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Lover of all the arts: literature, music, film, art, dance, photography, etc.
Utterly deep and absorbing; addicting
Wow, flamenco is not what you thought it was! Watch this emotionally raw and fascinating documentary and even if you know little or nothing about flamenco, you will emerge an aficionado, if not an addict.
If you are looking for castanets, polka dots, and ruffles, and Hollywood-style dance moves, look elsewhere. You will not find a single castanet in 'Kumpanía: Flamenco Los Angeles', and if you see ruffles or polka dots they are quite the rare exception. What the extraordinarily talented and dedicated performers (singers, guitarists, and dancers) in this film are practicing and carefully upholding is 'flamenco puro' -- the style of flamenco that most closely reflects its origins among the oppressed Gypsies in southern Spain in the 1700s. Flamenco at its core is an expression of deepest emotional truth -- whether that is pain, isolation, loss, or celebration, or all of those. Done well and authentically (rare in the U.S.), it's absolutely mesmerizing.
The filmmakers do a wonderful job of storytelling here, moving from 18th-century Spain to modern Los Angeles, modern Madrid and Saville, and even Japan -- deftly intertwining stories and performances; opinions and emotions and history and deep life changes; singing and dance and guitar. There's just the right mix of live performance footage, heartfelt interviews, and informative historical information. For instance one of the main singers of the film, the great Antonio de Jerez, insists that unlike flamenco dancers and guitarists, a flamenco singer must be born in Spain, because the precise soulful accent required cannot be learned.
All in all, this is a great arts and performance documentary. While in fact flamenco is an inextricable combination of singing, guitar, and dance, I have to comment that this is one of the very best dance documentaries I have ever seen, capturing the soul and spirit not only of dance and dancers, but in this case the musicians involved as well. Very well and artistically and informatively done. I've watched the film four times -- it is that enthralling!
Performances (singing, dance, guitar): all intricate, all heartfelt, all exceptional, all deliciously absorbing and often goosebump-inducing. While these dozen or so performers currently based in Los Angeles may not be familiar to a wide U.S. audience -- with the possible exception of the sexy Timo Nunez who has been a guest performer on "So You Think You Can Dance" and in other television and film -- by the end of 'Kumpanía' you will feel like you know them intimately. That is certainly the mark of a very well done documentary.
By the way, the film is viewable on Hulu, Amazon Instant, Amazon Prime Instant, YouTube, and Rhovit.
An incredible look at one of the world's most virtuosic musicians
Jake Shimabukuro is not a "ukulele player" -- he's a world-renowned musical virtuoso who blows away anyone who hears his music. He is in the same pantheon as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Bela Fleck, and even great classical musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma and Hilary Hahn. Jake, more than any musician I know of, transcends his instrument and creates pure music, touching the souls of his listeners.
A well-kept (though award-winning) Hawaiian and Japanese secret until 2006, Jake burst upon the world stage when someone posted the now-famous video of him playing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on YouTube. The video instantly went viral, and Jake became a international star, receiving concert requests from around the world, and playing with and opening for such stars as Jimmy Buffett, Bela Fleck, Ziggy Marley, and Bette Midler, and being produced by Alan Parsons.
All while retaining his youthful humility and disarming openness and lack of pretense. This movie is a lovely look into his life, both for Jake fans, and for those who have never heard of him. The film is by turns fascinating, jaw-dropping, inspiring, funny, touching, and moving. It's a well-rounded and expertly done piece of cinema by a very experienced Japanese-American documentarian, who strives to bring the human touch to his work. The film should appeal to anyone, regardless of age, nationality, or musical interest (or lack thereof). Jake's life alone is fascinating, never mind his brilliant music (which we are given glorious exposure to).
Jake has a special connection with Japan, both through his heritage and because his longtime manager is from Japan. Thus, he's an even bigger star in Japan than in the U.S. Hopefully, this wonderful film will open the eyes of further music lovers in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.
By the way, this hour-long documentary is viewable for free until August 8, 2013 on the PBS site. Go to their Video page, and click the drop-down Progams menu (or access it directly here: http://goo.gl/cDN0T or http://video.pbs.org/video/2365004338).
