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Merola artists shine in marriage-themed triple bill

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 19:12:37 UT

Even if you’re just after good value for your operatic dollar, the excellent new production by the Merola Opera Program is hard to beat: not one, not two, but three one-act works, all available for the price of a single ticket. In “La Serva Padrona,” Pergolesi’s 1733 comedy about social mobility and female resourcefulness, a maid exerts her formidable will to get the master to marry her. There’s some potent emotional chicanery involved in her successful ploy to rescue Satyavan (no spoilers here), but in truth the contest is won by Savitri’s vocal exertions, with their combination of intimate specificity and Wagnerian sweep. In the title role, soprano Kelsea Webb gave a gorgeous performance, marked by magnificent urgency and tenderness, and she was well matched by bass-baritone David Weigel — bold and imposing in the oracular phrases Holst wrote for Death — and the sweet-toned tenor Addison Marlor in the too-small role of Satyavan. Kazaras brought the point home tellingly by casting Satyavan as a soldier in the trenches, Savitri as an anxious wife back home in England, and Death as a grisly figure from the Front, clad in army uniform and gas mask. Noyola returned at evening’s end to play a servant in “The Bear,” but the relevant action there is between a headstrong Russian widow and the ferocious neighboring landowner who arrives to collect on a debt and ends up falling in love. Walton’s score is a manic, ingratiating hybrid of strains from Italian opera, Gilbert and Sullivan and some delicately insinuated modernism, all meant to tell a yarn that would collapse like a souffle without the necessary ironic energy.

Marvel's 'Black Panther' director recalls discovering the superhero as a child in Oakland

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 18:49:05 UT

"Black Panther" and "Fruitvale Station" director Ryan Coogler has been vocal about his life growing up in Oakland.

Casey Affleck takes on haunting role in ‘A Ghost Story’

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 17:23:50 UT

Casey Affleck takes on haunting role in ‘A Ghost Story’ LOS ANGELES — Casey Affleck plays the ghost in the new David Lowery film, “A Ghost Story.” For most of the movie, which expanded wide Friday, he’s silent and cloaked in a white sheet with eye holes cut out as he returns to his home to look in on his still-living partner, played by Rooney Mara. Affleck, coming off of a best actor Oscar win for “Manchester by the Sea” and an awards season marred by intense public scrutiny around a past civil sexual harassment lawsuit, is dipping his toes back in the spotlight to promote the film. The ghost costume you have to wear is incredible. People have really latched on to that long take of Rooney eating the pie. Who is making the pie? Rooney had strangely never eaten a pie, which is the weirdest thing. A good movie tends to bring out all of these ideas from other things that you read and this movie does that in a way that’s really accessible. The year was coupled with both a professional high in your best actor win and intense public scrutiny of you personally. Do you have any reflections on that experience? Winning an Oscar was such a high it was an out-of-body experience. The challenges of being spoken about personally in the media were very sobering, and they really hurt, especially my family, which is what I really cared about. [...] it was confusing because it was all so at odds with my core values. The more kindness and compassion we can find for all people, the better all our lives will be. [...] I couldn’t and can’t talk about it as it related to me because everyone involved signed something saying we wouldn’t talk about it and that it has been settled to the mutual satisfaction of all parties. Ultimately, I am really glad that there’s a heightened cultural awareness around those issues.

Dear Abby: Wife with sketchy memory depends on husband for help

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 07:01:00 UT

Wife with sketchy memory depends on husband for help When my wife was 17 (she’s now 54), she was in a car accident. [...] when I tell her that, she claims I am not being “supportive.” [...] because she suffered a traumatic brain injury, she may be unable to be as organized as you are and need your help. Dear Abby: Because our country’s marriage laws recently changed, my partner and I have decided, after 16 years together, to be married. If something unfortunate were to happen to one of us a few years down the road, what’s the proper way to acknowledge our marriage in an obituary? Technically, we could say, “He is survived by his husband of two years,” but that would discount the 16 years we were together and would have been married had the laws permitted it. If you are, you could be notified of events through group email, group chat or group texting.

