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Recent Movies: Still Mine; Pacific Rim; Watermark; Opera: Peter Grimes; Travel Notes: Rome

October 23, 2013

Recent Movies

Still Mine

Based on a true story, an elderly couple in rural New Brunswick faces difficulty when the woman’s mental and physical health declines.  Her husband tries to build a more accommodating house on their large property but faces resistance from bureaucratic nincompoops.

This film fits well with other recent films in dealing with elderly health decline.  The best of these examples include “Amour” and “Away From Her” (also Canadian, coincidentally).  “Still Mine” can also be praised for exposing other difficulties for the elderly:  people who knew simpler times when they could get on with their business without all the bureaucratic interventions that are part of the modern world.  This is also exposed with another issue before the trouble the couple face in trying to build the new house.

Indeed, the film is one-sided this way but it has so much charm and warmth in exposing rural life including the archetypal small-town busybody.  Its greatest strength is in the sweet performances of James Cromwell and Geneviève Bujold in the lead roles.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * *

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Pacific Rim

This big budget science-fiction takes place in the near future.  Large and destructive alien creatures have emerged from the Pacific Ocean.  In defense, large robotic machines are used to fight the enemies.

The film begins well with some interesting scenes mainly due to the special effects.  Some elements of the story are interesting as well but the film seems to go downhill by the second half.

Even the special effects are hard to follow at this point.  The characterization is weak and the atmosphere is cold and dark.  With a predictable outcome throughout, this film is quite disappointing.

Rating:   * 1/2

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Watermark

This Canadian documentary travels the globe to expose the various ways water is used in different regions and societies and how man-made projects might be harming the water systems.

The film’s greatest strength is its photography.  Some aerial views not only provide gripping images of natural beauty but also stunning images of dam projects and dried rivers.

Some commentaries are interesting but, by the end, it feels that there is rather a lack of a cohesive theme or outlook.  Although it is best to leave the conclusions to the viewer, the film would have been more effective with a bit more general commentary to reach that conclusion.

Rating:   * * 1/2

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Opera

“Peter Grimes”  by Benjamin Britten,

by the Canadian Opera Company at the Fours Seaans Centre, Toronto

The title character is a fisherman in a seaside village.  He is a loner who is ostracized by his community for the danger he places on his young apprentices.

The beautiful music in this production is reason for enough praise.  Ben Heppner, in the lead role, has many magical moments as does Ileana Montalbetti as his potential love interest.  One magical moment included Montalbetti in a quartet with three other women.  The conducting by Johannes Debus is also superb.

The set is deliberately modest to match the locale.  The fine directing by Neil Armfield places focus on two destructive areas of humanity:  extreme willfulness and collective gossip that borders on slander.  All elements are well played throughout but the strongest moment is in the finale.  A grand event could have been played as a very dramatic scene.  Instead, it was played out with a subtlety that was eerie and haunting.  The feeling continued well after the curtain went down.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

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Travel Notes:   Rome, Italy

I had the great pleasure of spending two weeks in this magnificent city which is so dense with art, beauty, and history in so many places.  Indeed, there was culture shock in the beginning such as dealing with traffic as a pedestrian but the apparent chaos of this traffic seemed to have its own rhythm even if it takes a while to calm down within it.

Indeed, I saw so much in two weeks.  This included the “must” sights such as the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Pantheon, the Trevi fountain, the Spanish Steps, and a day trip to the ruins of Pompei plus Naples.  They were all grand sights though occasionally over-crowding would hamper the experience.  The best part of spending two weeks there is that I could also see the next set of recommended sights that are equally as stunning but less crowded (a reward in itself).

For the Vatican, I took a special tour that would skip the long lines and even enter before the general public.  This made it a grand experience for seeing much of the museums.  As we were getting closer to the Sistine Chapel, the crowds got thicker but the experience was still magical despite the tension.  The tour ended in the grand St. Peter’s Basilica (the part that is free to the public).  Thankfully, it is so large, it could easily accommodate the large crowds.  And it was truly heavenly in every sense of the term.

I had also taken a special tour to see the Colosseum as a way to skip the lines.  There was another advantage here in that this tour had special access to the lowest floors of the structure and a few other areas where only special tours were allowed.  Once the tour was finished, we were on our own and it was magnificent to walk all around this great structure.  The tour also included highlights of the Forum and Palatine Hill but, as it was incomplete, I toured on my own later and found this greatly rewarding.  Equally grand was the Baths of Caracalla, another area of magnificent ancient ruins.

The neighbourhoods around the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon included those sweet narrow cobblestone streets that were abundant.  This was a great delight.  Other great sights in these areas included Via del Corso, the Piazza Navona, the Piazzo del Popolo, and the Campo de’ Fiori.

Aside from the grand St. Peter’s Basilica, every other church in Rome – no matter how big or small – was like a museum.  With magnificent paintings and statues everywhere, these little “side trips” were breathtaking.  In each structure (much like some of the museums and art galleries), one had to not only look at every wall but also the grand art on the ceilings for a full experience.  In some cases, even the floors were works of art worthy of special attention.  Among the more noteworthy churches:  Gesu, San Ignazio, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, San Luigi dei Francesi (all near the magnificent Pantheon, also considered a church), Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterno, and San Clemente which also had one of the city’s famous Catacombs, ancient underground cemeteries dedicated to early Christians.

Other Catacombs that I saw were: Priscilla, Capuchin (bizarre tombs decorated with skeleton bones), San Castillo and San Sebastiano (both in the delightful Appian Way region – an area of the city that is all countryside in appearance).

The great museums and art galleries I saw included the Galleria Borghese, the National Museum of Rome, the Doria Pamphilj (slightly less famous than the others but just as rewarding), and the Capitoline Museums highlighted by its magnificent Piazza.  Another unexpected delighted was the Castel San’Angelo, an ancient castle near the Vatican.

if you’ve read this far, I praise you for your patience.  I filled my two weeks well and I could probably have still seen more but it was truly rewarding to visit a place that is of this world but also seems out of this world in the best way imaginable.  Arrividerci!!

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