Art of the Western World (1989)
Magnificent! Now on DVD.
This 9-hour presentation, hosted by the illustrious Michael Wood, covers 2500 years of Western art, architecture, and sculpture, beginning with its indelible foundations in ancient Greece and Rome. The series took four years to produce, and and it visits 150 locations in 8 countries. From Greece and Rome, the series continues through the Middle Ages (the Romanesque and Gothic periods), the Renaissance, the Baroque, Age of Reason, and Rococo, and then the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, and all of Modern Art including Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, etc., and Post-Modernism through the 1980s.
This series is meant for any and all levels of knowledge from beginner to master, and even the confirmed art student cannot fail to learn a lot. I was most impressed with the earliest episodes -- I was unable to watch them without frequently exclaiming "Incredible!" "Extraordinary!" "Amazing!"
As the series approaches modern times, the choice of what to include and what to exclude becomes much wider, and it's possible that a viewer may disagree about what was excluded, so the latest episodes could possibly seem to some viewers somewhat sketchier or less well thought out. Still, learning opportunities abound, and doors are constantly opened to new levels of understanding and exploration. And the historical information that accompanies the series is flawless.
All in all, this is a magnificent document and a must-see for any art or architecture lover or anyone wanting to become more knowledgeable. It's available on DVD in the consolidated 9-episode U.S. version (rather than the 18-episode UK version of the same length), and also viewable online on Amazon streaming. It's possible to locate it elsewhere online, but the video quality will be very very poor (and after all, you're viewing it for the details of art), so stick to the DVD or Amazon streaming.
Please do check this out if you love art or long to appreciate it. You will not be disappointed.
Fake, scripted travesty of a show
Sounds interesting on the surface, but within five minutes you realize this show is scripted. The Hutterites shown are acting, and are reading lines off a cue card -- very badly and awkwardly at that.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Jeff Collins, a schlock reality TV producer, used the National Geographic Channel, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's criminally convicted News Corp, and got an "in" with a former Hutterite whom a Hutterite colony trusted by flashing the stellar reputation of the unrelated National Geographic MAGAZINE, and thereby contracted the colony for $100,000 to produce a documentary about Hutterites. Once the ink was dry, the tables were quickly turned: Collins scrapped the documentary, switched to the "reality show" format, told the Hutterites they were too boring, and convinced several of the naive young teens to act out various (and increasingly outrageous and preposterous) scripted skits, which they filmed. The excitement of being on-camera and being in the spotlight led many young people to join in (remember, these are isolated people with little social life), and they were sitting ducks.
The level of preposterousness of the staged scripted scenarios was amped up to the point where: events were staged nearby and said to take place hundreds of miles away; fist-fights, heart attacks, and buildings burning down were blatantly fabricated and staged; teens were taken to an isolated spot in Canada and plied with alcohol under the promise of no cameras; a pregnancy scare was fabricated and staged; and on and on. And of course what was told to the young people versus what the snippets were edited to become was drastically different as well.
Well, you say, how did the adult Hutterites who participated get roped in? There are signed statements confirming that producer Jeff Collins threatened them with lawsuits if they did not do as they were told, since they had been paid.
The result is a patently fake, wooden, yet defamatory scripted "reality show" which not only is stupid, boring, and ridiculous, but which also grossly misrepresents the colony and the Hutterites, and has also created great conflict in the Hutterite community and shame for the colony that was filmed.
If you want the full details and facts: http://societymatters.org/hutterites
Good but way too long, repetitive, and incomprehensible
This 1980 Philip Glass opera is about Gandhi, but not all of Gandhi's life. Instead, it covers, or rather symbolizes, Gandhi's 20 years in South Africa.
The singing is good, and Richard Croft as Gandhi is wonderful and evocative.
Beyond that, the opera and production have a ton of problems, though.
Firstly, it is sung entirely in Sanskrit. And we are not given subtitles. Or rather, the Met has chosen to give us subtitles for maybe 5% at most of what is sung.
