Conjuring 2

I have always been in the only person in my family and friends who loves horror films.  I've loved them ever since I was a kid even though I would scare the heck out of myself and end up hiding all my scary toys, records and pictures before I went to bed.  At one point, I would have bad dreams because of my childhood horror habit.  Then I learned how to fight my dream monsters.  It was loads of fun.  In my dreams I was a pint sized superhero fighting off zombies, werewolves, vampires, demons and ghouls.  To my great disappointment the loads of fun I was having ended abruptly because I stopped suffering nightmares.  It was only years later I learned the term for that kind of dream, it was called "Lucid Dreaming."  I never experienced it again in such a vivid way.  I dearly missed the ability to turn into any kind of person or animal I wanted to be in order to fight off monsters.  No longer did I have the cool ability to pick up useful objects out of thin air that I needed in my personal dream quests.

Anyway, I still love horror films and "Conjuring 2" did not disappoint.  I really enjoyed the first film as well.  In fact when I heard about the sequel, I just rolled my eyes.  There was no way they could exceed the first film.  But they did to my amazement.  This film matches its predecessor and many times tops it.

The film begins with a snippet from one of the Warren's investigations.  The first film intro was about the possessed Anabelle doll (a demonic looking Victorian porcelain doll in film but just a pedestrian Raggedy Ann doll in real life).  In this film we get a glimpse of the Amityville Horror in which the Lorraine Warren character reenacts the DeFeo crime while in a trance state and meets up with a demon.  James Wan and crowd cannily tie up the Anabelle story, the first Conjuring story, the Amityville segment and the Enfield case into one overall story arc.  I found that very impressive.

Moving on, the family in peril is living in England.  One of the first film's greatest strengths was how well it captured the 1970's time period.  More in particular the American 1970's.  Unfortunately, the filmmakers really don't know a great deal about the British 1970's experience.  To make up for that, they put up a hackneyed montage of 1970's moments from British television.  Which really convinces no one.  So at the beginning of the haunting story, all I could focus on was how phony and staged everything seemed.  The Enfield interiors/exteriors are almost entirely on a sound stage not on location.  If you want sprawling London set pieces ala An American Werewolf in London go elsewhere.  Fortunately, they had a large cast of talented adult and child actors, so I was quickly pulled into the story.

This film is decidedly darker in tone than the first.  The family in the first film was well adjusted and rather happy.  So what happens to them is a shock.  However the fatherless and working poor family in this film are in danger regardless of supernatural stalkers.  I've read one review that the series greatest element was the Warren couple and how much they love one another.  I agree, these films work because the Warrens are so likable and so in love.  It is this mutual love that protects the lost family in this film. Another great factor of these films is how leisurely they set up the scene.  There is no rush to ghost monsters but a slow buildup of occurrences until no one involved can explain them away or ignore them.  This also helps with characterization.  The audience knows the characters very well and are allowed to actually care for their safety.

Are there some cheesy missteps in the film?  Yes, there were some elements that took me out of the story.  But nothing that destroyed the film as a whole.  I think the horror is well done, a lot of good creepy scares and images to keep you awake at night.  I recommend it and look forward to the next installment of the series.


Late Season Mix

A few tracks that I'm listening to during the waning summer season.


Sarasota Ballet - Joyce Theater

I had purchased my ticket to see Sarasota Ballet months ago.  But I never thought that I would have to travel on one of the hottest days of the summer.  It was brutal and I seriously considered just missing the performance.  But this company has received such lovely notices for their appearance at the Joyce this week that I felt I would be missing something special.  So I slogged my way into NYC and braved the heat wave.

Sarasota Ballet has found a niche for themselves as the foremost interpreters of  Sir Frederick Ashton's ballets.  They specialize in forgotten gems that don't see too many performances.  Hence their program at the Joyce consisted of Aston's Valses Nobles Et Sentimentales, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, The Walk to Paradise Garden, Jazz Calendar/Friday's Child, Sinfonietta/2nd Movement and Facade.

