Friday, February 19, 2010

Review: Shutter Island

I went in to Martin Scorsese’s latest offering thinking it would be a straightforward, thriller. I don’t think I could have been more wrong!

The film follows US Marshalls Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they investigate the case of a missing patient on Shutter Island, a mental hospital “for the criminally insane.” I will not say much more than that regarding the plot, simply because there are far too many twists (and I do not know if I completely “got it”). You’ll see what I mean if you see the film.

What I would like to discuss are the aesthetic qualities of the film:

The first aspect of Scorsese’s direction that I noted was the claustrophobic feeling he engraved in the film. Except for certain dream sequences, there is an overarching confining effect to the film. Actually, this tone is set at the beginning, on the boat, when Daniels gets seasick on the ride, because of there being water everywhere and nowhere to go. Once they arrive at Shutter Island, there are fences (with electrical barbed wire which Daniels recognizes from a past part of his life) all over the island to keep inmates – I mean patients – from escaping. Additionally, every building or ward on the island has the design of a labyrinth, like a maze in which anyone could be the lab rat. The tight shots throughout the film allow the viewer to feel what Daniels and Aule feel when navigating any area or building on the island.

Lighting effects stand out in a very dramatic way throughout the film. There is a storm on the island for the first half of the film. Bright white lightning flashes before our eyes repeatedly to almost give viewers a migraine like Daniels develops. Scorsese then uses these – what I would call – pure, bight flashed to smoothly transition between dream, hallucination, and possibly, reality. In many cases, the flashed transition to other neon, bright colors, but these almost always give way to harsher color gradients as the scenes play out.

The music throughout the film could not have been a better fit. In a chilling scene where Daniels meets one of the doctors on the island at Dr. Crawley’s (Ben Kingsley) home, Mahler’s Quartet for Piano and Strings in A minor (or here) is playing. This haunting music leads effortlessly into a flashback sequence to Daniels’ army days in liberating Nazi death camps. I feel that using Wagner or Beethoven here would not have relayed the same sentiment as this Mahler piece does (besides the fact that using either of the latter composers would have been terribly clich├ęd). Aside from this piece, Scorsese uses classical music from the past century such as John Adams, John Cage, Max Richter, and Ingram Marshall. Using these modern classicists was an excellent decision to give the film a more genuine feel.

As a final note, I found a conversation involving Daniels and the warden to be particularly interesting and thought-provoking. In this dialogue, the warden asserts that “God loves violence.” He then begins to compare the forces of violent storm they just witnessed to the “most pure form of social order [in God’s eyes].” I think that this conversation alone gives rise to my assessment that Shutter Island is not just a “scary movie” or thriller, but rather, it is something much more. It has Orwellian and Kafka-esque motifs throughout. If you read this before seeing the film, make sure to look for these references.

I have loved the Scorsese/DiCaprio dynamic since The Aviator and it clearly continues to impress. I think that had the film been released in October of last year, it could have been in this year’s Oscar race.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ariadne auf Naxos Recordings

Since Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos opened last Thursday, I have not been able to get it out of my head. I was in the opera shop and wanted to get an opinion of the best recording. Here is what Anthony has to say:

The Sinopoli recording is a modern recording. It has Deborah Voigt, Natalie Dessay, Annie Sophie von Otter, and Ben Hepner.

It may be good, but there is also a more "historic" recording available. This is the Karajan recording. Besides having the conducting of Karajan on this recording, listeners are able to hear the amazing voices of past opera superstars: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Irmgard Seefried, Rita Streich, Rudolf Schock, and Hermann Prey.

I currently have the former recording and find it enjoyable, but now intend to get the Karajan recording, so as to better educate myself in the past of opera.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Tale of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Yesterday, I had my name on a list to see an advance screening of Terry Gilliam’s latest film, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.

The screening was at the Sony Screening Room in the Sony Building on Madison. The screening room is quite comfortable. It can seat about 50 people or so. The last row has couches and leg-rests (that’s where I sat).

The Film:

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus tells the tale of Dr. Parnassus (a wizardly Christopher Plummer) trying to save his daughter, Valentina (the sensuous Lily Cole) from the devil, called Mr. Nick (a devilish Tom Waits). This all stems from a wager Mr. Nick made with the Doctor thousands of years ago in exchange for immortality. The wagers with Mr. Nick are made all the more interesting with the arrival of a mysterious stranger, Tony (Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell).