Secondly, aside from Gandhi, we don't know who anybody is. There are eight principal soloists besides Gandhi, who are onstage a lot and who sing a lot, but except for someone blue who appears to be Krishna, we have no idea who anybody is or why they are there or what they are doing.
Thirdly, nothing really happens. Or rather, over the course of three hours, maybe four or five actual discernible events seem to happen (at least symbolically), but we have no idea really what they are, where we are or what is going on because it's all in very slow motion if at all, and as mentioned, no indications are given and no subtitles explain them.
Fourthly, the production is filled instead with virtually meaningless "skill performers" who do a sort of very slow-motion Cirque de Soleil routine through some parts. This may distract us from the fact that we are watching three hours filled with nothing comprehensible, but it can't for long because even mimes and puppets get boring quickly if you don't know what they represent or why.
Fifth, the opera is way to long. It's three hours long, and doesn't have enough action or even words to fill even 20 minutes. It would have been quite good at 90 minutes (provided subtitles and explanations and identifications were included), but no longer. This is Philip Glass's problem. He needs an editor. The music is endlessly, endlessly repetitive. And most of it is instrumental -- not sung. I have to say the final vocal motif, which is repeated a few times, is good and haunting, but the entire opera needs a very firm hand and a razor to cut out half of it. It's just unnecessary, tiresome, irritating, and frustrating -- a deterrent to something that in a truncated form could have been a brilliant opera..
Intimate, fascinating, surprising
It's almost shocking how fascinating this biographical documentary is. But when you combine the curious and variegated and pioneering story of Ansel Adams -- who led a much more unusual and surprising life than one might expect -- with his extraordinary, absolutely breathtaking photographs, presented gloriously and reverently, you get a film that is riveting from start to finish.
Whether you are a fan of Ansel Adams or not, whether you know even one whit about him or not, or even whether you are well-versed on Adams' life, I guarantee you will enjoy and be mesmerized by this intimate and fascinating film. It's like one of those novels you can't put down.
This is a heartwarming masterpiece of a film.
Note: This film is listed under various titles in various places, so if you're looking for it or for the DVD, just remember it's the 2002 film, and search under the following titles, which are all the same film:
Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film
American Experience: Ansel Adams
It will be a glorious find. You won't be disappointed.
Soporific conducting and an oddly colorless production
Let's face it, there is only one James Levine and he is the greatest opera conductor the world has ever known. Without him, we miss him, and he is irreplaceable.
That said, it's no excuse for soporific conducting by Fabio Luisi of the world's greatest opera, Don Giovanni. It's one of my two favorite operas, but I found this production a chore to get through, largely because of the conducting. The dull greys and beiges and washed-out browns and blacks of the set and costumes did not help at all.
There is some good singing in here, including Mariusz Kwiecien as a strong Don Giovanni, and the two female leads; but good singing relies on the musicianship of the conductor in order to come alive, and there is none here ... the music just drones on without momentum or intuition or musicality. In fact the only place this version comes alive musically is the finale of Act 1, when everyone and the chorus is onstage and in an uproar. Beyond that, except for the bursting flames of the descent to hell, and a couple of laughs at Leporello, the opera seems to be on life support.
Ramon Vargas seems quite miscast to me as Don Ottavio, who should have a clear pure light and extremely flexible voice, and a light and airy persona as well. In terms of Zerlina, she sings all right but each of her arias weirdly veers into vast ornamentations that are not in the score and are poorly done and that stick out like a sore thumb. Very odd and distracting. Please do not try to re-think the master.
Lastly, the production is beset by miking problems. There's a distinct dead spot across the entire left side of the stage that does not pick up the singers' voices. And not only that, the miking of the entire stage goes on and off distinctly at least three or four times during the opera.
In sum, a lot of problems with this production. I'm going back to recordings, or to Joseph Losey's wonderful 1979 filmized version.
