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Film and the Arts

Today's Cinematic Thrillers

With such films as Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Adventures of Tin Tin, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (all which opened very recently), there's a good chance of catching one variation or another of today's cinematic thrillers.

 Whether they be spy actioneers, crime adventures, or a suspense mysteries, all of this bunch pretty much satisfies the basic strictures of these spy/cop/crime dramas -- good guys, skillful associates (at least one of them has to be an attractive, sexy woman -- or, in Tin Tin's case, a cute dog) nasty villains, wealthy magnates, fancy moves and incredible weaponry/gadgetry. 

 Only Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is more of an arthouse production with lots of talk and little action.

 Among these four, the Brad Bird-directed Mission Impossible does the best job of hitting its genre's high points with the most balanced and stimulating results. Between a smart use of humor (with the comical Simon Pegg as one of the IMF's skilled team), Tom Cruise's gymnastic moves and Paula Patton's sultry turns, the film's story pulses forward.

 Though the digitally animated Tin Tin reigns as the latest advance in performance-capture, it also serves as a successor to director Steven Spielberg's love affair with adventure films seen through such series as the Indiana Jones tales -- and terrier Snowy makes for a much smarter, cuter sidekick than Shia LeBouf

 In Tin Tin's case, this series has lots more gas in its narrative engine than the now-tired Indie Jones saga.

 Both Sherlock Holmes and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo deal with bloodthirsty villains -- one who kills for perverse greed, the other for sadistic passions -- and present convoluted stories that come to uncertain conclusions. While they each offer slick, visually stimulating sequences of death and destruction, one seems a sleekly-made yet unnecessary remake (Dragon) and the other an almost too-peculiar re-imagining (Holmes).

Drawing on author John Le Carre's cerebral novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy investigates the secret agent landscape as an intellectual exercise. In director Tomas Alfredson's version, this story of spymaster George Smiley ferreting out a mole in the British espionage bureaucracy tries to recreate the novel's complex machinations, but it spurs more confusion than insight.

All of these films have roots in a raft of source material, but the granddaddy of it all is the James Bond series, longest running franchise in film history.

Some of the series' cinematic excursions ranged far afield from Ian Fleming's original novels where the world's most suave, savvy spy was actually a lot grittier and more of a cold, ruthless operator.

While the filmic Bond increasingly relied on fancy gadgets to enhance the drama -- especially after the character became far more of coy caricature during the Roger Moore years -- it still influenced a crop of sometimes superior imitators. And now the character has returned to a harder edge through actor Daniel Craig's recent re-invention.

Normally the Bond films can only be viewed on various DVD and Blu-ray sets but they have been viewable all this month on Epix -- the premium entertainment service available on television, video-on-demand, online and on consumer electronic devices.

Spousonomics: Jenny Anderson Marries Economics + Romance

Spousonomics1For a chance at a better marriage, it’s advised to consult proven figures in the field. Not relationship gurus, but quantifiable economics. So say Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, whose new book Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage and Dirty Dishes (Random House, 2011) advances solutions to domestic challenges from bickering to chores to sex.

Szuchman and Anderson -- a Wall Street Journal editor and a New York Times reporter, respectively -- may well be the first self-help authors to bring bar graphs to the realm of couples harmony. Film Festival Traveler reached Anderson for the inside scoop on how economics can offer optimal strategies for a happy union.

Read more: Spousonomics: Jenny Anderson...

Music Interview: Mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager Returns

nsngelika Kirchschlager, mezzo-sopranoAngelika Kirchschlager Johannes Ifkovits
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, pianist
November 12, 2011
Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall
7th Avenue and 57th Street, New York NY

Since Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager is seen and heard too infrequently in New York--with a teenage son in Vienna, she prefers to stay near her hometown and performs far more often on European stages than American ones--it’s imperative to catch her whenever she appears on a local concert stage.

For her Saturday evening performance at Zankel Hall, the always elegant singer teams with a long-time collaborator, the French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, for a program of songs by composers whose vocal works are also not often heard: Johannes Brahms and Franz Liszt. Kirchschlager--whose recent recordings include the exquisite songs of Hugo Wolf and Joseph Marx--is sure to invest Brahms and Liszt with the same emotional directness that marks her vocal artistry.

She recently spoke by phone from--where else?--Vienna to discuss her recital program and what she has coming up onstage and in the studio.

Q: Why are you doing this program of Brahms and Liszt songs, which we don’t hear too often?
A: Performing Liszt is very obvious because it’s the Liszt Year: he was born 200 years ago. I’ve been singing Liszt for many years, and even though hardly anybody knows the songs, they’re really fantastic. When people finally do get to hear them, they also think they’re marvelous. And I felt that the Brahms songs go along nicely with Liszt.

Q: Talk about your relationship with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
A: We’ve known each other for 16 or 17 years now: we actually met in New York for the first time when I stepped in for Brigitte Fassbaender at a concert in Alice Tully Hall in 1994 or something like that. Since we did that concert, we’ve performed together and gone on tour many times. To perform concerts with him is one of the best things for me: he’s a great musician and a very dear friend, so it’s the best thing to make music and travel together. He’s so kind, so open to ideas:  I more or less came up with Brahms and Liszt, and he loved the program. He will play a Brahms intermezzo and a Liszt solo piece. It’s really nice to have a little interlude between the songs without any words.

Q: Is this your first time singing in Zankel Hall, which is more intimate than the larger Carnegie Hall stage?
A: Yes it is! I’ve been in Carnegie Hall once to sing: the amazing thing about Carnegie is that even though it is such a huge hall, it feels kind of intimate to me. Jean-Yves says that Zankel is an even more intimate hall, so I’m very much looking forward to it.

Q: In Europe, you’ll be singing two great 20th century heroines: Claude Debussy’s Mélisande (Pelleas et Mélisande) and Kurt Weill’s Jenny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny). Are these new roles for you, and why don‘t you sing them in America?
A: I have sung Mélisande in Salzburg at the Easter festival and I’ll be singing it at Covent Garden. It’s a part that I love very much. I’ve never sung Jenny before, so I’m looking forward to doing this in Vienna. I’ve always been known for Mozart, which I’ve done in America, but I don’t know why I don’t sing other roles there. A lot of it is timing and coincidence: I’ve always been very relaxed about what roles I sing and curious about what’s coming up next.

Q: Do you have any recordings on the horizon, either CDs or DVDs?
A: I have been recording a lot, including a Liszt CD recently, and a Schubert-Brahms-Mahler CD that I did with a Viennese group which made transcriptions for very non-traditional instrumentation. I have not done any DVDs recently: I live very much in the present, so I’m not a fan of recording a specific performance, although I was happy that Sophie’s Choice (Nicolas Maw’s opera) was recorded on DVD. It was very special to me and I thought it was a wonderful production.

Angelika Kirchschlager, mezzo-soprano
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, pianist
Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall
7th Avenue and 57th Street, NY NY                                                                   

Kevin's October '11 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
Ben-Hur: 50th Anniversary Edition (Warners)
William Wyler’s costume epic swept the 1959 Oscars with 11 wins, more than any other film before or since. Despite stretches of clunky exposition and dull characterizations, there are many breathtaking moments, like that still heart-stopping chariot race. Charlton Heston won Best Actor for his solid, workmanlike performance, but it’s the color photography, sets, costumes, editing and Miklos Rosza score that make it memorable.

Read more: Kevin's October '11 Digital Week I

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