The film’s animation and cinematography are what immediately stick out. It is not tagged as a 3D film, nor do we have to wear 3D glasses, yet the animation is so well done, that at many points, I wondered if I was indeed wearing those weird glasses! These moments in the film occur when people enter the Imaginarium which is basically the mind of Dr. Parnassus – a world which reflects each person’s individual imagination. Once in this world, people are faced with choices, which ultimately are either “good,” in which case Parnassus wins, or “bad,” in which case the devils wins. The dreamworlds created are somewhat similar to things I would imagine would be in Tim Burton’s imagination.

I thought that Tom Waits had the standout performance of the excellent cast. His raspy voice combined with the cigars and the bowler hat made him into an ideal devil! Heath Ledger gives a great performance as the brilliant, sly businessman who helps Parnassus combat Mr. Nick. Since Mr. Ledger passed away before all his scenes were shot, he was brilliantly replaced by Mr. Depp, Mr. Law, and Mr. Farrell. Each play a version of Tony when Tony himself enters the Imaginarium on three different occasions. Of the three, I was partial to Mr. Depp’s portrayal of Tony. Of the three, I felt that his Tony conveyed the most meaning as to what it may mean to be in this Imaginarium. Of course Mr. Plummer gave an outstanding performance as Dr. Parnassus…let’s face it – he just has that wizardly look!

The film will get a limited release on December 25. I highly recommend seeing it if it is playing in your city!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Tale of Messiah at Avery Fischer then Row A at the Met for Les Contes d’Hoffmann

Earlier today (12/16), I went up to Lincoln Center, intending to get a standing room ticket to the Met’s performance of Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’ Hoffmann. I already saw this new production on opening night (and went to the gala, which I will write about soon), so I decided to see what the New York Philharmonic was doing tonight and if student tickets were available. They were doing G.F. Handel’s Messiah. They had student tickets available, so I decided that in the spirit of “’tis the season” I would see Messiah instead. The student ticket cost me $14 and I was in the orchestra!

I came back just in time for the 7:30 performance of Messiah.

About Messiah:

Handel’s Messiah is regarded by many as Handel’s greatest oratorio. This was my first time seeing it performed. Before this, I had really only heard the Overture and the famous “Hallelujah” chorus. I thought all the singers were excellent. Here is the cast:

Helmuth Rilling, Conductor

Annette Dasch, Soprano, NY Phil Debut

Daniel Taylor, Countertenor, NY Phil Debut

James Taylor, Tenor

Shenyang, Bass, NY Phil Debut

G├Ąchinger Kantorei Stuttgart, chorus

Rilling seamlessly led the New York Philharmonic through a beautiful holiday performance. I especially loved Shenyang, winner of the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. One of the aspect of the oratorio that I liked was the different texts used. The texts range from Isaiah to Revelations. Handel's juxtaposition of works from the New and Old Testament is a true testament to his genius.

I am happy that the audience was aware of the tradition of standing for the “Hallelujah” chorus. Actually, I was quite surprised that everyone stood up right away when they began (except for one guy in front of me). You can read about the tradition of standing up here.

Since they did an abridged version of Messiah, it ended at around 10:00. After the performances, I decided to go next door and see if the opera was almost at intermission. The second act was just finishing. I decided to stand outside and see if anyone was leaving. Within two minutes a nice gentleman gave me the pass to get back in, along with his front row ticket! I enjoyed seeing the last act and the epilogue again (and I plan to see the whole thing again next Wednesday). Afterwards, I went to the stage door and got my playbill signed. I thought it was cool that most of the singers remembered me from the opening night gala.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

First Post - Introduction

Hello all!

Let me begin by saying this: I am a full-time student at NYU. This keeps me pretty busy so please bear with me if I sometimes have a huge time gap between posts (hopefully this won’t really happen though).

This season/semester has been filled with so many interesting things thus far that I feel that I am starting this blog too late, as I have already seen so many performances. I have therefore concluded to do the following: as I continue going to performances every week, I will try to post reviews and thoughts as soon as possible. I am going to try to call every post/review a “Tale”. This is because I feel that wherever I go and whatever I see has a Tale to go along with it. If I have nothing else to write, I will try t write reviews and thoughts on performances I have seen before this start date (i.e. operas from 2008-2009 and operas from earlier this season, beginning with that Tale of the Opening Night Gala and the Controversial Luc Bondy Tosca).

I feel compelled in this first post to give a shout out to Mr. Jay Rosenberg. In his Tale (which I will tell when I have time to write it) you will see why he is so important to my opera endeavors.