Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Valkyrie update

Oh, and while I'm thinking of upcoming films, Nazi film Valkyrie's release date has been massively postponed to February next year. Gossip was that it wasn't screening well early and that Cruise needed time to learn a better German accent and dub his lines.

Told you so! But directed by Bryan Singer, and with Kenneth Branagh... Cruise or no Cruise, I think I'll at least watch it on DVD.

Deception preview

So little time, but I just had to say something about the upcoming film Deception, which will be released here while I'm in Poland. I don't know what was with the studios on this one; it didn't get a finalized title until a month or two ago, which is a problem for buzz. And then they chose this? As one snarky blogger put it, "Was Generic Sex Thriller already taken?" The original title was The List, which seems perfectly fine to me. Basically, an accountant is introduced by a more sophisticated colleague into an exclusive sex club but then finds himself suspected of murder. Twists and mayhem doubtless ensue, since there are at least three in the trailer.

It looks like a completely formulaic load of Hollywood...formulae, but the cast is pulling me towards this film slowly and inevitably. Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor in the same film? You could overload on the musical theater goodness (not that either of them sings in this, I think). Two of my favorite big stars. And Michelle Williams, who I think was just so perfect in Brokeback Mountain. If you're going to see a generic sex thriller, might as well see a well-acted one.

Monday, April 14, 2008

In the footsteps of John Steinbeck

No, I'm not heading to Monterey, but I am really starting to wind myself up for my trip to Poland. Steinbeck actually went on a pretty extensive Polish tour, hitting Krakow and Wroclaw (where I'm going) as well as Warsaw and Lodz. He was there when Kennedy was shot and, as frankly probably a bigger figure than the American ambassador, was deluged with phone calls and condolences and so forth.

Men in tights

Yet more princesses around here; yesterday I went to see American Ballet Theatre's Sleeping Beauty at the Civic Opera House. Now that was a deeply satisfying classical old time. Everything pretty, colorful, and just like an old-fashioned fairy tale: big castle sets, sparkly tutus, flowers, weird hats. Of course, that might also drive you wild. I don't get to the ballet so often that it bothers me. It definitely did not bother the scads of little girls wearing tiaras.

My friend pointed out, and the program confirmed, that Paloma Herrera and Angel Corella, the two leads yesterday, have been principals for a very long time. Since 1995, in fact. That seems like impressive longevity to me, even assuming that they were prodigies, but I guess it's not that common to fire your principals, and they wouldn't be retiring just yet. They were both amazing. Corella's turns were just a sight to behold, and Herrera gives off such an air of delicacy that she's perfect for a sixteen-year-old princess. Yet she's clearly strong as an ox, as all of her insane en pointe balancing showed.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Disney girl power! Finally watched Enchanted recently to see what all the hoopla was about, and paid the usual price for high expectations. The movie did leave a pleasant, sunny kind of feeling behind, but I admit to being a little irritated while I was watching the first half or so. It's about an animated heroine who falls into NYC just as she's about to marry her prince, and finds her puffy dress, singing, and ideals of true love quite out of place -- not to mention that she has no cash and no idea where she is! A lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) and his young daughter find and befriend her. I can't believe that I was irritated at a lack of plausibility at this point in the film, but I kept thinking, "Man, just call the cops and tell them a crazy lady is wandering around..." Then again, it's NYC. A call like that would probably just get you a laugh.

Amy Adams and Dempsey are very charming, and a special shout-out to James Marsden, who has now lost the girl in a seemingly infinite quantity of movies (he plays the prince). Adams does have quite a nice singing voice, as she also proved at the Oscars, though I'm not wild about the songs. The movie itself seemed quite squarely aimed at a tweeny audience at moments. Too many montages. The big musical number in Central Park had so many cuts from one clever little scene to another that I never had time to appreciate any choreography, and then there was the obligatory chick-flick shopping montage à la Pretty Woman. But a good happy ending and, as I said, a reasonable amount of girl power.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Kids gone mainstream

My gym frequently plays music that literally makes me feel like my ears are going to start bleeding; American Idol winners will never go hungry while they're still in business. We hit a new low yesterday when I was shocked out of my Wodehouse-induced haze thinking, "What the hell is this &@#Q!%?" It was the Jonas Brothers, that whiny teen band that backs up Hannah Montana or tours with her or something of the kind. And how did I know what the Jonas Brothers sound like? Because they were on Dancing with the Stars two weeks ago. (Last week was Kylie Minogue.)

