Saturday, 29 October 2011

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez perform 'Aguanile' ~

It has taken me months to remember to post this, and since I still find it memorable here it is: 

For me this performance was a highlight of this year's American Idol finale.  I'm not usually all that partial to this type of music but found this wonderfully stirring: Marc Anthony has a powerful and compelling voice, and Jennifer, clad in a mass of long feathers and the tresses of her hair, danced and prowled wonderfully.  I loved seeing her use her hair as part of her costume!  She and the other dancers made their part of the performance look easy, but those of us who have learnt anything about Latin American dancing recognise their skill.  And wow, what a way to build your thighs!  Beautiful - I loved the whole thing. 

This link to the American Idol site take you to their posting of the same performance and enables you to watch other highlights from the finale as well.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

"Angels in America" ~ the television mini-series

I found "Angels in America" engrossing viewing over a couple of days.  It has six parts and is over five hours in length.  It is based on a play written by Tony Kushner, who adapted it for the series.  The main characters play a number of parts each.  

The music and footage which accompany the introduction are outstanding and very memorable.  I do encourage you to watch this clip, if nothing else!

This is adult viewing.  The story focuses on a number of difficult and controversial themes and is set in the mid 1980s.  Themes include gay men in relationships, the AIDS epidemic as it occurred in the 80s, and related political issues of time.  These are explored through day-to-day events as well as through hallucinatory experiences, dream and fever states.  The trans-dimensional nature of the drama is emphasised by a number of the actors playing more than one part.  Meryl Streep plays three, one of which is a rabbi!  I'll let you read the summary of the story for yourselves as it appears in Wikipedia.

I have omitted the official trailer as I found it a poor representation of quality and content. 

I enjoyed the intensity of the characters very much, and the devices through which issues and differing realities were explored.  I found it helpful to bear in mind that it is based on a play, as some parts seemed somewhat 'stagey' in so far as they didn't seem all that natural: for example, much of the dialogue is compressed to include much more content than is usual in conversation; I felt similarly about some of the hallucinatory detail such as the interactions with the angel.  I liked having to exercise my imagination to participate in the drama.  

The characterisation of Roy Cohn by Al Pacino, in contrast, gives the viewer no room to manoeuvre at all.  His is a truly shattering performance - masterful but very disturbing, which is what is intended.

Each character could be said to be holding to their own view of what is most true for them.  As the story-line moves through a series of personal crises, some truths prove to be more enduring and road-worthy than others!

Belize, played by Jeffrey Wright, is my favourite character: he seems to have most things worked out and is an odd mixture of perceptiveness, tough streetwise practicality and kindliness.  After Cohn dies he browbeats Louis into saying Kaddish for this destructive and ruthless man.  Of forgiveness he says:
'It isn't easy.  It doesn't count if it's easy.  It's the hardest thing - forgiveness.  Maybe that's where love and justice finally meet; peace at least [...]'  
What a fascinating scene that is! 

For me the story rather lost traction after that, but despite this I found the whole thing thought-provoking and memorable and would like to see much of it again.  

I mention only a few of the actors here, but they all deserve bouquets!  Not surprisingly both the series and a number of the actors won numerous awards.

For all you Meryl Streep fans here is her acceptance speech of the Emmy won for her performance:  The video image is poor, but her speech is a delightful performance in itself, which comes across well in spite of this!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

"Will you still love me tomorrow?" ~ James Durbin is *my* American Idol of 2011 ~

I am sorely disappointed that James has been eliminated as the top fourth, leaving Lauren, Hayley and Scotty as the final three.  I see James as having far and away the most musical talent and charisma of the four.  I've lost interest in the competition and hardly have the heart to watch it further.  What I'm sure I will watch will be the continuation of James musical career which looks set to move ahead in leaps and bounds.

Here he is singing: "Will you still love me tomorrow" when in the top six:

Setting aside James prodigious talent, he has made an important contribution to the general public in other ways: from the beginning he's been open about being diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism.  'High-functioning' in this instance means that the degree of autism that is closest to what is commonly regarded as 'normal' for the rest of us.  His openness will have helped a lot of people learn about these conditions and to see them more positively.  

