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Film and the Arts

Juan Diego Flórez Sings Opera Greats at Carnegie Hall

Juan Diego Flórez photo by Chris Lee

A thus far superb season at Carnegie Hall continued splendidly on the afternoon of Sunday, November 18th with a recital of 19th-century European music sung by the superb, tremendously appealing tenor, Juan Diego Flórez, excellently accompanied by pianist Vincenzo Scalera.
The program was notable for showcasing some less familiar repertory, with the first half devoted to works by Italian composers, opening with two by Gioachino Rossini: “Addio ai viennesi”, a concert song from early in his career, and “Mi lagnerò tacendo”, one of several of his settings of a text by the famous 18th-century librettist, Pietro Metastasio. Selections by Gaetano Donizetti followed, beginning with the charming Waltz for Piano in C Major played by Scalera alone. Flórez then performed the exquisite “Una furtiva lagrima” from L’elisir  d’amore, in which production the singer has triumphed to deserved acclaim at the Metropolitan Opera. After this he sang the recitative “Tombe degli avi miei” and the aria “Fra poco a me ricovero” from the celebratedLucia di Lamermoor.The first portion of the afternoon concluded with music by Giuseppe Verdi: “Ô toi que j’ai chérie” from the 1863 Paris revival of Les vêpres siciliennes, now most famous for its marvelous overture, and the cavatina-cabaletta from the seldom staged I Lombardi alla prima crociata,“La mia letizia infondere” and the second, faster version of “Come poteva un angelo.”
The other half of the program mostly comprised by French music, starting with several works by Jules Massenet: the art song “Ouvre tes yeux bleus” from Poème d’amour, succeeded by two arias from Manon, which was adapted from the classic novel by Abbé Prevost, “En fermant les yeux” and “Ah! fuyez, douce image.” Scalera then played the lovely “Méditation” from Thaïs, less saccharine scored for solo piano than in the original version.
There then ensued two selections from operas adapted from books by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Salut! demeure chaste et pure” from Charles Gounod’s Faust and “Pourquoi me réveiller” from Massenet’s Werther.The concert concluded with the beautiful “Che gelida manina” from Giacomo Puccini’s enormously popular La Bohème.
Enthusiastic applause elicited an astonishing seven encores, beginning with three songs in Flórez’s native Spanish which he performed with his guitar: “Bésame mucho”, “La flor de la canela” by Chabuca Granda of Peru, the singer’s homeland, and “La Paloma”. Scalera then returned to the stage to accompany "Pour mon âme, quel destin!" from Donizetti’s La fille du régiment, the aria that propelled Flórez to superstardom at the Metropolitan Opera. He then delivered Agustín Lara’s “Granada” and, finally, “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot. It was a stunning end to a wonderful afternoon.

November '18 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 

Crazy Rich Asians 

(Warner Bros)

Considered an historic film as the first Hollywood studio release to have an all-Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club, director Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of the first of a trilogy of novels by author Kevin Kwan is certainly an audience-pleaser (check out its huge box office numbers).




Although it’s essentially a high-gloss soap opera, entertaining and enervating in equal measure, it has a classy, charismatic cast led by Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh and Henry Golding. The Blu-ray looks great; extras include Chu and Kwan’s commentary, deleted scenes, making-of featurette and a gag reel.


First Blood

Rambo—First Blood II

Rambo III 


Before Rambo became a jingoistic joke, it’s pretty much been forgotten that the first film, First Blood, was an exciting action picture, well directed by Ted Kotcheff and with fine support by Richard Crenna and Brian Dennehy to offset Sly Stallone’s cardboard mumbling hero.




But things got worse once the ideological idiocy was amped up, and the second and third entries are barely watchable if instructive looks at Reagan’s America’s ultimate in patriotism—or, as the current White House occupant would have it nowadays, nationalism. These new releases feature sparkling hi-def restorations in 4K and standard Blu-ray, along with a mix of new and vintage interviews and featurettes.






Jeannette—The Childhood of Joan of Arc 


The ultimate provocateur, Bruno Dumont, is back with his latest, which, believe it or not, is a head-banging musical about the beloved saint’s early life, before she takes up arms against the English and becomes a martyr. After the bizarre left turns of Li’l Quinquin (successful) and Slack Bay (disastrous), Dumont jumps off a different cliff with this rigorously shot but musically and dramatically inert drama that does little with its game amateur cast.




In theory, the juxtaposition of heavy metal sounds and the austere subject is enticing; but onscreen it comes off as simply too offbeat for its own good. The film looks lovely on Blu, but it’s too bad the burnt-in subtitles threaten to ruin the visuals; extras comprise two deleted scenes and a Dumont interview.


Mile 22 


Director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg have made several “gritty” dramas together over the past few years—Sole Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and last year’s Boston Marathon bombing reenactment, Patriots Day—and their latest is a hot mess of convoluted plotting and overdone violence, including a couple of the most ridiculously unbelievable fight sequences ever committed to celluloid.




The verisimilitude works to a point, until several melodramatic twists make mincemeat of all that’s come before. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras include featurettes, etc.


Rolling Stones—Voodoo Lounge Uncut 

(Eagle Vision)

For the Stones’ tour to support its middling 1994 album Voodoo Lounge, the band pulled out all the stops, as this huge Miami stadium gig makes clear: playing a handful of new songs, the Stones’ emphasis is on its storied past, and that’s where the best performances lie, like hot takes of “Rocks Off,” “Angie” and “Street Fighting Man,” among others.




This is the first time the entire 2-1/2 hour concert has been released, and while the video is muddy, the sound has been exceptionally upgraded. Bonuses are five songs from a Giants Stadium show that same year, including a revved-up “Shattered.”


