30 November 2008

Monteverdi and me and tonight

I am in total awe, almost to the point of being at a loss for words. Although, as most of you know I'm never really at a loss for words, so indeed there is something I need to say.

I love Monteverdi. But of course, you knew that, no surprises there. But I was surprised a few weeks back while reading the newspaper; Terje Kvam and the Oslo Domkor (choir of Oslo main cathedral) was going to perform Monteverdi's Marian Vespers (of 1610 fame) tonight! And of course I went; I've been waiting for this moment my whole adult life, for something as momentous as this happening up here in the cold north.

First, let me explain just how crazy this is. The Vespers is a collection of music which is regarded some of the most challenging and beautiful music, for many the defining piece of work to separate mouse from men. It's an amazing piece, it's rather out of the common practice of its time, revolution and tradition all mixed up in a magnificent duality of old and new. Monteverdi who was just starting out in writing opera (and being damn successful at it with one of the first operas "L'Arianna" he wrote for the Gonzagas and performed in 1607), but he wasn't happy with his current boss. He probably thought that writing a piece of music that shakes some booty could be a good way to attract different employer (and he even dedicated it to the pope, probably kissing some Roman butt), and so he did. In 1610 it was published, and the world became richer.

So, anyway, here Terje Kvam decides to tackle this amazing work. You would think this could go so-so, but if you read between the lines you see names such as Rolf Lislevand (superstar lutenist of Jordi Savall coop fame), impressive tenors Joshua Ellicott and Johan Linderoth (these guys *got* Monteverdi, and more or less made this concert what it was), Njål Sparbo (always lovely to hear his bass) and assorted people from Norsk Barokkorkester and of course the Oslo Domkor itself which always has one of the nicest tones around. (My best friend Magnus' mum sings in the choir, and this night was her last concert with them after 18 years in it)

Here's my poor-quality camera-phone shot of the intro ;



This was an amazing concert, on a high international level. I've heard the vespers more than any other piece of work, I've got all available recordings of it (including a few that should have been burned and forgotten ever happened!), I know the music and lyrics off by heart ... and this concert blew me away! I was sitting there crying it was so good! The tone of this choir is amazing, and the soloists were fantastic, every single one of them (and especially the tenors; amazingly good!) , the band in fantastic form with the amazing Rolf Lislevand upfront.



Now, it's not too late to see this for yourself. Tomorrow (sunday, 30th of November, 2008 at the Trefoldighetskirken next to Deichman main library down town) they're doing it again. I know Magnus is going to be there, and if I get tickets (and permission from my wallet) I'll be there again. It's the one concert I would never want to end. If you're in Oslo, like this kind of music and want a kick-ass version of a piece of music that was written to kick-ass, you know what to do. I dare you!

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10 November 2008

Bad start of the week, thanks to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas

I woke up I a crappy mood this morning. Sure, it was pouring outside, and the family is under a coughing/drooling/snot/sleepless spell these days, but the main reason I feel like this is because last night me and the wife watched "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Spoilers galore warning.

What dreck! I've been thinking about it since last night, and this is just not only a bad Indiana Jones movie, but a bad movie, period! Here you've got a kick-ass cast, killer director and otherwise good filmmakers, and somehow they end up raping the good name of Indiana Jones, piss in the well of good films, break rules of good taste, and generally make me lose respect for people I normally love.

Let's start at the beginning, before the movie was even made. They announced it as "back to basics" and "that good ol' Indy feeling", pulled in a stellar cast including my all-time male favorite British actor John Hurt, and all-time female favorite actress Karen Allen (since Starman, co-starring with my all-time favorite male American actor Jeff Bridges), Aussie vixen and all-round amazing seductress Cate Blanchett, Steven Spielberg to direct, Lucas to produce. This just couldn't fail, I thought.

Ok, so "that good ol' Indy feeling" has a few guidelines;
  • Introductory segment before film proper
  • Slightly exadurated fight scenes
  • Good dialog
  • Not stupid
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Adventure for a cause, not for magic
  • On the edge believable story-line based on real myths
The introduction here is gone, and we leap straight the film, and it follows that story throughout the whole movie. Where's our gentle, humourus and interesting entree?

Then we get lots of fight and chase scenes that are just plain dumb, that adds nothing to the story and could well have been left on the cutting room floor. The fighting itself is mostly of the comic kind, like fighting with swords with your legs split between two cars driving and having bushes and vegetaion slap your jewels at high speed. Yeah, that kind. And then there's the guy who gets eaten alive my big ants and dragged down their lair, which looks cool but is so far fetched from reality it looks stupid in an Indy movie. Yeah, that kind.