His directness and intensity of expression is perhaps a result of this internal pressure, and for me adds to his charm: he doesn't produce the sound, rather, he IS the sound.  Magic!  Yes, James, I will love you tomorrow!

Hugh Laurie ~ serious and funny

Here's a diversion for those readers who are fans of Hugh Laurie and the American television drama, 'House'.  Let's set aside the serious stuff and listen to Hugh talk about having fun ... only for him it doesn't come as naturally as one might suppose.  In this video he talks about it, about Emma Thompson, acting on the stage, and falling asleep in unlikely places:

Ever wondered why some celebrities get a bit crusty with the media? The video below contains an answer.  We love you, Hugh.  Keep up the good work of making us think as well as laugh!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

"Departures" ~ a Japanese film about a young man's unlikely entry into the funeral business

I'm going to remember this beautifully crafted movie for a very long time.  

The story begins as a young man's dream of a career in music crumbles, when the orchestra in which he plays is unexpectedly dissolved.  
Fate takes Daigo Kobayashi (played by Masahiro Motoki) on an unexpected path to the doors of a funeral business, which he realises too late engages in 'encoffinment', otherwise described as casketing.  This is the Japanese ritual of washing, dressing and applying cosmetics to the deceased and then placing them into their coffins.  The ritual takes place in front of the family and others close to the deceased.  Although it is clearly an art it seems it is not generally considered a desirable career!

Daigo's first inclination is to beat a hasty retreat, but one way and another he is persuaded to continue, and as we see him go about his work we see the many widely differing situations in which people die and this work is carried out. 

Events in the young man's life are chronicled alongside this, taking some surprising twists and turns, and add considerable pathos to the story. 

The portrayal of Ikuei Sasaki by Tsutomu Yamazaki, the man who becomes his boss, is masterfully enigmatic and down to earth.

I didn't expect to enjoy this film, but found that I did very much.   I found it touching as well as enlightening even though it is a story rather than a documentary.  We see the whole gamut of emotions and judgements that people have about death and funerals laid bare.  We also see the importance of this carefully controlled and discrete ritual for those who grieve.

Footage of the handling of the (supposed) deceased is entirely modest, so there are no shocking images of corpses to contend with. 

This movie was released in 2008.  Dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles.

American Idol ROCKS! Casey Abrams and James Durbin carry the day ~

The 2011 season continues to roll forward on a wave of high energy.  It's exciting viewing: each week I wonder what on earth Casey and James are going to come out with next!   At this stage all contestants are very accomplished but these two really pull it out of the hat with their on-stage acts.  This isn't only about singing well, it's about stage presence, and while singing is central to the contest, it's those with the ability to entertain and excite that keep us attentive and move us shout our enthusiasm!

Here is Casey singing  "Harder to Breathe" by Maroon 5:

And James singing "Uprising" by Muse: 
James accurately describes this as being about post-apocalyptic protest.  Nice one, Muse.  I'm sure many people around the globe can identify with these sentiments.

While some parts of James rendition make for uneasy listening, the raw delivery certainly drives home the tension of the lyrics. These should make us uneasy, and James teases out this edginess in his own special way.

These men are both so talented, and pour heart and soul into each performance.  I think this contest is between the two of them.  Although the final result is going to be a matter of popularity, in my view both deserve to win - in different categories.

It's wonderful to see such diversity of talent: Scotty is King of Country, and Jacob of Gospel and Soul; Hayley shines most in Jazz and paired up beautifully with Casey in the duet "Moanin'":

Lauren's Country style is a happy match with Scotty's when they have sung together; James is the Rocker.  With Stephano's departure we see the departure of middle-of-the-road Pop.  Who would have guessed it?  Congratulations to the judges for bringing forward this wide range of talent and to America for embracing it.