Horoscope for Friday, 7/21/17 by Christopher Renstrom

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 05:01:00 UT

ARIES. (March 20 - April 18): You're surprised to discover that someone you'd given up on never really gave up on you. It may be a low flame but what was put on the back burner will soon come to a boil

‘Dadland,’ by Keggie Carew

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 22:34:31 UT

Tom Carew, known with affection as “the mad Irishman,” was a British special operations officer during World War II. Specifically, he was a Jedburgh, one of 300 officers dropped behind enemy lines to train guerrilla fighters. To understand his military history required archival deep-diving, while plumbing the (relatively) peaceful years involved sifting through diaries and letters, sorting out generations of mismatched marriages (temperament, class), and engaging in capacious acts of empathy and imagination. At one point, her father survived by clinging to a rafter of a hut; had the Japanese soldier searching for him looked up instead of helping himself to the rice in a pot, Tom Carew would have been killed and any possibility of Keggie and her siblings extinguished: “The fine splinter of time between existing and not existing.” Postwar, the mad Irishman wrestled with debt and burned through marriages — first to the mysterious Margo; then to Keggie’s mother, Jane, who worked in codes and ciphers during the war, and whose rage became clinically toxic. Incapable of solving a problem in a conventional manner, Tom Carew drilled a hole through the floor of his car, enabling him to pee through a siphon — onto the road, he thought — until the ferocious stench required investigation. Keggie, flaunting convention herself, took off for Barcelona at seventeen, then knocked around the U.S. and off the grid into South America, until her frantic father used embassy connections to help find her. At the last of these, one elderly fellow died during cocktail hour; later, her father slipped meat still dripping gravy into his pocket to take to his dogs. “With morbid secrecy I study your old hand with my younger eye, knowing that soon it will be a lifeless one; it rests on the kitchen table, then fiddles with your penknife; your knuckles and finger joints are a collection of small boulders now, almost bursting through the tissue of thin, speckled skin,” she writes.

‘Pages for Her,’ by Sylvia Brownrigg

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 22:34:17 UT

Relieved, intrigued, we think: I’m in — like falling happily into step alongside someone we’ve just met, because their conversation feels provocative and promising. “Pages for Her” is a sequel — 20 years on, in its characters’ lives — to “Pages for You” (2001), which made a significant splash as a kind of erotic bildungsroman, tracking then-18-year-old Flannery’s sexual (and intellectual) awakening in an intense affair with her then-teaching assistant, the sharply beautiful, imperious Anne Arden. Readers will be glad to know that it’s not strictly necessary to read “Pages for You” first, since Brownrigg has efficiently built that novel’s essence into this sequel. [...] reading “You” after “Her” (which I did) provides a fascinating treat, allowing us to travel back in time and eavesdrop on its characters’ younger selves. Flannery, now about 38, lives in a luscious-sounding, renovated house in the Upper Haight with her adorable, preschool-age daughter Willa, and her ebullient, abrasive husband Charles, an iconoclastic and much-sought installation artist. Like some of literature’s most delicious stories, “Pages for Her” commences with the arrival of a letter: an invitation from her old university to take part in a writers’ conference. Flannery’s prior impassioned, doomed affair with Anne, followed by gypsying with a new girlfriend (on which Flannery has based a successful novel); then, latterly, being drawn into the insatiable vortex of Charles. Flannery mulls the sequence: Bisexuality ... a simple, ubiquitous, under-spoken truth about the human heart — always sounded like a science project, and not the prize-winning kind. “Pages for Her” is filled with such rich considerations — of meaning, direction, comparative ways of being — in restless, sensuous prose. Brownrigg has set herself a stiff challenge, which is to fully inhabit the minds, hearts and voices of two seasoned, gifted, but utterly distinct women: one a self-questioning novelist, the other an admired, authoritative-yet-vulnerable, semi-dislocated academic.

‘Tell Me How This Ends Well,’ by David Samuel Levinson

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 22:34:11 UT

[...] some recent American Jewish fiction imagines a dire fate for the Jewish state itself. Using the rampant bigotry as ambience for a dark and deadly comedy of bad manners, Levinson focuses on the Jacobsons, a Jewish family that is unhappy in its own miserable way. The patriarch, 70-year-old Julian Jacobson, is an abusive, self-centered bully to his long-suffering wife, Roz, and their three children. Mo, 42, a frustrated movie actor, cuckolded husband of a woman named Pandora, and doting father of a set of twins and a set of triplets, is the eldest. Roz is suffering from a rare, fatal lung disease that requires her to be hooked up to an oxygen tank. The climax of the reunion will be a seder, which, to revive his moribund Hollywood career, Mo has arranged to be broadcast live as reality TV. Mo’s swimming pool is empty because, parched from a prolonged drought, California imposes thousands of dollars in penalties to discourage frivolous use of water. [...] no responsible reviewer would reveal how Levinson’s novel ends, only that it is fortified with surprises and, for all its slapstick props, including a dead peacock floating in a swimming pool and a Heimlich maneuver performed during a nationally televised seder, is unexpectedly affecting. For all the narrative pranks and pratfalls, the book is a moving account of the rich complexities of maternal love and the bewildering ecstasies of sibling rivalry.