The dialog is haphazard, almost as if the actors haven't seen eachother for 20 years and are trying to find out how to communicate again. It's as if the script thought that talking and interaction was boring, and can we get to the cool CGI effects and chase scenes, eh? And some of those interactions are just plain unbelievable, such as when Indy sees Marion again for the first time in many, many years. Even the lead up to that moment was stupid (Shia LeBeuf saying his mums name is Marion didn't ring any bells? How many women in your life is called Marion? Pathetic), and you're also telling me that two people who love eachother, even with a rocky past, don't at least stay in contact? And especially she who knows her son is Indy's son? Give me a friggin' break. And what about Shia's introduction? He just walzes in, talks about some old former friend, and basically sets up the whole adventure which Indy swallows without a thought, and Voila! they're on a plane to Peru in search of ... uh, whatever. Where's character development, or, you know, characters that at least have some base in reality? Not here.

Next up; the movie shouldn't be stupid. But it does get stupid. No, not your average "balancing on the suspension of disbelief" cliff, but jumping right off it with a clowns nose and big shoes on playing the trumpet while plummeting. So, what's so stupid? Well, aliens, to begin with. And the Ox being posessed by an alien being from having looked at a crystal skull for too long. Or Indy being half-possesed by being forced to look at said skull. Or the main baddy having some mind-reading skills. or the main baddy having a rapier fetish she brings with her in a suit-case on crazy adventures and missions. Or Indy's frind Mac who betrays them, what, three or four times? I lost count, but how stupid can you be after the first betrayel? Indy movies have as little magic in the as possible, while this one pours it on and makes it the driving force of the movie. Unbelievable.

In one scene Indy proclaims that only he should return the skull, going into a cave, not because of some greater good but because the skull told him to. And yet they all go in. And Indy doesn't belive in magic, only causes. And yet they go in. For what reason? To return something, when Indy clearly wants these things in museums and collections for study purposes? Brrr.

The story is just plain bad! I saw the "making of" on the DVD where Spielberg talked a bit about how Lucas tried to put aliens in there, going back and forth. Spielberg rightly said it was a bad idea, but Lucas was persistent and they ended up with "transdimensional beings" ... *rolling eyes* For fraggs sake, how stupid can you get? I can only assume that Lucas has been listening too much to lunatic vonDänicken and thought it clever to put the crystal skulls and the Mayan / Incas / Indian myths together in a hotch-potch story, but trust me, Lucas should not go anywhere near aliens ever again. Not only that, but the alien looks just like the ones from Close Encounter of the Third Kind? And the story is resolved by the alien(s) leaving in their flying saucer, removing all evidence, as opposed to the site being covered by agents, or some government conspiracy, or whatever? A self-ersolving theme? What the heck is going on here?

There were so many details that irritated me throughout this flick I don't even know where to start. Using a snake to pull Indy out of a sinkhole? Marion saying "trust me" instead of Indy? The alien(s) is evil? And archeologist? The skulls are magnetic, yet made of crystal? LeBeuf put his shiny motorcycle in an unprotected marketplace, and it's still there when he gets back? There's ninja-like Indians at the cemetary? Who don't follow them into the crypt because Indy's got a gun? A russian female commander / scientist / phsycic with a rapier fetish? They made Cate Blanchett look ugly?!?! Indy gets fired because FBI raided his office? (One would think that would be a common practice around Indy by now) He once was involved in an alien rescue mission without knowing they were aliens? He survives a nuclear blast from hiding in a fridge, which gets slung far, far away with great force, and he exits alive? Shia can do the Tarzan trick, jumping from liane to liane faster than two military cars? And those two cars racing along a shere cliff? (I sometimes have to remind myself that these cars actually have breaks ...) And on and on, lots of stupid little things.

I didn't have too big expectations for this flick, but one would think that people of this caliber could pull it off reasonably well. The IMDB ratings give it (right now) 7 out of 10. I will never trust the IMDB ratings again. I give it 3 out of 10. So, what's the 3 for?

Good effects (which is ironic, given the promise before filming that CGI was to be minimal if any, and ended up as 30% of the movie!), beautiful scenery and great cinematography. It looks really good. But Indy is more than that, and I was very disapointed.

Good to get that out of my system. Now back to work.

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