Monday, 18 April 2011

The great J.S. Bach and a pile of woodchips

Bach's famous piece of music, "Jesu, joy of man's desiring" is a favourite of mine, and I was enchanted to see and hear it played out on wood chips in the video below.

Yes, it was created for an advertisement, and what beautiful work it is.  Advertising has the scope to create wonderful art forms and the money to fund them.  Anyone with an ounce of music in them added to an ounce of woodwork experience will appreciate what has gone into making this structure produce the music!

There are many versions of this wonderful piece.  Here it is featuring the classical guitar.  This is my favourite: 

And I have to include this choral version as well, which will be much as Bach wrote it, intending it to be sung.  Truly great music has that frisson of uplift that takes us soaring with it, which is what this one does for me.  Wonderful! 

Bach, being German, wrote it in his own language.  The English version differs slightly and I prefer what I understand of the simpler sentiments as expressed in the German, so that is what I include here.  Also, I love to sing choral works in German, not that I have for years, but the music wells up in me...
Jesus bleibet meine Freude,
meines Herzens Trost und Saft,
Jesus wehret allem Leide,
er ist meines Lebens Kraft,
meiner Augen Lust und Sonne,
meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne;
darum laß' ich Jesum nicht
aus dem Herzen und Gesicht.
It's a simple statement of religious devotion which is sufficient unto itself.  Thank you Bach!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Casey Abrams special!

Casey is so talented and so different!  I've already posted a number of clips of him, but these two stick in my memory and I know I'll be wanting to listen to them again, and very likely other fans will enjoy them too.

"Have you ever seen the rain?" by Credence Clearwater Revival.  Randy has said that Casey has started a revolution by popularising the double bass.  Here we can see why!

Here he is singing "Nature Boy" by Nat King Cole.  'Haunting' is the word that springs to mind...

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

American Idol 2011 ~ the best season yet and a few of my faves!

This season's panel of three has brought together the most talented group of contestants yet, making this show exciting viewing two nights a week. 

The new combination of Randy Jackson with Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler is lighter and more amusing than previous ones without distracting attention from the efforts of the contestants.  Their combined musical backgrounds and expertise is considerable and this comes across both in their critiquing as well as in their empathy with the young people.  Footage of Jimmy Iovine working with contestants to prepare for their performances adds an interesting work and business dimension to the show.

Steven Tyler is very much his own man whose sincerity and good humour make him immensely likeable.  He could single-handedly re-write the handbook on male attire: every week I'm fascinated to see what he's wearing, jewellery included!  Way to go, Steven!

I love to see the young people working things out and giving of their best.  In considering which are my favourites from this staggeringly talented group I find that I have chosen those who are not only first rate singers, but also decidedly emotional.  Most people I come in contact with seem emotionally repressed or disconnected so I find this wonderfully refreshing.  Importantly, these very public displays of emotion are not belittled, but respected and given their rightful place as a bridge to their audience.  Hooray!

Jacob Lusk has to be a hot contender for the title and a great artist, but James Durbin and Casey Abrams are the two who really move me.  I also like Naima Adedapo.  All these clearly have a substantial future in the music world if they choose to continue in it. 

James Durbin singing the Judas Priest song, "You got another think coming" has to be my top favourite performance of all time.  His energy is elemental, and his pure talent enables him to soar through the highest notes effortlessly.  Those of us who have sung at all will recognise this immediately!

Casey Abrams rendition of "I put a spell on you" always make me laugh:

This compilation shows the range of his astonishing musical abilities:

Adrienne Beasley deserves a special mention here: she didn't make it past Hollywood Week, and although I can understand why, it is disappointing not to have seen more of her on the show.  Her rendition of her audition song was pure and compelling.  I have seldom seen other musicians who show such complete naturalness and lack of artifice.  She doesn't need any, other than for her own protection.  Here is a great artist in the wings, needing only the right opportunity to bring her forward to the audience who will love her music as she so richly deserves.

