Archive for the ‘Shows’ Category

I watched two entirely unrelated shows this weekend, and as always, I am completely taken aback by the enormous effort–the reckless outlay of life force, the vast expenditure of treasure and human power–that is gladly undertaken by countless armies of men and women in the effort to entertain me.
Well, me and the rest of the paying audience that is.

The closing credits of Kubo and the Two Strings–an absolutely charming stop action film, all witty origami and Japanese woodcuts–scrolls on and on, hundreds of people listed–and so delightful were the accompanying drawings, I watched the whole thing.

This work of art was produced by the same company that produced Coraline, another gorgeous show. The story is engaging, the images are beautiful, and the lovely scene of Kubo and his friends setting the glowing lanterns afloat on the waves to honor their dead brought tears to my eyes.

Well, well, it is true that almost anything in that vein will do that.
The incredibly demanding work of animating this show included making hundreds of puppet heads on 3-D printers, sewing hundreds of kimonos, and making the sets–the village, the ship. And then smoothing it out with elaborate computer graphics. The end result is really really lovely.
Image result for making kubo and the two strings
The other show I watched involved real live people strutting about on a stage, busting a gut in their effort to amuse me. Well, me and the the rest of the paying audience as mentioned before. This was yet another in David Ives’ sprightly retellings of 17th century French plays (see review of previous one here), all decked out in modern language wittily set in Iambic pentameter. The play is called School for Lies, and is based–LOOSELY based–on Moliere’s Le Misanthrope. Ooh la la, such delightful silliness! Well, delightful after the first few obligatory political references, which the audience obediently chortled at. Then, on we went, ridiculous costumes and stunning hairstyles–such fun!

AND, only one act long, a thoughtful courtesy to the audience–we laughed, we clapped, we went home.

How I honor the valiant bands of dedicated jongleurs, prestidigitators, and lunatic visionaries who entertained me so well this weekend.
And now I shall do a little work.

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WHY, you will no doubt be plaintively asking, would Hope watch Dr. Strange, yet another imbecilic entry in the comic book dramatization Hall of Shame?
Answer: Benedict Cumberbatch.

VERY fetching in his dashing cape, and as for that perfect coiffure and goatee, TOO TOO adorable.
The perfect coiffure and goatee come late in the film, once Ben has achieved enlightenment. Previously he was either clean shaven (as eminent but arrogant surgeon) or lavishly hairy à la unabomber (after ghastly car accident in which his skilled surgeon’s hands were maimed).
So, after the accident (which was totally his fault) Dr. Strange heads off to Kathmandu in search of mystic healing.
And WHAT DO YOU KNOW? He finds it! In the person of Tilda Swinton, head shaved and sporting long mystic robes. Actually, I could watch Tilda in just about any outfit, she is so lovely and has the voice of an angel. So, she teaches him to do lots of Important Mystic Stuff because he may just be the one who will save the world! Not only does he learn Mystic Stuff (including magic rings!) but he also learns some pretty fancy fighting techniques, the kind that requires acrobatics, très Cirque de Soleil. Also, he starts wearing mystic robes like all the other students of the Mystic Arts, AND gets the coiffure and goatee as mentioned above. VERY becoming!

However there is trouble ahead, of course. Extremely Evil Sorcerer Kaecilius (I kept hearing ‘silly’ instead of ‘Cilius’–somewhat blunting the ominous effect) has Evil Plan to DESTROY THE WORLD! He is played by Mads Mikkelson, that compelling Danish actor who was so fine in After the Wedding and The Royal Affair–movies in which he played grown ups. In this movie he wears stunning eye make up (and mystic robes, of course) and soon crashes the party together with his group of fanatical followers (all wearing matching eye makeup).

Vast battles ensue! All is LOST! Except it isn’t! Except it is!
Well, well, we wind up at a final battle in Hong Kong and just when all seems to be lost yet again, Dr. Strange flies off into the sky (because, magic cape) to confront the Satanic Lord of Something or Other Which I Can’t Remember, who is vastly large–a sort of planet. And MEAN! They have a Mutual Mock Fest, and then the Satanic Lord KILLS DR. STRANGE! Only he doesn’t of course, because Dr. Strange has a magic bracelet: Backward turn Backward oh Time in Thy Flight! It is a pleasing shade of green (green=magical) and whenever he twists it, time is set back. One twist= one minute? Or perhaps one hour?–it is not made clear. So anyway, Dr. Strange and the Satanic Lord play a kind of Groundhog Day Game–he’s DEAD! No he’s not!–until boredom sets in, and then the Satanic Lord promises to leave the earth alone, and take the bad fanatical people to play with instead. So, all’s well that ends well!
Though I wonder how Dr. S managed to twist the magic bracelet when he was, you know, DEAD. However.