Valses Nobles Et Sentimentales was beautiful and dreamy.  It brought back the mood of the 1940s when it was choreographed.  It had a lot of signature Ashton moves that the company danced beautifully.  Everyone was fully classical, no over extensions, with lovely expressive bodies.  There times I thought I was watching dancers from the golden age of RB when Fonteyn and Shearer were still dancing.  Sarasota has many beautiful female dancers who have the looks and style of mid-20th century dancers.  The ones who stood out were Nicolle Padilla, Elizabeth Sykes and the lead Victoria Hulland.

Tweedledum and TweedleDee was a short piece that was mainly a duo for two male dancers.  It was sweet and light.  Maybe a bit too frothy compared to the rest of the program.  But I enjoyed it.  The two main dancers, Sam O'Brien and Kyle Hiyoshi  acted the parts wonderfully.

The Walk to Paradise Garden was lovely if a bit of a wet blanket among the pieces danced.  A tone poem on Romeo and Juliet, it was about star crossed lovers who are ultimately separated by death.  It was gentle and sensual.  Ryoko Sadoshima was lovely in the lead part.  Ricardo Rhodes partnered her beautifully.  Rhodes is one of those dancers who embodies the 21st century style, lean, long with gorgeous extensions.  Usually these dancers have a hard time with pas de deux because their physiques don't have a lot of upper body strength.  But this was not a problem for Rhodes.  The tricky lifts in this ballet posed no problem for him.

Jazz Calendar/Friday's Child was pure 1960s and it showed its age.  But that didn't mean I didn't like it.  The late 60s to the 70's was the world of my babyhood.  So watching this ballet was like peeking into my childhood a bit.  This ballet was more of a vanity piece for Rudolf Nureyev.  So many of the steps had both the male dancer and female dancer mirroring steps.  There was a lot of sexuality to it as well.  Amy Wood and Edward Gonzalez danced this very nicely with perfect jazzy looseness in their bodies.

Sinfonietta/2nd Movement had a lot of influence of Monotones.  This was another piece that seemed a bit out of place with the other offerings.  It was spare and rather intellectual compared to the rest of the ballets.  There was no warmth to it.  There was a note in the playbill that it was supposed to remind the audience of birds.  I suppose this was because the female dancer hardly touches the stage.  She is maneuvered around by a series of lifts between 5 male dancers.  However the music was rather sinister and the dancers didn't remind me of birds.  The piece reminded me more of a Queen insect with her drones.  But there were very memorable images from the ballet.  At one point the female dancer is swung by her male partners over the audience.  The dance forms are also strictly classical.  I was glad to see the Sarasota performers not trying to make much of the simple steps but just letting spareness reveal its own beauty.

Facade, the one ballet in the program that is regularly performed all over the world was extremely fun and the dancers acted their parts well.  My favorite dancers of the previous works, Nicole Padilla and Elizabeth Sykes had larger parts.  Sam O'Brien and Kyle Hiyoshi were back as a team but this time dancing the roles of dandies.  Kate Honea and Ricardo Graziano were a very funny Tango team.

I was so glad that I was able to see the Sarasota on their NY tour.  I'm hoping they will be able to come back with more Ashton treasures in their repertoire.  My only complaint was that the Joyce stage was just not large enough for them.  I think many of their pieces needed a bigger space.  Plus being so close to them during performance broke the mood of some of the works, Valses Nobles especially.  Many of the pieces need the female dancers to look serene and distance plus space creates that impression.  When you are face up close as you are at the Joyce, you can see the dancers' muscles working, straining and quivering.  You can see the sweat on all the dancers.  Maybe this sold out run will convince sponsors to put the company up on a bigger stage next time they visit NYC.


Joy Womack and Mikhail Martynyuk - Le Corsaire - Varna 2016

USA's Joy Womack has won the Silver Medal at Varna this year.  She and her partner Mikhail Martnyuk look fabulous in this clip of their second round.

Womack also had a guardian angel in Amanda Gomes who lent her a tutu after Womack's own suffered a wardrobe malfunction in the third round.  Gomes took first prize in Gold.  Her kindness was smiled upon by the gods indeed.


Running with the Wolves - Aurora

This song and the album its from is my favorite for the Summer of 16.  I think it was released last year in Europe but only became available in the US this past Spring.

