Safe bet

Turtle Creek Chorale plays it safe for the holidays — and it shows

concert-2

SANTA’S BACK | The Turtle Creek Chorale continues its tradition of bringing ol’ Saint Nick out for its Christmas concert, but some tweaks might make the show feel more contemporary. (Photo courtesy TCC)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Tradition is a funny thing, especially during the holidays. Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas without Charlie Brown and his sad little tree, or driving through neighborhoods to gawk at the twinkling lights. But while changing routines can shake things up, it’s also a good way to start new traditions.

In the Turtle Creek Chorale’s holiday show My Favorite Things, many of the chorus’ traditions remain intact: The poinsettia dedication, Santa Claus ho-ho-hoing it up, a sign-language version of “Silent Night,” But a spike in the egg nog would not be out of place.

To be fair, the chorale underwent some major changes in the last few months, appointing both a new executive director, David Fisher, and interim conductor, Trey Jacobs, who has had to hit the ground running with a season (and dates!) already announced. You can grant them some slack for that, but the chorale’s opening concert, while at times inspiring, could also feel anemic.

Getting off to an energetic start, a crew of members tells the audience about their indulgences before launching into the show’s title track performance. A humorous and high-spirited tone kicked off the show gloriously, followed by the gorgeously majestic “Gloria Fanfare.” Jacobs wields a confident hold over the solid-sounding voices of the chorale. But that energy takes a major nosedive with a troika of serious and somber numbers.

The small Encore group turn up the silly factor with “An Elf’s Life” but miss the mark. The voices are reliable, but the cast lacks the panache needed for the bit to soar. The number is saved by an Occupy North Pole elf that generates major laughs and applause. The first act ends almost as soon as it begins with spirits high in the always punchy “We Need a Little Christmas.”

Although I don’t quite get the monks-versus-nuns concept for “Hallelujah,” the second half opener is hilarious as singers combine flag corps and Bob Dylan, lifting lyrics on cards in choreographed fashion. Whether on purpose or not, the small mistakes with upside-down cards or missed signals add a comic layer that hopefully they’ll keep.

The same can be said for “Jingle Bells,” as members demonstrate some fancy foot-stepping — part ballet, part drill team, but charming as heck. When confusion ensues as they link arms, it ends up being flat-out hysterical, adding volumes to the light-hearted tone.

These gaffes contribute wonderful charm to the show. But they might consider reverting from the live retelling of “The Christmas Story According to Linus” to the actual recording; a man dressed as Linus just doesn’t convey the tender heart of the original. The accompanying live Nativity only reminds me of my one-line role as a shepherd in my elementary school play, and The Sound of Music’s Maria is a running gag through the show that never quite works.

At times, My Favorite Things is weighed down by an abundance of downbeat songs in succession, and a lack of contemporary tunes does allow for younger audiences (not children necessarily, either) to be reeled in. The twenty-somethings in front of me didn’t seem to connect with the show, giggling and whispering during some of the songs.

But My Favorite Things is still a solid show, even with some misguided nuances. Opening night jitters were apparent, but gave an unexpectedly welcome relief to the concert. Fisher’s poinsettia dedication was anecdotal and beautifully poetic and Jacobs handled the chorale and the audience with experienced savvy. The dreary rain and biting cold didn’t dampen the audience as that other annual chorale tradition occurred: The standing ovation.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

We Were Here, AIDS documentary at 14 Pews

We Were HereWe Were Here, the award winning documentary of the early days of the AIDS crisis, premiers at 14 Pews theater (800 Aurora) Saturday, November 20, at 4:30 pm. The film, from director David Weissman, will be proceeded by a panel discussion on the state of the AIDS crisis today.

I came out in 1998, right at the tail end of the worst days of the AIDS crisis. I remember, with vivid clarity, the days of the walking wounded: when every other gay man I met would tell how their doctor said they should have died five years ago, when the community told time by recalling if an event took place before or after a certain person’s funeral.

Fortunately those days are largely behind us, but as new HIV infections continue to rise and we struggle to maintain funding for medications that are keeping people alive (at a cost of thousands of dollars a month), it’s important that we never forget the early days of the pandemic. For people of my generation and younger the mysterious “Gay Plague” that threatened our community in the early eighties can seem more like a fairy tale monster than the horrifying crisis it was, and is.

