Thursday, October 30, 2008

Madame Butterfly

Madame Butterfly (1995) is the Puccini opera presented as a film, directed by Frédéric Mitterrand. It was a bit difficult to sink into the film, with all the dialog in song. The acting was a bit stiff and artificial in the opening of the well-known story. Richard Troxell sings and acts the villain Pinkerton wonderfully, and I loved to HATE him, and felt a bit of understanding, if not pity for him at the tragic end of Butterfly. Ying Huang sang Butterfly beautifully, but her acting at first was quite stiff. Fortunately, she became her character fully by the moving end of the film/opera. Richard Cowan as Sharpless and Ning Liang as Suzuki were both wonderful in their supporting roles.

The sets and setting were gorgeous, but I longed to see the ship sail into the bay, and felt cheated by the bit of old film shown instead. I suppose it was a matter of the budget, but it added to the artificiality of an opera on film, and not in the good way!

True Blood, and the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries

True Blood is the TV series of the year for me (HBO). I'm enjoying it so much I just had to buy the books it is based on, written by Charlaine Harris. "Goofy charm....humour and occasional terror" just about sum them up. Set in Louisiana near Shreveport, the village of Bon Temps is full of characters, but there is a murderer killing women who have been with vampires! As Sookie tries to solve the mystery, she gets more and more involved in the life of the supernatural beings she seems to find everywhere, and along the way encounters romance and lots of danger.

The series has some wonderful music, and some side-plots and characters that differ from the books. It will be interesting to see how they diverge as time goes on -- I surely hope that this series runs for YEARS. The HBO site lists 12 episodes in the first season.

So far, there are eight books, and I'm into the sixth. Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead, Dead to the World, Dead as a Doornail, Definitely Dead, Altogether Dead (ordered), From Dead to Worse (pre-ordered). All great fun! Charlaine Harris' site lists some books with short stories set in Sookie's world too.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Flip side of the 1890s, and more Stephen Fry

Tipping the Velvet (2002) is the BBC adaptation of Sarah Waters' novel. I've only seen the first of three episodes, and I'm loving it so far. I'm especially happy to be seeing it in the same week as Wilde since that is also set primarily in 1890s London. However, Wilde is a biography, whereas this is a coming of age tale. Oscar Wilde was upper middle class, and this takes place around the theatre world, which is working class; in fact Nan begins as an oyster girl. Some would call this a lesbian film, because the main characters are "tipping the velvet," a British term in the time for women's oral sex. The women play male impersonators on the stage, and are lesbians, so obviously this is one essential element of the story.

Now I want very much to read the novel. :-)

In another connection, also saw Stephen Fry in Peter's Friends by Kenneth Branagh, which also features Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, and Rita Rudner, to name those I knew. Imelda Stanton, who was Vera Drake in the film of the same name, was great as the over-protective, grieving mother. Branagh gives himself a juicy little role as the self-loathing fellow in the group of old friends who meet to celebrate New Year's 1992. The collage which opens the film is *wonderful*, if the story is a bit predictable. A quiet delight anyway. Yes, I did notice similarities to The Big Chill. However, there is room for more than one reunion movie on Earth.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Genius! Oscar Wilde, Samuel R. Delany, and Stephen Fry

Two great films about geniuses, who were gay! Wilde (1997) is an eloquent re-telling of the life of Oscar Wilde, who died at the turn of the century, after falling from perhaps the most celebrated person in all of England, to becoming the most scorned and accursed. Stephen Fry is perfect as Wilde, while Jude Law seems to personify the spoiled, selfish but beautiful Bosie. A small delight is seeing Orlando Bloom's face for a minute or two as part of a gang of rent boys who catches Wilde's eye and seems to set some unsettling knowledge free inside of Wilde.

Lou picked out The Polymath, or the Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman (2007) to see at the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival this year, and it was DELIGHTFUL. And the film-maker Fred Barney Taylor was there for comments and questions at the end. Now I need to read more of Sam Delany's books!

The contrast between his life as a gay man could not be in greater contrast to that of Oscar Wilde, who seemed to focus on intellect and the ideal, while Delany definitely focused on the body, and having lots of sexual encounters—100 per week for many years, he says. They were both married to women, too. Sylistically, the films were worlds apart, also. Wilde is a BBC biopic, rather stately and beautiful. Polymath is about an science-fiction author from New York, and it features very abstract images and gritty New York.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

So Much Art!

October has been bursting with art, both film and literature. I finally read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Perhaps because I've been depressed and sad, missing those who are gone, but reading about this child's rape and murder, and how she (in Heaven) and her family on Earth learned to come to terms with their grief and finally, with one another, was just what I needed.

While I was more passive and just watching films, I saw:

The amazing Discreet Charm of the Bourgeousie (Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie) (1972) by Luis Buñuel: Is there a plot? I don't know, and I don't care. Six rather despicable people never manage to dine together, no matter how many times they try. Be warned, there is a body count! I wanted so much to know French for this film rather than rely on the sub-titles. My only criticism is that it could have been tightened, somewhat.

The funny The Valet (La Doublure) (2006) by Francis Veber (The Closet, The Dinner Game): Again, I want to know the French, not rely on the sub-titles, which seem to miss quite a few of the jokes. Veber likes to call his Fool by the same name each time, François Pignon. This Pignon is ably played by actor/stand-up comic Gad Elmaleh. The ever-great Daniel Atueil plays the evil magnate who winds the plot into action, and Kristin Scott-Thomas (who knew she speaks French with a perfect accent) as the wife who really wields all the power. Alice Taglioni as the supermodel/mistress shows she has heart and brains to match her beauty.

To Be and To Have (Être et avoir) (2002): Sensitive, gentle, beautiful documentary. Rather slow, but that is part of the beauty. A one-room schoolroom in the French countryside - sink in and soak it up. The children are wonderful, as is their patient teacher.

French Twist (Gazon maudit) (1995): Fun little French sex comedy.

Fucking Åmål (1998) -- redistributed in the US as Show Me Love (2000): Absolutely satisfying as a Swedish coming-of-age film; wonderful music; the first feature by Lukas Moodysson. I adored both Alexandra Dahlström as the desperate and lonely Elin Olsson, and Rebecka Liljeberg shone as the equally desperate although popular Agnes Ahlberg. All the minor characters were excellent also. Only the conclusion of the film was lacking.

I'll add Tillsammans (Together) (2000) here, Moodyson's follow-up. Rather than focussing on small town teens, this film is a 1970s commune seen through the eyes of two reluctant additions, age 13 and 8 or so. When their parent's marriage falls apart, their uncle Göran brings them into the commune. The comedy is very gentle and humane, and also very familiar. We've met these people, and even when I didn't like them, I was rooting for their success. Very satisfying. . Be warned - nudity and implied sex acts.