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Having just returned from Brooklyn, it seemed fitting to watch the movie of that name, a rather charming evocation of the city as it was 80 years ago, teeming with hard working immigrants from Europe. The lovely Eilis has arrived from Ireland, lonely and homesick, but with the aid of a kindly priest (played by dear Jim Broadbent, always fun to watch), her sharp tongued but amiable landlady, and others–all lovingly portrayed, and the ladies especially pleasant to look upon in their splendid 1950’s array–she survives and prospers. And naturally enough, finds a likely lad–who, shockingly, is NOT Irish! However, being Italian he is of course Catholic, so THAT’S OK. He is almost as lovely as Eilis!

MY, what a lovely couple.
They first meet at a dance and I was so afraid he was going to prove to be a Bad Guy–but, not so! No dark scenes with the lovely girl pregnant and abandoned on the cruel streets–or worse, sobbing in a back room abortion clinic, heartbroken and overwhelmed with guilt–NONE of that! There are hard times and anguish to be sure–and an absolutely venomous lady back in Ireland whose bitter words had a great deal to do with Eilis’s determination to emigrate–but it all ends well. A detailed look at my parent’s generation. Really, simply charming.
PLUS there is a scene at Coney Island WITH PINK COTTON CANDY! How can you not love it?

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I just watched the latest Disney animation, Moana–simply lovely. The vision of green islands in glittering ocean is ravishing, and then the images invoking Polynesian art and culture are so inventive–brilliantly drawn, deft and clever. And the story–a folk tale involving a goddess and a stolen heart–is quite charming. There is–of course–that whole business about Believing in Yourself and Girls R Strong, which frankly I have had about enough of. Kids these days are so COMPLETELY believing in themselves! A new message: doubt yourself every once in a while, maybe.
But the gorgeous ships gliding over the turquoise sea, just wonderful–there is one scene where a whole fleet of those splendid Tahitian vessels sails by, incredibly detailed, crammed with people–and all quite accurately drawn. The wind in the sails! The porpoises dancing in the waves!

And Moana herself (available not only as a doll but also as action figure AND Lego set, not to mention the costume and artificial flower crown) is of course adorable–and so is the demigod Maui, huge and tattooed (with a tattoo that talks back to him).

This is, by the way, an EXCELLENT example of typical Disney sexual dimorphism: males are generally 4 times the size of females. More, even, see fine Scottish example below:

These movies are such astonishing works of art. The detail and scope are breathtaking–I am filled with admiration for the vision that created these fine shows, and the hundreds of people who labored to make them happen. Sail on, Disney!

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These days, one can watch spectacular Met productions in the comfort of local movie theaters–saving not only the $100+ of a ticket but also the stress, the parking and the driving. True, you miss the excitement of the live show, but the older I get, the more this seems a reasonable exchange. Not to young people, it appears– the audience at the movie theater last night was almost exclusively ancient. We were there to see Der Rosenkavalier: rapturous music, lavish staging, fabulous flamboyance. An added bonus: no violence, no one dying of tuberculosis, and the boy gets the girl!

So–the show begins–the conductor waves his baton, the curtain goes up! We are in the Marschallin’s palatial home. Her husband the prince being absent, she is enjoying her lovely boy toy, Octavian–a trouser role for a mezzo soprano.

This production has moved the time to prewar Vienna, so rather than the powdered wigs and embroidered doublets of yore, the lad is outfitted in snappy military uniform, when he’s not in his pj’s as below.

And really, as played by stunning Elīna Garanča, a very believable and completely beautiful boy. The ravishing Marschallin was sung by Renee Fleming, a role she has made her own over the past decade–this, she said, was to be her last performance of the role. The world mourns. She is one of the most famous and splendid divas of our time–gorgeous, generous, and with a voice of an angel, truly. Think of honey, think of roses, think of dreams come true–that is Renee Fleming’s voice.
But she is getting old–she is 58 now.
In the opera, the Marschallin is also getting old: she is 32. She must relinquish her lovely boy to someone his own age, and it is a bitter grief to her. But in between all this anguish there is the business with ridiculous Baron Ochs–usually played as a fat old fart, but in this production, a handsome and imposing man, if boorish and foolish.


Boorish Baron Ochs (Günther Groissböck) with his retinue of louts. Yes, he is sitting on some kind of howitzer in the picture on the right. See, his father-in-law-to-be is an arms dealer and so OF COURSE has furnished his living room with enormous guns.


The thing about Ochs is that despite being a total jerk, he has the most beautiful melody of the show. This is the tune my mother asked us to play at her funeral, in fact. Another factoid: Ochs has to sing a low C. This is about as low as bassos can go.

As is usual in these things, the director was determined to do something NEW and exciting, and while I applaud his losing the powdered wigs and all, setting the last scene in a whorehouse (instead of an inn, as per the story) felt a little off. Why, how NAUGHTY we are! Wilkommen im Cabaret my friends! All the ladies in their naughtValkyriey nighties–and there were a LOT of them, the stage so crammed with bodies that at times one searched in vain for our main characters–didn’t quite mesh with the actual plot. It reminded me of that staging of Valkyrie, when trendy director had the dread daughters of Odin–now outfitted as WWI aviators–slowly dropping to the stage suspended from parachutes, all the while urging on their gallant steeds: “Hoyotoho! Hoyotoho! Here, Helmwige, bring your horse here.”

So, anyway, there they are in a brothel. For dinner. Whatever.
At the very end, the director decided it would be a fine touch to have a bunch of guys dressed as WWI soldiers suddenly rush on stage–and collapse.
You know, there is a fine line between expressing the grief caused by the countless war dead and using them as props to add depth to a show. That line was crossed.

Still, the singing was gorgeous.
Opera, the astonishing art produced by hundreds of people working together. Whenever you think, we are doomed, this world is an abyss–remember opera, a miraculous accomplishment of humankind.

PS here is Günther Groissböck singing Ochs’ lovely song which ends with a low C. While doing a sort of strip tease. Well, OK, he takes his outer shirt off.

PPS here is a version of the Presentation of the Rose.

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Fantastic Beasts

I bypassed the whole Harry Potter experience—the books seemed simple and derivative to me, thin stuff compared to Tolkien, CS Lewis, TH White–the honey dew upon which I had fed as a child. Though I can well understand how rich and rare they must have seemed to those children starved of fantasy, whose reading had hitherto consisted of politically approved books whose message was uplifting and whose story was stolidly non magical at all times.

The Harry Potter series being played out, the author had the pleasing notion of making a story about one of the text books Harry and his colleagues studied: Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them. Hence, the new movie—which if successful, will start a whole new series. The story is negligible, but the images are ravishing. And Eddie Redmayne makes eddie1a charming hero, diffident and shy, disguising his quite astonishing beauty beneath a tangle of artfully tousled hair and an affectation of pigeon toed awkwardness. He steps off the ship and arrives in a simply splendid vision of old New York—really, a work of art, full of delightful details. There is some business with accidentally exchanged suitcases (his contains a menagerie of magical creatures, the other a collection of baked goods) and the story goes forward. A bad mage, a secret society, a wicked witch (played with alarming verve by Samantha Morton, excellent as always). The creatures are of course extraordinarily well made and seem very real– magic that we take for granted these days—undeniably fun to look at.

And I was going to leave it at that—lovely show, lots of gorgeous images—but then I came across a scene in the fantasy series I am reading concerning another kind of beast altogether—and was amused at the comparison.

In this book, an army is marching across a vast desert, and by way of entertainment on the grueling march, they capture one each of the 3 types of deadly scorpions native to the desert: a Red Bastard, an Amber In Out, and a Birdshit. This last is a puny creature, looking like its namesake. The squads name their champions Magonel, Clawmaster and Joyful Union. The mini arena fenced with knives is set up, and betting is heavy. The moment arrives, the champions are dropped out of their boxes into the arena.

“Joyful Union sauntered into the middle of the arena. Mangonel’s assortment of natural weapons all cocked in unison, even as the creature began backing up, its shell turning fiery red. Clawmaster suddenly wheeled and darted straight at the nearest wall of blades, halting a moment before impact, pincers waving wildly. ‘He wants mommy, looks like, Hubb,’ Koryk drily observed”. . . “Joyful Union finally lifted its tail. Upon which, all but Fiddler stared in utter disbelief, as Joyful Union seemed to…split. Horizontally. Into two identical, but thinner, flatter scorpions. That then raced outward, one to Mangonel, the other to Clawmaster—each like a village mongrel charging a bull.”. . “With its enemies vanquished, the two Birdshit scorpions rushed back into each other’s arms—and, in the blink of an eye, were as one once more.”

Inventive, no?

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I recently watched a documentary called ‘What we do in the Shadows’. A brave team is filming the typical experiences of some vampires who are sharing a flat in Wellington, NZ. (NOTE: The documentary team have all been issued crucifixes). The film starts with the alarm clock going off next to a coffin–a hand reaches out to turn it off–and it’s 6:30 pm! Time to get up! A Flat Meeting is announced, to discuss the housekeeping situation–no one has done the dishes in FIVE YEARS. Quote: “When you get three vampires in a flat, obviously, there’s going to be a lot of tension”. Though also, the guys manage to get along, mostly.

HAHAHahah! Silly stuff, but I own it made me larf.
Even though it had the MOST LAME werewolf transformation scenes ever. Preceded by idiotic scene where the werewolves are all chaining themselves to trees in preparation for the Change. Head werewolf to minion werewolf: “Why aren’t you using a lock?” Minion: “I keep forgetting the combination.”
Trailer here.
PS another idiotic quote:
Vladislav: Leave me to do my dark bidding on the internet!
Viago: What are you bidding on?
Vladislav: I am bidding on a table.

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