‘Do Not Become Alarmed,’ by Maile Meloy

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 22:32:39 UT

Over the past 15 years, the author has established her reputation as a deft storyteller with her impressive prose, economical delivery and skillful ventriloquism, convincingly inhabiting the perspectives of a wide array of characters. “Do Not Become Alarmed” opens with two cousins — film producer Liv and full-time mom Nora, who are traveling with their respective families on a luxury vacation: The cruise ship towered over the dock in San Pedro like an enormous white layer cake, or a floating apartment building. Initially, the opening scenes veer toward comedic commentary on the professional floating hospitality industry — similar to the ironic spirit of David Foster Wallace’s famous essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” — but quickly Meloy’s fictional narrative takes a sharp turn into an entirely different terrain. Predictably, in a way, one misadventure buckles into another, after a collision causes a flat tire and the families end up on a deserted beach while awaiting their return ride to the ship. The tranquil spot appears idyllic enough as the kids race into the water and the guide, Pedro, furnishes frozen rum drinks. Told in rotating third-person perspectives, Meloy moves among her ever-expanding cast of characters (20 in all) of different ages, classes and races, rarely missing a narrative beat. There are flirtations and betrayals, rare birds and crocodiles, drug dealers and addicts, kidnappers and murderers, and even train hopping. His heart rate jumped once, when a skunk scurried past the lemon tree near the front door. [...] the author leaves the reader with many questions about contemporary parenting:

‘Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge’ lacks vital elements

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 21:20:43 UT

A movie directed by a woman (Marie Noelle) about the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only one to win it twice would seem to be a slam dunk. The film spans the years from her Nobel Prize in physics — shared in 1903 with husband Pierre Curie (Charles Berling) and colleague Henri Becquerel — to her Nobel Prize in chemistry, awarded solely to Marie (Karolina Gruszka) in 1911. Both were related to her life’s work with radium, which led to future work in atomic energy and groundbreaking treatments for cancer, ushering physics and chemistry into the 20th century. Noelle focuses on the Polish-born Marie’s efforts to rebuild her life and career after the 1906 death of Pierre at age 46 in a street accident. [...] her career is threatened when her affair with a colleague and former student of Pierre’s, the married Paul Langevin (Arieh Worthalter), becomes a public scandal. “Marie Curie” gets the look right — the costumes, the re-creation of early 20th century Parisian streets and classrooms. [...] there is no chemistry, pun intended, between Marie and Paul, who conduct one of the most boring affairs ever put on film. Garson was Oscar-nominated for Mervyn LeRoy’s 1943 MGM film “Madame Curie,” a film that despite the usual Hollywoodization of the Curie story at least made a good stab at representing her science and passion for her work. Little Irene, played at age 15 by Rose Montron, is rarely in the film, without a memorable scene.

Check into ‘Room 104’ and find your world upended

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 20:41:05 UT

Premiering on HBO on Friday, July 28, “Room 104” comprises a series of stand-alone vignettes, all set in the same motel room but with different characters. HBO made six episodes available to critics, but in no particular order or sequence. “Ralphie,” the series premiere, is about a babysitter (Melonie Diaz) attending to a cloyingly sweet boy named Ralph (Ethan Kent) while his dad goes out on a date. A third episode, “The Internet,” is about a young Pakistani American (Karan Soni) who finally lands a meeting with a publisher willing to look at the manuscript of his novel, discovers he has left his computer at his mother’s (Pooma Jagannathan) and tries to instruct her by phone on how to use a computer so she can email him the manuscript. [...] the entire series is laced with irony-based humor, but don’t anticipate any belly laughs. A trademark of the Duplass brothers is their understanding of how emotional inertia, and even bathos, can be nudged and tweaked to become sources of oblique and often unsettling humor. In “The Internet,” we are certain the young man will never be able to get through to his mother, but he is so hopeful and she is so jolly, we catch the glimmer of a happy ending in the corner of our eye. David Wiegand is an assistant managing editor and the TV critic of The San Francisco Chronicle.