Lauren Turner is another one to watch: although she didn't make it through to America's choice of the top ten, she certainly is in mine. It seems that America has yet to embrace this style of femininity.  I think she's sassy and wonderfully talented, and pick her as an artist to rise in years to come.  What a great voice and a gusty rendition of 'Seven Day Fool'.  Go Lauren!

Last year's winner Lee DeWyze recently performed on the show as a guest artist.  He sang "Beautiful like you".  Gorgeous man!  It's great to see how far he has come from the nearly crippling self-doubt of a year ago.  What we see now is considerable self-assurance and accomplishment - and great music, thank you Lee!

What I like best about this show is that it's creative and positive, two factors sadly lacking in much of what passes for entertainment these days.   This is good clean fun and a very pleasant way to spend an evening.  Pull up your chairs, everyone!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Peter Owen Jones ~ extreme pilgrim and vicar

If you warm to any of the more thoughtful articles I've written, you'll very likely enjoy documentaries featuring this man.  He's thoughtful, unusual, and determined in all sorts of ways. Somehow he manages to incorporate his own quest and convictions within the Anglican church and his ministry in it.

Here is a recording of him reading his Letter to God, which I gather is published in his book Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim: Reflections on life, love and the soul

The documentaries of which I have seen all or parts are: 
Information given on these websites is slight, but they do provide episode lists.  These series have screened on the BBC Knowledge, a channel not yet available in New Zealand, but I have heard it may become part of the Sky selection later this year.

For those want to see more in the meantime I provide the following links:
The episode of Extreme Pilgrim set in China was the one which spoke to me most directly:

Here is a link to the episode on Ascetic Christianity.

Having endured significant spiritual rigours myself I can see that he must be more than usually tough to have got through the filming of this string of documentaries as intact as he appears to be!  Such exploration is not for the faint hearted!

Other points of reference can be found in:
It's always a relief to find that there are other people in the world who take the journey of life and soul seriously and actually live out their convictions, rather than just dabbing at it and mouthing word balloons of old platitudes.  I don't always understand where he's coming from or what he does; my views differs on some points, but these differences bring richness and an expansion of my own perspectives which I welcome.  I find his unusual candour heart-warming.  This is surely a friend as yet unmet.  Hi Pete, I'm over here!

Kia kaha Peter, I wish you strength to continue being the man you are.  You  have chosen a path which requires significant rigour.  I thank you for the gift of your work, which gives me hope and encouragement with my own.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

"The days of Pearly Spencer" written and sung by David McWilliams

I heard this song discussed on the radio recently, loved the sound of the lyrics and looked it up.  Here is the version I liked best:

I found it unexpectedly moving, and the sight of fresh-faced McWilliams in this very simple and decidedly dated video took me back down the years.  The lyrics describe poverty and loss with care and a degree of tender feeling.  These sorts of ballads keep us awake to aspects of the world around us from which we tend to turn aside.

Later note:
Dear me, EMI has blocked access to the above video from this part of the world!  I hope you can see it from where ever it is that you live!

David McWilliams died in 2002 when he was 56.  My father was the same age when he died many years earlier.  Both died from heart attacks.  What a waste.  Rest in peace, both of you.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

"Lars and the real girl"

IMBD link: Lars and the real girl (2007):
Mental health issues are seldom talked about openly, and it's only when one does so that one discovers how pervasive these troubles are.  In this sensitive movie in which a young man develops a delusion to compensate for a long suppressed overwhelming loss we see how a family struggles to cope with a bizarre and very public display of abnormality: Lars belief that his life-size doll is his real flesh and blood girl friend.  

The pathos generated in the movie is intense, suspending audiences between laughter and tears.  From reviews I have read I see that many people regard it as a comedy of sorts whereas I did not see it that way at all.

Ryan Gosling gives a stellar performance as Lars, which had me in tears a number of times as I watched him stumble his way through his difficulties.  The local doctor persuades his family, and through them the rest of the villagers, to take his delusion at face value, which provides a strange pathway back to a reality more recognisable as 'normal' to the rest of us. 

