Good Girl/Bad Girl

Maude Maggart at the Algonquin Hotel on Saturday, January 27.

One of the many things that annoy me about American Idol (which I watch occasionally out of morbid curiosity) is the way the judges throw around the word cabaret like an insult. I understand that they’re looking for a pop star, not a chanteuse, but to dismiss an entire genre, a great tradition of American music, with such carelessness strikes me as unseemly.

I think part of the problem is the implicit assumption that cabaret is monotonous—invariably a low-voiced, cigarette smoker drearily husking her way through songs of the 1930s and ’40s—and that’s grossly unfair. Thirty-one-year-old Maude Maggart puts the lie to it immediately with her deliciously versatile voice. A skilled interpreter, she expressively modulates from rich and sultry to breezy and girlish or brassy and bold or warm and full to match the mood of each song she sings. The effect is hypnotic. On Saturday night my brother and I hung on her every note.


Regular readers (hi, Mom!) will notice the unusually long absence between entries.

Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7

The New York Philharmonic on Thursday, January 11.

Is there a rule that since the legendary Jacqueline du Pré made Elgar’s Cello Concerto her signature piece, the work now belongs solely to young, photogenic female cellists? That was my first thought when twenty-four-year-old Alisa Weilerstein walked onstage Thursday night, but I’m being flip, of course, and dreadfully unfair. Weilerstein delivered a ravishing performance of the concerto with the New York Philharmonic, and perhaps the work lends itself to younger soloists. Although Edward Elgar composed it quite late in his career, the cello concerto’s passionate intensity can feel quite youthful.

Children of Men

In theaters.

My brother and I—along with a variable assortment of family members—usually go to the movies on Christmas night, but this year we stayed home. None of the new releases really inspired me. I didn’t feel like a Motown musical, and the post-apocalyptic Children of Men looked too grim for the holiday.

I finally made it to Children of Men this past weekend and soon realized I was wrong about it not being a good Christmas movie. It’s definitely grim, but it’s grim in a way that’s perfectly appropriate for Christmas. As bleak and frightening as director Alfonso Cuar√≥n’s latest film is, it scratches out a bleary, hard-fought sense of hope. Beautifully acted, beautifully crafted, and beautifully told, it’s my favorite movie of 2006. That’s why it’s taken me so damn long to write about it.

Sleeping Beauty

The New York City Ballet on Thursday, January 4.

Could there be a more passive heroine than Princess Aurora, better known as Sleeping Beauty? She literally sleeps through most of the story, either as an infant or as the victim of a curse. That’s not her fault, of course, but neither does it make her a particularly compelling character.

The classic Tchaikovsky ballet, as choreographed by Peter Martins, drawing from the iconic work of Marius Pepita, remedies that by highlighting the Lilac Fairy as the story’s true heroine, even if she doesn’t get titular status. After evil Carabosse curses baby Aurora, the Lilac Fairy bravely counters the spell, downgrading spindle-induced death into a hundred-year slumber. When her spell takes effect, the good fairy safeguards the princess and her family by conjuring protective brambles around the castle. Then she finds a suitable prince, enchants him with a vision of the sleeping beauty, leads him to the castle, and helps cut away the thorny hedges. No wonder she takes center stage in the final tableau: the happy ending is entirely her doing.

Curse of the Golden Flower

In theaters.

Curse of the Golden Flower ends with rivers of blood—blood from the wounds of the few characters who have survived and the life’s blood of the many more who have died, not to mention all the blood and brains and bile from the countless extras whose mutilated corpses litter the scene. The movie ends, in other words, like one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. That kind of grisly, epic grandeur is clearly Zhang’s goal, and he succeeds insofar as the comparison to Shakespeare is inevitable, if not particularly flattering: At best, Curse is a Titus Andronicus. It doesn’t even approach Hamlet.

Meet Luna and Tess

Sean and I celebrated the new year by visiting a local animal shelter and adopting two kittens, sisters whom we named Luna and Tess.

Pan’s Labyrinth

In theaters.

The theater screened previews for several dreadful-looking horror movies before showing Pan’s Labyrinth, and that puzzled me at first. I rarely see previews for this kind of dreck—they just don’t appear before the films I usually attend—so why were they playing now? Then I remembered that Pan’s Labyrinth is, technically, a horror movie itself. The villain, a viciously sadistic captain under General√≠simo Franco, gleefully tortures resistance fighters he captures, and numerous freakish, mythical creatures make appearances as well. It is a horror movie, but to put it in the same category as a banal monster-attack flick or soulless torture-porn seems terribly unjust.

Writer-director Guillermo del Toro takes the familiar tropes and grotesqueries of horror and uses them to tell a fairy tale. Such a meld might have been perverse, but del Toro’s sensitive treatment of his young protagonist elevates both genres. Pan’s Labyrinth is horrifying but beautiful, a heartbreaking tale of an innocent struggling against a very dark world.