I bow to the mighty power of Disney/ABC. It's one thing to manufacture a tween star; that's been going on quietly for a long time. But when it hits the mainstream like this, it's honestly too much for me. Youth culture taking over? Or just these specific stars being marketed to hit it bigtime? I'll ponder it while tenderly bandaging my ears.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Remembering the Wall

Remember the day the Berlin Wall came down? I do. I remember watching it on TV, my whole family camped out together, very excited and happy. I remember seeing Germans shouting, drinking, climbing the wall, pulling it down piece by piece. I remember soon after the Beethoven's Ninth Symphony performance with Leonard Bernstein conducting.

John Le Carré's absolutely essential spy novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold took me back to the vaguely scary feeling that the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall gave off when I was a child. It's been on that list for a long time now of things I need to read. It did not disappoint -- more twists and turns and devious plans than even its top-notch protagonist can keep track of as he poses as a drunken, broken-down agent willing to defect. I'm sure that when it came out it was hailed not only as a great read but incisive political commentary. Now, looking back, that commentary is a frightening historical document of its own about the Cold War and the intelligence war. Not that those haven't continued, but at least as far as that part of the world is continued, a lot of the symbology has faded away.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rabbit-Proof Fence

While in Connecticut, I at long last watched Rabbit-Proof Fence. Now, I had better admit up front that Kenneth Branagh is in it, and that impelled me to watch it (not very quickly). But I do have a keen interest in Australia and South Africa, which have a black/white racial problem very differently inflected from ours (I'm in the U.S., international readers who stumble upon this). Rabbit tells the story of three aboriginal girls who were part of the Stolen Generations of children, particularly mixed-blood children, who were taken away from their parents and raised in government camps to be assimilated. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and there's no doubt that there were at least some good intentions. But Molly just wanted to go home.

And so she did, dragging the other two smaller girls 1,500 miles across Australia, following the fence that had been built across the continent to keep rabbits out of the farmlands. It's faithfully based on a true story, which is just extraordinary. Even more extraordinary is that Molly did it twice. She was taken in as an adult, after having an operation, and escaped carrying her younger daughter and walked back to Jigalong again. She didn't see her older daughter again till the girl was all grown up. Her younger daughter was taken away again shortly after her second walk home, and she has never seen that girl again.

The situation of the aboriginal (or indigenous, which is the term the director used on the commentary; perhaps aboriginal is frowned upon in Australia now? still the term we use in the U.S.) peoples flares up every now and then in dialogue that reaches even to here. This film was one of those flashpoints. Another that I can remember was Cathy Freeman lighting the Olympic torch at the Sydney Olympics. I expect there'll be some more talk when Baz Luhrmann's Australia comes out; there is apparently a small subplot featuring aboriginal actors.

Oh and yes, other than the story, the film itself is really quite good. Excellent acting all around, very well-balanced in cutting between the girls and Branagh as English-born A. O. Neville, the chief government official in charge of the removal. Beautiful score by Peter Gabriel. Director Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger) describes in the commentary how he was getting disgusted with the Hollywood system while working with Harrison Ford on yet another Jack Ryan script, and went home to make this film.

Aunt Harriet's House

The Harriet Beecher Stowe house and center and archives and the house next door are all right next to the Mark Twain house, literally a quite energetic stone's throw away. Unfortunately, the house itself is rather unassuming, as you see, compared to Twain's brick craziness or even the stone and brick Day House next door to the Stowe house, which is part of the complex. Still, it's a cute Victorian house, and I would have been delighted to tour it if only I had had time. The lovely, friendly women at the center were not exactly delighted when I sprang in cheerily and announced that I wanted to take a quick run around the property, and I had a Twain tour in twenty minutes. Most people seem to make this choice, sadly for the Stowe-ites.

Also unfortunately, she didn't live here while she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin; she lived in Maine then. But it would still have been interesting to get some insight into her staunchly religious and conservative life. I was doing some UTC work recently and read that she had such a horror of the theater that she wouldn't sanction a dramatic version of it for years, and when she went to see it, it was the first time in her life she had stepped foot in the theater.

Next time I'm in Hartford. I promise.