We Were Here tells the real life stories of five people who survived. Their mundane and profound recollections highlight, not only their personal experiences, but the broad political and social upheavals unleashed by the crisis. From their different vantage points as caregivers, activists, researchers, as friends and lovers of the afflicted, and as people with AIDS themselves, the interviewees share stories which are not only intensely personal, but which also illuminate the much larger themes of that era: the political and sexual complexities, and the terrible emotional toll. The film highlights the role of women – particularly lesbians – in caring for and fighting for their gay brothers.

Tickets for We Were Here are $10 and can be purchased at 14pews.org.

After the jump watch the trailer for We Were Here.

—  admin

‘Harry Potter’ and the deathly bore

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Now playing in wide release.
One star

I have struggled for the better part of a decade to make sense of the appeal of the Harry Potter books and movies. Now, as the film series nears its conclusion with the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2 comes out in July), I’m more befuddled than ever. As it somersaults uncontrollably toward a necessary resolution, the series must contend with its greatest burden: 4,000 pages of characters and intricately plotted (but nonsensical) events — collectively, it all requires a scorecard to keep track.

Sadly, Part 1 comes with no such primer, and the director, David Yates (this is his third Potter film), has made no effort to remind us of who these people are. He should, as couching motives in shadow seems like the raison d’etre of the series. The first half-hour, in fact, feels more like the star credits that used to open The Love Boat: from forgotten Weasleys to Dobby the House Elf (who, to my knowledge, hasn’t been seen since the second film), the parade of former denizens of the Potterverse is mind-numbing.

But not nearly as numbing as the plot itself. Know what a horcrux is, or how it’s make — or, for that matter, how to find and destroy it? You’d better before entering this film. (I’ve seen the other movies and read the mythology and still feel flummoxed.) Like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the Harry Potter films have given over to infernal navelgazing. They are not interested in winning new converts, but catering to the obsessions of their core. It’s the GOP strategy writ in celluloid.

Of course, there are those who have a rabid enthusiasm for the series and who will flock to it, as well as some just caught up in the pop culture excitement of a Thanksgiving blockbuster. But I can’t worry about those. I’m just trying to make heads or tails of the story and the storytelling, and here, it’s nonexistent. (I’d tell you the plot, but have no idea what it was.)

There are long, boring parts in the middle where nothing much happens that fill in the short, boring parts that begin and end it, though seeing a cross-dressing Daniel Radcliffe as Harry in the opening scene is pretty funny. What’s not funny is Harry’s sincere

selflessness: He’s always saying, “I don’t want anyone to suffer just because of me.” You, you mean the only person who can kill the Dark Lord Voldemorte? You, who all of creation has put its faith in to rescue them from eternal darkness? You really think they want you to be in harm’s way? Harry seems not so much noble as indulgent. Accept your lot, and live with it.

Part 1 is among the shortest of the Potter films, but feels longer, even though the ball doesn’t move very far down the field. Or the snitch across the Quiddich court. Or something. Frankly, I’ve given up caring. Apparently, the filmmakers have, too.

…………………………

The Next Three Days

Now playing in wide release.
One and a half stars

I’m old enough to remember when Russell Crowe was actually a movie star. Remember his muscled torso in a short Roman chiton in Gladiator? Or sailing the seas with bravado in Master and Commander? The volatile cop in L.A. Confidential? Heck, even his mentalyl ill professor in A Beautiful Mind has the glam of Old Hollywood “Issue Picture” all over it. So when did he become the guy whose movie all sound like dull preposition phrases? State of Play. Body of Lies. Proof of Life.

The Next Three Days is more dangling clause than preposition phrase, though that doesn’t make it any better. It’s still a dark muddle about an ordinary guy who tries extraordinary things faced with unusual circumstances. When you think about it, that’s the plot of his last film, Robin Hood, too. … another day but moodless and sincere drama.

Here, Crowe is a milquetoast husband whose wife (Elizabeth Banks) has been falsely convicted of murder. He obsesses about getting  her out, but when his last appeal (and last dollar) is lost, he decides to break her out.

Writer-director Paul Haggis veers too often into action-movie parody without the sense of fun that silly actioners can possess. Want to be earnest and deep? Then do that and leave the cheesy coincidences in the first draft. The Next Three Days isn’t a horrible film, it’s just one with so little personality, it’s hard to like.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Blood & sand

What’s on for July 4? Wolves, vampires & sorcerers, oh my!