Emily Mortimer as sister-in-law Karin, and Patricia Clarkson as Dagmar, the local doctor who treats Lars by creative stealth, also give moving performances.  But the movie and Lars revolve primarily around the doll, Bianca, who provides the perfect quiet foil for Lars fiercely guarded inner world.

In this interview on CW11 Ryan Gosling talks about taking on a doll as a co-star and his reaction to Bianca when he first met her. 

For those who have already seen and enjoyed the movie I have included the video below which contains a selection of the movie's poignant moments.  If you haven't seen it you may wish to pass over this treat until you have done so, so that you can enjoy the movie freshly for yourself.

This brief clip featuring the teddy bear scene more fully is an indication of Ryan's acting talent as well as his charm:

My compliments to all the actors who contributed to this special movie.  I award bouquets also to the writer, Nancy Oliver, and director, Craig Gillespie.

Note: I have omitted the official movie trailer as it makes the movie look trashy, a point echoed by each of those people who have posted it on YouTube.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

"The Fall" by Tarsem Singh

This is quite simply the most remarkable film I've yet seen...

'In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s Los Angeles, an injured stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastical story about 5 mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality starts to blur as the tale advances.'

Catinca Untaru, the child actress gives a truly astonishing performance.  I also loved Lee Pace's performance.

I may write more about this movie another time.   For now the most important thing is to add it to this site so that you, the reader, know of it.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Alexander Bryan and Adam Francis - a dynamic dancing duo

Those of us who take any interest in dancing at all expect dancing couples to be of men and women.  But what if both partners are of the same gender, how does that work?  The results can be startling - and very lively!  In the video clip below Alex and Adam give viewers a compelling demonstration.  

Both dancers are highly accomplished in conventional ballroom and Latin dancing both as dancers and instructors.
     I had the good fortune to see them on satellite television last evening in what appears to have been the 2010 series of the  Australian Strictly Dancing competition.  They certainly were very watchable.  
     From what I can understand of the competition results they came second overall, a considerable achievement given the rigours of dance competition judging and a style of dancing that falls outside the usual range of interpretation. 
     I'm puzzled that this has not screened in New Zealand, as it includes couples from here as well as Australia, especially in last years absence of the very popular local series of "Dancing with the Stars" which was axed due to funding cuts.  Come on, TVNZ!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

"Joanna Lumley's Nile" ~ a documentary in four hour-long parts

"...This is just the beginning of one of the most remarkable journeys I have ever made!" so Joanna describes the beginning of her epic journey, which took place over sixty days, included five countries, and covered four thousand miles.

I thoroughly enjoyed the series.  Joanna maintained her friendly interest in what went on around her with poise and feminine dignity in a whole range of situations which must have been for her both unprecedented and potentially alarming: quite often the only other people around her were local men; she tasted food and brews of the most unlikely looking sort and pronounced each delicious, and she looked into the eyes of the people she met with interest and affection with enviable confidence and without seeming to intrude.  All this I enjoyed and admired.  I also liked that she is an older woman and not shy about her mature years.

While the series is very much about her and her experiences in these remote places, there is also spectacular footage of the many landscapes she passed through.  I could see why she fell in love with Ethiopia and was very sad to leave it.  

Through her we meet the people she met and mingled with.  How different their lives are from ours and from one setting and group to another.  We see her participating in whatever the locals were doing when she arrived, so we see a little of how they live, their relationships with each other, with their land and with their part of the Nile.  She took time to attend a wedding, participate in a weekly hill climbing ritual, and spent time with a group of young Ethiopian women who are that nations aspiring athletes. More astonishing than all these we see her sitting over a smoke pit in a married women's beauty treatment clad in no more than a traditional black sack and loving it...  These are a few of the many unusual social situations which she navigated with politeness and charm.  Finally she slipped and scrambled up the last jungle-clad slopes to the trickling source of mighty Nile, helped along by the indefatigable and relentlessly cheerful New Zealand explorer Cam McLeay

I found her commentary clear and interesting.  My only complaint is that I would have liked the series to have been longer.