Its very hipster.  I know, but I love it.  The video is ridiculously gnostic as all the junk that comes from the music and movie complex.


Daisy Miller - 1974

Who doesn't know about the golden couple of 70s Hollywood, Polly Platt and Peter Bogdanovitch breaking up because of Cybill Shepherd.  So besotted was Bogdanovitch, he tried his hardest to turn Shepherd into a big Hollywood star.  Unfortunately, Shepherd didn't have a range further than playing the PRETTY GIRL.

This film is an interesting failure mainly because it should have worked for Shepherd, yet it is also serves as a kind of commentary of the kind of uproar the Shepherd/Boganovitch pairing caused in the film social circles.

The film's biggest asset and its biggest fault is Cybill Shepherd herself.  She is just fine as the flighty, flirty, very pretty Daisy Miller.  However she lacks the technique to go further, to show the rebelliousness and the stubbornness brewing underneath her bubbly smile.  Unfortunately Bogdanovitch doesn't give her any help because he is so intent on focusing on her pretty face.  See picture above, we get numerous shots of Shepherd smiling winsomely.  A more level headed man would have realized that his crush wasn't much of an actress and instead give more scenes to the better actors around her.  Barry Brown as Winterbourne was fabulous.  Cloris Leachman was also great as Daisy's insane mother.  But the showstopper of the film was Eileen Brennan looking gorgeous and dripping malevolence as Mrs. Walker.  Bogdanovitch should have turned the last half of the film into a portrait of Brennan's character turning the small expat Roman community against Shepherd's Daisy.  It would have at least cast Shepherd's flat characterization in a more sympathetic light.  As it stands, Daisy Miller in this film is so annoying it allows the audience to hope for someone or something to slap her silly into some common sense. Therefore, the end didn't have the note of tragedy and hopelessness it should have had.

The setting and film work was lovely. But there were off base elements.  I didn't get the feeling I was actually in the late 1870s but in a 1970s version of it.  This film definitely suffers from the absence of Polly Platt's discerning eye.  Still it has enough eye candy to keep a period film maven happy.

So yes, it could have been better.  Heck, it could have been a lot worse.  But you know what I say?  Eff it.  Watch it for Eileen Brennan's shark like society leader.  Even a few minutes of her performance makes this disjointed project enjoyable.

Cybill as Daisy.  Sigh.  It doesn't develop any further than this clip.  Believe me.


Balanchine's Concerto Barocco

There are a few examples of NYCB's Concerto Barocco online and you can see all manner of ballerina's in the iconic roles.  My favorite is Patricia McBride who was filmed dancing the lead in an awful cut filled with strange, choppy edits.  But it didn't diminish the work of Mcbride or Martins and the rest of the company.  I think I've read that Balanchine did not cast McBride in this role and her big leap into the ballet was due to Farrell leaving the company in the early 70's.  I'm not sure why Balanchine hesitated to use her, perhaps because he envisioned the role for tall dancers.

I've posted a short clip of State Ballet of Georgia dancing a wonderful rendition of the ballet.  They paid a great deal of attention to stylistic detail especially since Balanchine was Georgian.  In essence they have a great deal of the NYCB polish but still true to their own ballet heritage.  It makes me wonder if they are an affiliated Balanchine company.  Because I watched their Youtube channel and they featured a lot of Balanchine works in their company seasonal advertisement.  Whatever the case, they are truly wonderful in this video.

Another clip is of a very young Suzanne Farrell dancing with Conrad Ludlow.  I always thought that I would love Farrell in this role.  But honestly I don't.  This role requires a certain amount of polish, a bit of classicism that LeClerq and Mcbride had in spades.  At the time, Farrell lacked this polish.  Instead she goes off on wild tangents and follows her own ideas on how the steps should be phrased.  She exploits over extensions, if a step requires the dancer to be a bit off balance...Farrell actually falls off pointe, she uses retardando in her dancing in surprising ways.  I'm surprised how much Balanchine allowed her to experiment in this role.  I mean, to the point where in many cases her ideas just don't jell and she looks physically ugly.  However she is always fascinating to watch even if I prefer other dancers over her.