17 August 2009

The Minister's Wife

Once again, Victor and I went to see an acclaimed show just moments (OK, I'm exaggerating a little) before it was set to close. The Minister's Wife is a new musical based on George Bernard Shaw's Candida. I am not sure what I expected from the show, but I found it really unusual for a musical. For one thing, there were only three musicians, and they were invisible until curtain call. For another, the music was lovely, but not catchy. You're entranced while you're there, but you don't walk out humming under your breath.

Another way to put it is that the music enhanced the story, but it didn't outshine the story--out of context, what would you do with a song like "Candida's Coming" (in which three of the play's characters reflect on a fourth character's return home)?--it's not like, say "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair," which you could sing, enjoy, and understand without ever having seen South Pacific.

So glad we didn't miss this one, and hope to never miss another effort by composer Josh Schmidt (we didn't make his Adding Machine in 2007).

14 August 2009

Flame and Citron

This 2008 Danish movie, now being released in the United States for the first time, is about two resistance fighters in Copenhagen toward the end of the Second World War. Essentially, they're killers for a good cause--Flame (a redhead) shoots and Citron drives.

Until things go a little screwy. Then they both shoot.

The movie is based on the lives of two real World War II heroes (both were posthumously issued the U.S. Medal of Freedom), and the story reveals the complexity of trying to be a hero in a world not sorted out into good and evil as neatly as we could wish.

It reminded me a bit of Army of Shadows, but it is even more grim. In Army of Shadows, no one survived the war and you weren't sure if their work had a lasting impact. But there is no question, really, about trusting the people in charge. In Flame and Citron, you meet some of the people in charge and you're not sure about them.

Imagine doing assassins' work for people you're not sure about. This is one of the saddest movies we've ever seen.

Beautifully, convincingly done, but sad, sad, sad.

11 August 2009

Public Enemies

We saw this movie partly because it was filmed here in Chicago, partly because Johnny Depp stars in it, and partly because we usually like gangster movies (we recently watched namesake Public Enemy on DVD at home). As it happened, there wasn't that much Chicago background in it (I think a lot of the scenery was digitized), and--on the whole--the movie was a disappointment. Far more style than substance.

Which is hardly a surprise, when the movie was directed by Michael Mann, but we have liked some of his movies very much (e.g., Collateral, The Insider). Those movies had better plots, though, and more interesting characters. Depp does his best with Dillinger, and Marion Cotillard is wonderful as his love interest--when these two are on screen together, you're happy.

But mostly the movie is a grim, violent, stylish spectacle. There's little to care about here, though it's very pretty to look at.

06 August 2009

In the Mood for Love

After a while, Victor lost patience with this movie, but I remained enthralled. It is a visually stunning, moody, romantic movie about a devastatingly handsome man, and a jaw-droppingly gorgeous woman who live next door to each other and come to realize that their spouses are having an affair with each other.

In trying to understand how their spouses could have embarked on the affair, they find themselves falling in love in spite of their resolution not to "be like them."

It sounds formulaic, perhaps, but it doesn't feel like that. The movie progresses dreamily, even lazily. Often, you are not sure what's just happened, but you are always sure what you feel. These two are meant for each other, but they deny themselves. (Mostly.)

Check out this movie if you don't mind seeing something slow and lovely. And also if you want to see an elegant woman in a succession of terrifically beautiful dresses.

The Challenge for Africa

Wangari Maathai, of Kenya, won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the Green Belt Movement in 2004. Victor and I had the opportunity to hear her speak here in Chicago last winter and found her tremendously inspiring. Almost as soon as we got home, I ordered a few of her books, and this one is the first I've completed.

It's not a long book, but not a page-turner, either. I read it in snatches while I ate breakfast or lunch at the dining room table. Maathai presents a lucid, convincing account of how Africa got where it is and how the continent as a whole can move forward. She is able to rationalize why Africa's people have tolerated so much bad government and still express urgency and hope about ending such tolerance.

Her vision for a sustainble future for Africa, one which encompasses environmental sustainability as well as economic growth, is persuasive. I was struck by the parallels between what she describes in Africa and what has been going on here.

We are really not so far apart.

04 August 2009

Why Facebook?

I find myself repeatedly trying to articulate to others why I'm finding my first couple of weeks on Facebook so enthralling. I've decided that Facebook's genius is in virtualizing trivial communication--the kind of chat that happens when you see someone every day.

"I dreamed last night that everyone in the world sent me a french fry."

"On my long haul to the Bronx I get a lot of reading done. Now I am reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies."

"I almost fell down the stairs while looking at my iPhone with my reading glasses on. The dog looked away."

These are approximations of actual posts by friends I rarely see, or haven't seen in 20 years or more (OUCH!), but which make me feel they are still part of my life, even though they are not physically present.

These are folks with whom I'm unable to sustain an email relationship--either they don't write, I don't write, or there's not really enough to say. But if our life circumstances were different (still living in the same city, working in the same office, going to the same classes, not consumed by work, children, or other passions), we'd still be hanging out.

I've also rekindled a couple close friendships via Facebook, but find myself inclined to pursue those outside of Facebook. Email and phone calls are more appropriate for deep conversations and reminiscing. But for a virtual sense of community, virtual water cooler, or virtual corner cafe or bar, Facebook is consummately effective.

03 August 2009

Dee Alexander at the Green Mill

With friends the other night, we went to see Dee Alexander at the Green Mill. We lucked out with perfect seats--a banquette close to the stage--and with a really stupendous performance. Dee Alexander's voice is everything you want in a jazz singer: warm, melodious, textured. But it is also surprisingly versatile. Alexander can--literally--sing like a bird, and in one self-written number, "Rossignol," she does just that. She can also sound like a trumpet--and I wouldn't be surprised if she harbors an arsenal of other musical instrument imitations. But she doesn't need to mimic a piano, bass, or drumset, because the talented remainder of her quartet is outstanding.

Going to this show reminded us that we don't see enough live music. Part of the problem is that we're no longer night owls--a lot of good shows start at 9, 10, or later, and we're generally asleep by 11.

So maybe we need to start taking naps...

02 August 2009

A guy after my own heart

(via Daily Kos)

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter is moving from his famed rustic farmhouse in Weare, N.H., to nearby Hopkinton, where he's purchased a much larger, more modern Cape Cod because his current residence, which is 200 years old and has been in his family for generations, "wasn't structurally sound enough to hold the thousands of books that make up his library," according to the Concord Monitor. Now that is a true bibliophile: buy a new house rather than shed beloved books.