DVD Set of the Week

Scorpion—The Complete Series 


Throughout the four seasons of Scorpion (all 92 episodes of which have been collected on 24 DVDs), the close-knit group of brainiac hackers kept coming up against still tougher and more dangerous assignments—all of which they, eventually, dispatched.




Now that this silly but entertaining series has run its course, one of the most charmingly natural actresses around, Katharine McPhee, is free again: maybe she can go back to doing more musicals on Broadway after she finishes her tour. Extras are featurettes, gag reels, deleted scenes and audio commentaries.

Off-Broadway Review—“Plot Points in Our Sexual Development”

Plot Points in Our Sexual Development 

Written by Miranda Rose Hall; directed by Margot Bordelon

Performances through November 18, 2018


Jax Jackson and Marianne Rendón in Plot Points in Our Sexual Development 
(photo: Jeremy Daniel)

In Miranda Rose Hall’s mainly searing, occasionally syrupy hour-long two-hander, a couple speaks openly and explicitly about the difficult roads each travelled to arrive at where they are now: reluctantly but hopefully embarking on a new relationship. 


The title, Plot Points in Our Sexual Development, is anything but subtle: it literally describes what the couple does throughout Hall’s rather contrived but effective construction.


Cecily, a 30-something cis woman, and Theo, a 30-something genderqueer and transmasculine, at first alternate sharing their most enduring—and sometimes humiliating—memories of sexual initiation, gender confusion and other intimate experiences as they approach this current moment: tentatively (while more than a little scared), they decide to cement their growing relationship; even though it’s not guaranteed to work—physically or emotionally—it may turn out to be the necessary salve for their past wounds.


Hall’s dialogue is literate and biting, even if it sometimes approaches harangues for its own sake. But Margot Bordelon has directed simply and sympathetically on Andrew Boyce’s near-bare set, which visualizes the bare souls inhabiting it. 


And those souls are gracefully inhabited by Jax Jackson (Theo) and Marianne Rendón (Cecily), tremendously affecting and vital, whether speaking or listening to the other, pulling away or drawing closer—in short, running the gamut of emotions their characters go through. 


Plot Points in Our Sexual Development 

Claire Tow Theater, 150 West 65th Street, New York, NY

November '18 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 

The Meg 

(Warner Bros)

The ludicrousness of this gargantuan shark movie—it’s Jaws on steroids—is beside the point when all anybody wants is to see, in CGI, how the ocean behemoth makes mincemeat of lots of awful—and some not so awful—characters.




This is the kind of movie that wears its influences not on its sleeve but right in front of the camera, so director Jon Turteltaub must have shrugged and said the hell with it: The Meg goes full speed ahead into campy monster movie craziness. It’s definitely not good, but it’s entertaining in its own ridiculous way. There’s a sterling hi-def transfer; extras are featurettes and interviews.


American Dresser 


Tom Berenger is persuasively wounded as a widowed (and alcoholic) Vietnam vet who goes cross-country on his bike with a compatriot (Keith David) to find himself after his beloved wife (Gina Gershon) dies of cancer in this one-note character study written and directed by Carmine Cangialosi, who plays a handsome ladies’ magnet who joins the pair.




Although Berenger and David have terrific camaraderie, their director is content to wallow in clichés and superficial characters—Gershon, Penelope Ann Miller, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Damiano and Elle McLemore have literally nothing to do—which knocks this otherwise watchable buddy movie down a notch. Extras are featurettes.







(Mondo Macabro)

Supposedly based on a true story, this grimly sick little movie, directed by Marijan Vayda, follows a loner bullied at work and mocked by seemingly everyone who discovers he has a taste for the blood of dead females. Soon he is digging up cadavers in their coffins and going about his yucky business.




Obviously, you have to be a fan of a certain kind of demented films to enjoy chose, but those viewers know who they are. It all looks good and grainy in hi-def; extras are interviews with the assistant director and actress Birgit Zamulo.


Gaughin—Voyage to Tahiti

(Cohen Media)

Vincent Cassell throws himself into the role of painter Paul Gaughin, who infamously left France for the South Pacific in 1891 in order to start his art—and—life anew, in Edouard Deluc’s well-made but by-the-numbers biopic.




Shot luminously by Pierre Cottereau, the film gets the physical details of the artist’s new home right, but despite Cassell’s intensity, we never really get inside Gaughin’s head: there’s never a moment where Deluc illuminates his protagonist in a profound way. The film sparkles in hi-def; extras comprise on-set featurettes.






Midaq Alley 

(Film Movement Classics)

Director Jorge Fons made this 1995 adaptation of a novel by Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz, relocating it to Mexico City: its interest today is primarily Salma Hayek appearing in one of her earliest roles, because, even at 145 minutes, this multi-character drama is too melodramatic and sentimental.




The stories are presented straightforwardly, even cursorily, as if just watching several people intersecting through and divided by class and wealth is interest-holding enough. It’s not: Hayek is fine and the rest of the cast is equally good, but the total is much less than the sum of its parts. The hi-def transfer looks good; lone extra is a behind-the-scene featurette.


DVD of the Week

The Children Act 


Ian McEwen’s novel about a British judge whose intense focus on cases involving children has pretty much destroyed her own marriage has become a talky, plodding drama by director Richard Eyre, whose streamlined adaptation—the script is by McEwen—strips away much of the book’s nuance.




Although this might straitjacket a lesser actor, Emma Thompson is able to make the judge sympathetic, even admirable, despite her own ethical and moral lapses.

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