Monday, December 29, 2008

Holiday Movie PSA

No opera opportunities over the holiday, but I did manage to hit up some of the holiday season/Oscar bait offerings. Be advised:

1. Milk - OK. This is just so clearly the only legitimate contender for Best Picture. No, I haven't seen the old baby man Brad Pitt picture yet, but I kind of feel like I can still claim preemptive outrage that it is going to be considered serious competition. I read the Randy Shilts book in high school I think, and couldn't stop thinking about what an amazing big time movie biopic Harvey Milk would make if done properly, and lo these many years later, it has arrived. Milk is a deeply affecting and serious movie about history and politics and ideas and questions directly relevant to the moment, both Prop 8 and the prospects for a broader re-invigoration of a national politics about equality and civil rights (Rick Warren speed bump aside. WTF Obama???).

The depth of Sean Penn's portrayal of Harvey Milk is shocking. He does something infinitely harder than playing a hero or martyr: he demonstrates how people actually make politics out of relationships. How do you even start to figure out how to play that? His death at the end is devastating, not because you're mourning for the movement, but because you've grown so attached to his character.

Moreover, it is just an incredibly well made movie. Gus van Sant is able to totally avoid the usual pitfalls of the biopic that can make such movies feel like plodding chores. Nor does it have that annoying historical sheen. In the phrase of the Variety review, Milk fills "lived in". Also, the documentary footage is impeccably interspersed, used sparingly enough to avoid undermining the new footage.

Reading about it since seeing it, I feel like maybe there is some weird backlash against it (a suspicion compounded by the Golden Globes snubbing). Like it would be too perfect for Hollywood to give a movie about a gay political hero best picture given Prop 8 and Obama triumphalism. If so, that is some BULLSHIT. I have not had strong Best Picture preferences for a few years, but this year it will be a total travesty if the gimmicky Brad Pitt thing or Batman or Nazi Kate Winslet wins instead. Bah.

2. The Wrestler - This is a movie that keeps it real, folks, I mean--for reals real. But, it is important to note that it is not quite a "downer" movie in the way "Dancer in the Dark" was a downer movie. For one, it spends a lot of time creating this truly fascinating (and gross) backstage world of low rent professional wrestling, but not for cheap laughs. Rather it plays like one of those documentaries at once disturbed and intrigued by its subjects but firmly operating under the conceit that theirs is a deep world worth engaging. Second, Mickey Rourke's performance doesn't really allow it to become a downer, because his character is fundamentally good-natured and can take care of himself and never feels like a pawn of some sadistic omnipotent filmmaker, which is quite an achievement considering the scene with the staples. You don't pity him, per se, but sort of join him as he resigns himself to the fact that his luck has run out. So, still a downer, clearly, but as someone who doesn't have a lot of patience for the genre at large, I think this is different and better. He still shouldn't beat out Sean Penn, but I wouldn't be irate if it went down like that.

3. Slumdog Millionaire - As advertised, very satisfying and then some. It ends more neatly and fairytale-ish than it begins, which could be bothersome, but whatever. While the story and assemblage of actors playing the main roles at different ages are enchanting (except for the adult version of the girl, who was bland and too pretty), the Indian setting is the real entertainment, with nicely observed glimpses into slums as well as call centers. Clearly not Milk competition for Best Picture, but I hope it doesn't end up as a sort of Indian "Little Miss Sunshine" for 2008. This is much worthier.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tristan Bust

Well THAT was something of a lowpoint in my operagoing career, and on my first attempt to see T n' I live, no less. Serious weak sauce alert.

I spent the first act in the penalty box (thanks Delaware!) which was packed for some reason. Watson sounded nicht gut on the List Hall sound system. Like, actual cringe, muttering "Damn" under my breath, nails on a larynx unpleasant at some points.

I got up to my balc box for Act II and some tourist d-bag sitting in my seat says "What, you're just coming for the second act?" Dick. The good news about Act II was that Watson sounded perfectly fine in person. The bad news was that it was way, way boring. I would have thought Tristan could basically work under any circumstances, but I would have been wrong. It does not work when there is zero chemistry going on among the principals. I mean, when Konig Marke's monologue is the most exciting thing in the show, that's just not cool.

Now, I don't want to totally blame the principals. Watson certainly deserves the gratitude reserved for people willing to cover Wagner. That is some thankless shiz right there. And c' was the last perf in a run where the conductor was the biggest story, not to mention a Saturday night and snowing. Also, she was up there with Seiffert, who despite his nice sounding voice clearly could not act his way out of a plastic bag. (Exercise: Pretend you have just been run through with a broadsword. Does that make you happy, sad, or the same?)

Also: I know I'm the last person in the universe to get an opinion about this production, but does anyone else feel like the Met picked it up at IKEA? It's all soothing Nordic colors, competing faux wood veneers, modernish lines, and a bit cheap looking. Lest this production get in a show without one flub, you'll be glad to know the lift for the obelisk thing got caught or something when Melot is busting in during Act II and there was this sort of awkward section where no one knew where to look because Marke hadn't arrived from under the stage yet.

I was thinking about maybe not saying this in public, but oh well. I bailed on Act III. I wanted to just forget the whole business and go home and make plane tickets for Voigt/Forbis in Chicago next month. I just didn't want my first time to be like that, and I think we can all agree this was just the tip, right?


Friday, December 19, 2008

One night only...unfortunately the wrong one

Going up to NY to catch the last T u' I of the season tomorrow, but when Dalayman sicks out do I get the luxury cover? Of course not. I get L-dubs. Not like she is bad. But safe to say it is a serious non-event. I dunno. Maybe her Isolde is awesome and no one knows it and I will eat my hat.