I'm behind on telling y'all what I've been seeing lately. All of a sudden I have things to do and projects to work on and friends who want to spend time with me. So here we go
Swan Lake, in a fabulous, completely thrilling production by Matthew Bourne returned to Los Angeles and is at the Ahmanson now (or will be until Sunday night). I saw it in the highest seats in the theatre and in a packed house last Thursday night. I totally loved it. Matthew Bourne is a genius, if a bit self-conscious, and the production is superb. This show is awesome and not to be missed. Thankfully, you can all get it on DVD since the show is almost ten years old.
Mother Courage and Her Children at Cal Poly Pomona's Theatre Department (my alma mater and on-again-off-again employer) was dreadful. It's a shame, too. Many of my former students were in the show and there is a lot of talent in the department: it just needs to be trained and tapped in the right ways. Letting the actors loose with little to no direction and giving them Brecht to speak is no way to teach a group of young actors anything, unfortunately, and that is just what happened with this production. It's closed, now, thankfully, so let's all start putting it behind us and move on to something more closely resembling good theatre.
Terrence Malick's Badlands, his first feature film, is a really good film about disaffected youths (there are so many of these). I saw this movie after seeing Malick's other three (later) features, so I can only really watch it through the lens of Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and The New World. So to me, Badlands is a fascinating piece about the loss of innocence and our ability to be controlled by forces around us; led, if you will, by those who are stronger than us. I don't necessarily mean forced or raped or anything like that, but just influenced, by will perhaps, by those we love and those who wish to affect us (and maybe even those who don't want anything from us.)
Carol Reed's film noir piece The Third Man is widely considered one of the best in the genre. It stars Joseph Cotten mostly with Orson Welles appearing eventually. Most everyone has seen this movie and I know I'm sort of late to the game on this one. I liked it, and it's rather good film noir, but not quite black and white enough for my taste (too much happens during the day). I kept wishing someone slightly stronger than Cotten was leading me around that the script was a little more hard-boiled. It's written by Graham Greene, so I should've expected it to lean toward the Romantic, and perhaps that's placing an unwanted requirement on the film. I don't know; once you've seen Robert Siodmak's The Killers, I don't think there's anywhere to go but down. Still, Welles is great, there are some really cool lighting moments and the chase scene at the end is awesome.
Movies from 2005:
Zhangke Jia's The World is a slow-paced Chinese movie that reminded me a lot of Tsai Ming-Liang's Goodbye Dragon Inn. The World is not quite as slow as that, but it sure takes it's time. It follows several people around a theme park in Beijing that (get this) has replicas of monuments and buildings from all over the world. The main character performs in these huge extravaganza shows that are not like anything so much as those enormous dance shows staged by Lorenz Ziegfeld in the early part of the Twentieth century. It's mostly about consumer culture and how Capitalism is ruining China, but it's often touching and powerful. The end is awful and a huge letdown, but I liked it more than I disliked it. #63 out of 85 films.
And this morning I finally got to see Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, which everyone should go see. It's easily the best animated film that came out last year and should undoubtedly have won the Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards (but then, they didn't hand out Best Picture correctly, either, did they?) I loved this movie. It's absolutely bursting with awesome vistas and new-fangled magic. It's powerful and moving and it had stolen my heart after the first twenty minutes. It also features the voices of Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, Christian Bale and (!) Billy Crystal. Rent this one for sure. Miyazaki is the mastermind behind Spirited Away and I think I may like Howl's Moving Castle even better than that film and that's saying a ton.
Movies from 2006:
Christian Carion's Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas), which was France's entry for Best Foreign Language Feature last year, totally sucks and it shouldn't have even been nominated. It's a cheese-ball pile of silliness with few redeeming qualities. It will probably be one of the worst movies on my list for 2006. Joyeux Noël is full of hokey laugh-out-loud sequences that require all suspension of disbelief but ask to be taken with complete seriousness. More than once I said "Give me a break!" out loud in the theatre and had to be shushed by strangers. This film is allegedly based on true events, but I didn't believe a bit of it.
Thankfully, I followed up Joyeux Noël by going to see last year's winner of the Oscar for Foreign Language Film: Gavin Hood's Tsotsi. And let me tell you, this movie deserved its award. It connects to the audience immediately and never looks back. I couldn't help but love the anti-hero at the center of the film and I wanted him to succeed more than anything. Presley Chweneyagae, who plays the main character is mesmerizing and compelling. There is no way to watch this movie and not fall totally in love with him. Go see it.