Not a victory, but a triumph in ‘Dunkirk’

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 20:18:05 UT

The battle of Dunkirk was not a victory but a successful evacuation, and Nolan doesn’t try to give it the contours of a conventional tale of triumph. When France fell to Hitler in 1940, it left 400,000 Allied soldiers, most of them British — basically the entire British Army — stranded on the beach, needing transport across the English Channel. To convey a sense of that day, Nolan stays focused on a handful of soldiers, sailors, RAF pilots and civilian volunteers, all struggling to do their part and go home. If we know the history, we know that almost 340,000 were successfully evacuated and lived to fight another day — and for years thereafter — and that Hitler missed his best and only chance to win World War II in a single blow. “Dunkirk” begins, as great films often will, with a scene of wonder and awe that lets us know, virtually from the first frame, that the filmmaker has his teeth into something big. [...] a soldier picks one up and we see that it’s leaflet that has been dropped from an enemy airplane, telling the Allies that they’re surrounded, that it’s hopeless, and that they should surrender. Rather, it depicts a hiatus from personality, an ordeal in which life, under assault, is reduced to the basics. Rather, he enlists us in the war ourselves, so that we jump out of our skins when snipers shoot holes in a boat that we feel that we’re on. [...] we react in terror when the ocean blazes with an oil fire, as men, underwater, hold their breath and try to find a safe spot to resurface.

Star turn by newcomer Florence Pugh in ‘Lady Macbeth’ film adaptation

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 20:15:20 UT

Star turn by newcomer Florence Pugh in ‘Lady Macbeth’ film adaptation “Lady Macbeth” has a lot to recommend it, but if it’s going to be remembered for one thing, it will be for launching the film career of its star, Florence Pugh. Barely 20 years old at the time of filming, Pugh has a surface poise and an inner turbulence, a capacity to command the screen with the spectacle of her watching and thinking. A theater director making his feature film debut, Oldroyd is methodical and dispassionate. It could be a kind of monster movie, with Katherine as a moral disease turned loose on the English countryside. The beauty of “Lady Macbeth” — a function both of Birch’s well-observed script and of Oldroyd’s dispassionate direction — is that it allows for elements of both interpretations. There is no special pleading, no attempt to make us understand, just cold facts and honest emotion. [...] Katherine’s emotions are close to what ours would be under the same conditions. Every desperate thing she does follows from the previous desperate action, and though she doesn’t ask for sympathy, she emerges as strangely sympathetic, with her gaze suggesting a modern consciousness stuck in a 19th century world.

A radical filmmaker’s surreal autobiography

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 20:12:51 UT

In his early 1970s heyday, Chilean-French director, poet, actor and comics writer Alejandro Jodorowsky was the definition of a cult filmmaker. After an ambitious attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s “Dune” for the screen (the subject of a pretty good 2013 documentary, “Jodorowsky’s Dune”), he made a few more features but faded from the cinema scene. Jodorowsky clearly enjoyed making this portrait of the artist as a young poet. To play himself as a young adult, the filmmaker has cast none other than his son Adan; portraying the director’s proto-fascist father is his other son, Brontis. [...] notable among the performers is Pamela Flores, who plays both his mother (who, alone among the cast, sings her dialogue) and a radical feminist poet. There are moments that feel liberating and exhilarating — the filmmaker deeply believes in artists as rebels, and has retained at least part of his ability to keep the audience off balance. Black-clad figures move around props and two-dimensional images in what at one time would have seemed a daring way to abolish the fourth wall.

Otherworldly visuals rule in overstuffed ‘Valerian’

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 20:11:20 UT

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a movie for science fiction fans who wish every minute of “Star Wars” was the cantina scene. Veteran action director-producer Luc Besson time-warps to his “The Fifth Element” days, creating a world filled with graceful aliens, slobbering beasts and biological creations that almost defy description. Imagine if a gummy bear had marital relations with a lava lamp — and the resulting child had the voice of Rihanna. The production and character design are off the charts, adequately masking structure and pacing deficiencies. The sense of irreverence and weapons-grade trippiness recalls the 1997 space opera “The Fifth Element,” another Besson-directed film that used visual ambition to hide its biggest faults. After a gentle planet of beach-dwellers face an apocalyptic end, a peaceful and technologically advanced space station confronts a similar threat. Jazz legend Herbie Hancock stars as an outer space defense minister. [...] both movies try equally hard, and are dedicated to bold visions that are refreshing in a Hollywood climate where superhero movies are safely planned in phases.