp in this piece (Ravel must have been in love with a harpist at one time).  Hagen also joined the orchestra for the stirring Introduction and Rondo capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra by Camille Saint-Saens (a composer already on my list of favorites).  What I loved most about this piece is that it starts slow with themes played mostly by the solo violin repeated at intervals and then it becomes a dazzling display of virtuosity.  Hagen's bow literally flew across his violin!  Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances came after the intermission and all I can say is "Wow!"  This piece always suggests a longing for Russia to me and I think it is romantic and emotional.  I really love all of the themes played by the woodwinds  and the horns.  The orchestra played it beautifully and I had tears in my eyes at its conclusion!  It was a spectacular evening of music at Abravanel Hall last night and this program will be performed again tonight.  I highly recommend getting a ticket (go here).

Note:  I get more Rachmaninoff in two weeks because the Utah Symphony will be performing Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.  Sigh!  You should probably get tickets to that concert, too!

Friday, November 3, 2017

A Comedy of Tenors at PTC

Several years ago I saw Lend Me A Tenor at the Utah Shakespeare Festival and I thought it was so much fun!  When I found out that the sequel, A Comedy of Tenors, would be a part of PTC's 2017-2018 season I got really excited.  This show is a hilarious romp through an elegant Parisian hotel suite as an impresario (Andy Prosky) tries to get three temperamental tenors (Hansel Tan, Gregory North, and Storm Lineberger) to stop fighting long enough to take the stage for the concert of the century.  Add a bellhop looking for his big break, misunderstandings galore, mistaken identities with comedic results, characters in various stages of undress hiding from each other, and plenty of face slapping and door slamming and you have a delightful evening of theatre.  What makes this show so much fun is the manic physical comedy and all of the actors have superb comedic timing.  At one point, there was so much running around I couldn't keep track of what was happening and there are some astoundingly quick costume changes.  I loved it and I laughed out loud multiple times as did everyone around me.  Oh and by the way, all three of our tenors can really sing!  They performed an impressive rendition of "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" from Verdi's La Traviata.  It is a bit risque in some parts but that just adds to the fun.  I would highly recommend this delightful production (tickets may be purchased here) which runs at Pioneer Theatre until Nov. 4.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Halloween 2017

Last year Halloween was kind of a dud!  For some reason Marilyn and I didn't think about getting pumpkins for Sean and Tashena to carve until the day of Halloween.  We took a very sad Sean out that afternoon looking for some but there were none to be found.  We went to about six different places (everywhere we could think of) and ended up finding some tiny ones at the Home Depot.  It was a definite aunt fail!  This year we vowed that we wouldn't make the same mistake so between the two of us we had at least ten pumpkins and six carving kits!  Ha ha!
Various stages of carving.
Our finished pumpkins.  I am especially proud of my Kylo Ren pumpkin but Tashena's Day of the Dead pumpkin is amazing!
Here they are all lit up on the porch.  I think they look pretty awesome!
Sean was a zombie complete with homemade blood (there is an actual recipe involving the use of cornstarch).
Tashena was a little girl but then decided that she wanted in on the blood action so she became a little girl attacked by a zombie.
After the costume parade we had our traditional chili in pumpkin bread bowls (we have had chili every year on Halloween as far back as I can remember) and the best donuts ever from the bakery across the street from my house.  Marilyn and I manned the door for trick-or-treaters but only had about ten total.
Our favorite trick-or-treaters were Sean and his friend Colton!

I hope you had a wonderful Halloween!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Silver Screen Classics: Citizen Kane

The next selection in the Silver Screen Classics series was Citizen Kane.  This film is such a masterpiece that almost everyone has seen it (I saw it for the first time in a college film studies class) but, believe it or not, I have actually seen it on the big screen before.  It was re-released in honor of its 70th anniversary at a local theater and I thought it was amazing.  I had the same opinion last night.  After newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) dies, a journalist tries to learn the significance of the last word spoken by Kane before he died.  He reads the memoirs of Kane's guardian (George Coulouris) and interviews his closest friend (Joseph Cotten), his business manager (Everett Sloane), and his second wife (Dorothy Comingore), who are all unreliable narrators, to find out who the man behind the headlines really was.  The narrative is told though nonlinear flashbacks as Kane acquires his first newspaper, builds a publishing empire, marries the niece of a president, runs for governor, becomes embroiled in a scandal, loses his reputation supporting his second wife's opera career, builds the opulent palace Xanadu, and then, finally, dies alone.  It is a cryptic portrait a complicated man who has everything but the one thing he desires: love.  I love this film for the sheer scope of the narrative, the powerful performance by Orson Welles, and the ground-breaking cinematography.  It is a masterpiece and I am so glad I had the opportunity to see it once again on the big screen.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Tashena is Seventeen!

Tashena turned seventeen on Saturday and we had our family birthday party for her yesterday.  Once again, she chose to have her birthday dinner at Cafe Rio (excellent choice!) then we came back home to open presents and have cake.
Grandma, Grandpa, and Marilyn gave her gift cards to Kohl's, H & M, and Old Navy.  She was very happy!  Marilyn also gave her some new ear buds (she loses them!).
I gave her some body spray from Bath & Body Works.  She sent me pictures of the specific fragrances she wanted but they are only available seasonally.  She told me that she trusted me to pick some out for her!  I hope she likes them (I really liked pink cashmere).
Her mom and dad gave her a foot spa and lots of goodies to pamper herself with!
After presents we had cake!  We have a tradition in our family of having an ice cream cake from Baskin-Robbins.  Tashena's had chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and it was delicious!  Happy Birthday Tashena!
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