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

TEEN WOLF | Purse-lipped Bella (Kristen Stewart) strings along ab-fab Jacob (Taylor Lautner) in ‘Eclipse.’
2.5 out of 5 Stars

TWILIGHT SAGA; ECLIPSE
Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Launter, Dakota Fanning.
Rated PG-13. 125 mins.
Now playing wide release.

To praise Eclipse as the best film thus far in the Twilight saga is like saying the drunk driver who rear-ended your new car had only been sipping Johnnie Walker Blue: Its pedigree doesn’t, ultimately, make the pain more bearable.
Little has changed since the last one, New Moon, pitted icy vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) in a chaste sexual competition with passionate werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) for the affections of pouty, bitchy Bella (Kristen Stewart). There are still long stretches with far too little action (“Get to the fight,” my date complained after one of the many delayed starts) — unless you consider emoting and seething “action.”

The (new) director David Slade at least begins the movie with a stylized if tame horror sequence, which postpones the gooey, banal romantic entanglements. Slade has advanced in bounds since first director Catherine Hardwicke’s lame-o special effects made me laugh inappropriately, but you still need to have seen both prior films — and preferably have read the books — to follow what the hell is going on.

Even that might not be enough. The Vulturi cult (led by Dakota Fanning, all of whom appear to have stolen their wardrobe from Pete Wentz), the revenge of Victoria (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard, as if it mattered), the enmity between the vamps and the wolves — who can keep track of all this nonsense? (The cross-cutting between factions is choppy and confusing.)

Deeper still is this mystery: What, exactly, is Edward’s appeal as a romantic hero? He’s pale, bloodless, glassy-eyed and continually lies to Bella (“to protect you” he insists; I bet Tiger Woods said the same thing); he also sparkles like he’s been doused in body glitter at a circuit party. Jacob, by contrast, is all brio: Forceful and rugged and thankfully shirtless when he has nothing interesting to say. It’s America versus Europe — why isn’t America winning? What is this, the World Cup?
Bella seems to think she’s The Bachelorette, stringing along two guys until the last commercial break. Just give one a rose and let’s call it quits.

Pattinson’s acting amount to little more than brooding like a 19th century actor doing Hamlet. He smolders so much, I worried he might cause a forest fire. Lautner, bless his fab abs, is not the best actor, though his sincerity carries him pretty far.

Alas, none of these qualms will have any effect on its box office success, so I might as well highlight the main positive. The best scene in the film is a relative truce between Jacob and Edward, as the two sit in a tent, Bella asleep between them, and bond over their shared maleness. It also smacks the taste of cheesy sentiment out of your mouth as Jake and Eddie seem a bottle of tequila shy of ditching Bella and moving together to Brokeback Mountain. I wish I could quit them. I wish everyone would.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL | A magical avatar (Noah Ringer) learns to controls the four elements in ‘The Last Airbender.’
2 out of 5 Stars

THE LAST AIRBENDER
Noah Dev Patel, Aasif Mandvi.
Rated PG. 105 mins.
Now playing wide release.

At its essence, the kid-focused actioner The Last Airbender is a two-hour movie about playing Rock-Paper-Scissors: Water beat fire, fire beat wind, wind beats earth. Or something like that. I lost interest pretty quickly.
In a world that looks like it was cobbled together from discarded sets, costumes, cast members and plots from Narnia, The Golden Compass and Return of the King, four nomadic tribes representing the four elements (air, fire, water and earth) are engaged in a war, with the bellicose fire nation suppressing those in other tribes who can “bend” (control) their element. An avatar, Aang (Noah Ringer), missing for a century, returns to bring order from chaos. One Ringer to rule them all, I suppose.

With Aang a Dalai Lama-esque reincarnated leader and lots of repetitive conjuring, The Last Airbender is a hodgepodge of Eastern mysticism and Western myth — Harry Potter Meets Falun Gong. (“Bending” looks suspiciously like tai chi.) Even though the plotting is paint by numbers (the bad guys are all swarthy, to make it even easier), and the symbolism unsubtle (the fire tribe is composed of polluters and soulless machines), none of it comes together.

M. Night Shymalan is constitutionally the wrong director for this kind of effects-laden spectacular. (The 3D effects were added in post production, like with Clash of the Titans, and don’t add much to the drama.) Aside from children in peril, there’s little of his themes present, or his superb though tired sense of tension. This is a bold-faced effort at reinventing himself, but this vehicle? It’s a Shymalan a-ding-dong. And that’s elementary.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas