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GiantBaneRecently I have noticed ads from a streaming service, urging me to FEAR NOT THE SUBTITLES! Accentuated by the intense gaze of Kristofer Hivju, the actor whose international fame consequent to his role in Game of Thrones has made the hearts of his fellow Norwegians swell with patriotic pride.

Comrades, I subscribed!

And leaving Mr. Hiyju and Norwegian Noir aside for the time being, settled on Italian detective Montalbano. Heavens, so molto Italiano—the driving of fancy cars at lunatic speeds! The dress casual but so elegant! The supreme importance of good food! The wonderfully expressive faces and gestures!

The series takes place in Sicily, that island of fabulous antiquity set in a turquoise sea, famous for its volcanoes, its immensely complicated history–and of course, the Mafia, ever looming in the background. Our detective has grown up understanding the delicate balance an upright man must develop, to be an officer of the law under these circumstances.

The stories are good, not so totally farfetched as to make one groan, but complicated enough to entertain. But what most entranced me was the infinity of people and faces in the show—rugged, lined faces, old people with warts and bristling eyebrows, vividly individual men and women all passionately arguing, laughing, eating—real people. It made me realize how many shows I’ve seen that are skewed to show just young people—and, not only young people but young beautiful people. Pretty to look at of course—but how tedious it becomes, particularly when set against Montalbano’s world.

Every night I think, time for something different, but then find I can’t resist just one more bout with the brusque balding detective–eyebrows waggling, hands windmilling, mouth going a mile a minute—solving yet another heinous crime. As Lawrence’s mother-in-law used to say when discovered having a forbidden treat: “è più forte di me”.

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The first dance performance of the season–for which I virtuously purchased season tickets, thus demonstrating my support for the arts–was a dazzling performance of The Red Shoes, a full length show based on the old movie. The Washington Post reviewer was disappointed to find it not quite up to the movie—never having seen the movie, I allowed myself to be enchanted.

The show was created and choreographed by that naughty wunderkind, Sir Matthew Bourne–famous for his gay version of Swan Lake. Which, I will own, I did not entirely love. But then neither do I entirely love the traditional version. Quite the reverse, in fact–deadly old chestnut which you would have to pay me to watch. But the Bourne version is not winning my vote either…

However, The Red Shoes is another thing altogether, charming and witty. The music is a mélange of music by Bernard Hermann, who composed scores for films: Citizen Kane, Fahrenheit 451, and many others. You’ll be thinking, whoa, what a dog’s breakfast, but in fact it works very well. The show was absolutely stunning, with gorgeous dance, astonishing sets, deliriously silly and wonderful costumes. Bourne’s dancers are very athletic, and the women are much more, how to put it, voluptuous, than traditional ballet dancers. The dancer playing Victoria Page (= ensorcelled by the red shoes) actually had breasts—unheard of for most ballerinas. Possibly Bourne allows his dancers to eat the occasional cupcake, something which traditional ballerinas can only dream of.

Flamboyant scenes, one after another—dancers rehearsing, cigarettes hanging from those beautiful mouths—dancers partying at the beach, wearing the most amazingly garish swim suits while bouncing matching beach balls–

—and, oh my, the brilliant ballet-within-the-ballet, which at one point became nothing but elegant black silhouettes against a white backdrop. This was a SHOW, comrades. I came out of the theater still smiling.

Next week: La Bayadère. Sigh.

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The Wild Wild West

Having lavished money like a drunken sailor on various subscriptions, I was able to watch fabulous opera last night: Puccini’s La Fanciulla Del West–the Girl of the Golden West! Lawrence and I saw this exact show years ago at the Met (see post about it here), and here it was on my home screen, up close and personal, thanks to the Met Opera Streaming Service.
I couldn’t help but notice, by the way, that some of those opera singers could really do with a orthodontist’s care (see, being able to observe this kind of detail is one of the many amazing advantages of streaming opera on a huge screen!)
I love, love this opera, sentimental and silly though it is. AND, the soprano actually survives to live happily ever after with the tenor! After she saves him from being hanged, that is.

Then, they head out of the camp: “Goodbye my California, Goodbye my beautiful high Sierras.” One does wonder where they plan to go–Nevada? Mexico? Will Minnie establish another bar, also featuring nightly Bible classes?

Puccini’s vision of the west may not exactly jive with ours: e.g., one of the lads starts sobbing loudly in Minnie’s bar, homesick and missing la mia mama–and all the rough tough miners join in, they ALL miss their moms! As a mom, I find that charming. But non-moms may have a problem with the scene.

As it happened, I had been treated to a VERY DIFFERENT vision of the Old West in a recent show. In this show, the west is a resort world, peopled entirely by extremely realistic robots who are there to entertain the extremely high-paying visitors. Some fairly ghastly scenes are enacted, demonstrating that one man’s idea of entertainment is another’s of hateful mayhem. What makes Westworld a show worth watching is…. Anthony Hopkins. Riveting actor! He plays the resident genius of the place, whose vision created it and its almost human inhabitants.

As with all these modern shows, the opening credits are masterly, a rapturous vision of an incredibly advanced 3-D printer printing a horse and then its rider, see it here.
Fun to watch, this show–though once the initial magic fades, one starts wondering about, well, logistics. A number of watchers had the same problem, and there is a collection of questions people have asked, for example, is there a carpenter running around repairing all the shot out windows and busted doors every night? What does the park’s legal waiver look like–Do most guests just sign it like an itunes update? Buzzfeed has an amusing assortment here.
Entertaining. Though without Hopkins, it would just be another sci-fi & sex extravaganza. And what’s wrong with that, you’ll ask.

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I imagine most TV show producers are casting the envious glance at Game of Thrones–WHY, WHY, is everybody watching that one and not the fine shows produced by, say, themselves? Think of the frantic meetings, the elaborate Powerpoints with Action Bullets, the tense discussions:

Violence

  • Check, totally have that covered

Naked ladies

  • check, totally have that covered

Beheadings

  • WAIT–this MUST BE IT! No beheadings in the series!
  • YET!

So, all these producers start frantically searching scripts to see where a beheading could most easily be slipped in.
And I am here to tell you that The Defenders (indefensible comic book series on Netflix) proudly presented not one but TWO beheadings! Yes!
Related image

No dragons though.

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I finally watched the movie to blame for those oddly decorative Guy Fawkes masks appearing at every tiresome pep rally of a couple years back–V for Vendetta.

The story involves–oh, I can’t be bothered to tell the story. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing–it is based on a comic book, ludicrously unbelievable, and touting a repugnant concept of politics–so why, why was I continuing to watch such silliness?
Simply, those astonishing actors, filling the screen with their lunatic energy and panache. As the repellent dictator, John Hurt was mesmerizing–his baleful face, all wrinkles and bad teeth, spitting virulent hatred–projected into the huge screen in the conference room where sat his minions, resentfully regarding him.

There was Stephen Rea, as the dogged detective, and wicked wicked Tim Piggott-Smith (whom I remember so well as the heinous Ronald Merrick in The Jewel in the Crown)–oh, and Stephen Fry, Roger Allam, Sinead Cusack–this movie is a feast of fabulous acting.
With, I’ll admit, a completely silly plot. But it is after all based on a comic book.
Intelligent entertainments based on brilliant works of art are rare. This will do until the intelligent, brilliant one comes along.
PS. RIP, John Hurt and Tim Piggott-Smith. Both died this year.

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Danish Lads and Lizards

I was watching a VERRA exciting movie, one of those Star Wars shows, a prequel–the wicked villains are BUILDING the I-felt-a-great-disturbance-in-the-Force Death Star–GOSH! Non stop action! Space ships! Hyperdrive! Huge explosions! Robots!
Image result for rogue oneBut I had to stop, it being my bedtime and a school night. And, such was the perturbation of spirits aroused by the show that I was unable to sink into slumber for at least an hour, if not more.

 

So the next night, instead of watching the heart-stopping conclusion of Rogue One…I watched Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Netflix has poured roughly a gazillion dollars into this much loved old clunker, and a great deal of wild zest too. I own that while at first I held back–ever faithful to the incredible silliness of the original show–I was guffawing away soon enough. The ghastly movie our team is forced to watch–Reptilicus–is so extremely awful one can hardly believe it wasn’t actually created to be the butt of their wit, but, not. Reptilicus is a Danish-American Big Monster movie, and apparently still a Thing in Denmark, cheesy and dumb, but THEIR cheesy and dumb. See, a bunch of Copper Miners in the Frozen North drill into–FLESH. They take it back to the Lab in Copenhagen and keep it in a Freezer Room. But UH OH! The door is left open, the flesh thaws and regenerates into a MONSTER (“t-t-talking bout regeneration!” sing the MST bots).

The terrible production values, the stilted dialogue, the amazing stupidity–it’s all there!

Image result for mads mikkelsen dancerAnd speaking of Denmark, I notice that Danish Favorite Son Mads Mikkelson is now all over the place–just saw him as Evil Caecilius in Dr. Strange, and there he was as Brilliant Scientist and Loving Dad in Rogue One.
Nice looking fellow, no?

From gymnast to ballet dancer to actor to WORLD STAR. Well done Mr. Denmark! Once I felt strong enough to continue with Rogue One, I was pleased to find that–after terrible trials–he is reunited with his now-all-grown-up daughter; albeit briefly. It was a completely unbelievable but nonetheless heart-warming scene, after which he…
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DIES.

But so does everyone else as the Bad Empire forces blow up the entire set. But not before the Plans to the Death Star are smuggled to Princess Leia, or at least, an slightly creepy CGI version of Princess Leia.
Image result for rogue one cgi carrie fisher
The CGI Tarkin is even more creepy. The Stars die but the movie making goes on. T-t-talking bout regeneration!

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Guilty Pleasures

My brother sheepishly admitted watching a show which no sensible adult could watch without shame. So naturally, I feverishly hunted for it on Netflix and settled down to waste my time with it.
MY, the Stupid is very strong in this one.
And yet, strangely compelling.
What can I say–while I may have made derisive comments to the cats during the episode, I watched the whole thing. Shannara is one of those American made series, with a strong ‘Yonda is da castle of my Fadda’ vibe (honesty constrains me to add that apparently Tony Curtis never said these words in any movie ever) and of course it complies with the exacting American TV casting tradition which rules that all the young actors and actresses must look EXACTLY ALIKE–all beautiful, slim, and perfectly made up. Mascara is mandatory. Half of them must be blonde and half brunette: is the LAW.
Also, elf ears.
Sigh.

It’s Friday night. GO ON. You can watch that depressing Sundance winner tomorrow.

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