Superb (but please watch the DVD rather than the PBS video)
This is a fascinating and superb series that very colorfully and entertainingly covers the entire history of England, from pre-Roman times to the 1950s, via the villages of Kibworth in the county of Leicestershire. Through various means -- archaeological, documents, topographical studies, and local and oral history -- we find out the true story of real and ordinary people. History comes vividly alive in a way that the endless successive repetition of wars, monarchs, and squabbling aristocrats never can.
We are never patronized or asked to indulge in glorious fantasies here. History is told via the words of the people themselves -- through, for instance the amazingly in-depth documents and scholarship that have been preserved throughout the centuries in this uniquely placed village. As it turns out, there's a lot more here than even remotely meets the eye. We get a much fuller and more comprehensive and understandable history of this England than I ever would have thought possible.
The great thing about this series is that it was aimed for a British audience but it's so clearly understandable and tangible that Americans and any other nationality can easily understand it as well.
The series is gloriously and beautifully filmed and scored, and Michael Wood is an unfailingly charming, engaging, charismatic, and knowledgeable presenter.
I promise you will learn much more than you ever thought you didn't know about English history. If, for instance, you are a fan of the films of Ken Burns, or Michael Wood's other programs (e.g., The Story of India), or Simon Schama, you are sure to love this series.
Unfortunately when the series aired on PBS it was severely butchered to the point of incomprehensibility and was missing missing 40% of the footage (two hours and two episodes), and the timeframes were all mixed up and confused. (The same goes for the streaming video version viewable on pbs.org.)
But fortunately both the Region 1 (available on Amazon.com) and Region 2 (available on Amazon UK) DVD sets contain the FULL original UK version, as it aired on the BBC. The DVD sets are the full thing, and it's definitely worth the purchase price to be able to see the entire unbutchered series, complete with all of the extremely relevant information that was cut when it was televised on PBS.
(The only thing disappointing about this series is the subtitles -- or rather lack thereof. I do NOT at all recommend it for the deaf or hearing impaired, because the subtitles are so ridiculously incorrect and botched up as to be worse than useless. That's the same case with the Region 2 version and the online version, so there's no help there either.)
Desperate Romantics (2009)
Juvenile, so-so, tiresome, and horribly inaccurate
It takes a lot of hack-work to make a mess out of the incredibly intriguing and colorful story of the Pre-Raphaelite painters in Victorian England, but boy they managed it here. This is a juvenile, tedious, badly acted and worse-written mess. Evidently to make up for the lack of intelligent script or acting, the BBC threw in as much sex and nudity as possible.
There's no effort to even remotely approach the truth, and we never really see the paintings, which should be the star of the whole series. Everyone agrees that the best thing about the show is the costumes, but that doesn't make for intelligent viewing. I couldn't make it past 45 minutes of the series without getting incredibly bored.
I'm really disappointed lately with the hack-work -- which relies completely on visuals and titillation for its appeal -- that is coming out of the BBC in their period pieces these days. Take me back 5, 10, 15 or more years ago when the BBC was at the height of its period-piece glory. Now it's like everything else -- all show and titillation and lowbrow appeal, no intelligence or thought.
Elle s'appelait Sarah (2010)
A fine film: dramatically strong, touching, lyrical, eye-opening
This film expertly blends eye-opening information about French complicity in the Holocaust, with a lyrical, artful storyline, a lovely score, and beautiful acting. Kristin Scott Thomas and the young girl who plays Sarah give truly outstanding performances that hold the film tightly together.
It's one of those films in two languages -- half English and half French (with subtitles) -- and it's no trouble at all to follow along with the French parts, which are evocatively told and easy to "lose oneself" inside of. Kristen plays an American who has married a Frenchman, and both her French and her American accents are flawless. It is via her character's journalistic explorations into the covert actions of the French treatment of Jews during WWII that the movie's plot unfolds.
Without giving anything away, suffice it to say that this is an involving, engrossing, rich film that touches the heart on many levels. It is nonetheless not horrific or depressing or overdone in any way -- in fact the subtlety of its emotional fabric is one of its great achievements -- but it does, for instance, leave a haunting flavor in the viewer's mind as the final strains of the beautiful score die away.