In repertory at Film Forum through April 27. Also on DVD.
I always felt sorry for Abimelech, the king in the book of Genesis who takes Abraham’s wife, Sarah, into his harem. He doesn’t realize he’s doing anything wrong because Abraham and Sarah both insist they are brother and sister before Abimelech even shows any interest in her. But God still curses him, making all the women in his household barren until the poor guy realizes he’s been fooled.
Judging from Days of Heaven, I think writer-director Terrence Malick might share my sympathy for Abimelech. The beautiful film, released in 1978, echoes that biblical story in its tale of two Depression-era laborers and the owner of a farm where they find work during the harvest. Days of Heaven easily could have been a heavy handed metaphor of class war — I admit I expected something like that: the bourgeois screwing the proletariat literally and figuratively — but Malick’s work, as I should have realized, is far more nuanced than that.
Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO. Six episodes into the first season.
People who worried that HBO’s twisted new family drama, Big Love, would create support for the legalization of plural marriage probably needn’t have bothered. Although the show is sympathetic to the polygamous Hendricksons, it certainly doesn’t make their family structure — one husband, three wives and seven children — look desirable. None of the children see enough of their father, who is spread thin between three households. The patriarch of the family, Bill Hendrickson, is constantly overwhelmed by the needs, both emotional and financial, of his large, segmented family. The sister-wives, unable to completely suppress their natural jealousy, feel neglected and isolated and develop awful passive-aggressive tendencies. But what makes a family dysfunctional and unstable makes a television show dramatic and entertaining. If polygamy created a healthy, secure family unit, Big Love wouldn’t be nearly so intriguing.
The Metropolitan Opera on Saturday, April 15.
Le Nozze di Figaro is a soap opera, packed with disguises, infidelities, eavesdropping, improbable revelations and convoluted schemes. Figaro, Susanna, Cherubino, the Count and most of the other characters are content to live in a world of farce, but the Countess transcends the buffoonery of her peers. One of Figaro’s greatest strengths is the tension between the silliness of the story and the reality of Countess’ undeniable pain over her husband’s unfaithfulness. Mozart had the sensitivity to give the Countess dignity, and that choice elevates the entire opera.
Few styles are more distinctive than that of film noir. The disillusioned gumshoes, seductive femme fatales, dark alleyways and darker motives are instantly recognizable, particularly when shot in shadow at odd angles. At first, the idea of transposing film noir from the city underworld to the suburban high school seems little more than a clever conceit, a gimmick, but writer-director Rian Johnson makes it work in Brick.
Watching The Third Man for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of déjà vu. Anyone who has ever read anything about film noir is going to recognize Orson Welles’ first dramatic appearance, the scene of the Ferris wheel, the chase sequence through the sewers, the line about the cuckoo clock, and the beautifully odd zither score. Often, that kind of familiarity makes actually watching the film in question anticlimactic, but that wasn’t the case for me with The Third Man.
The Kronos Quartet and Wu Man, pipa, at Carnegie Hall on Friday, April 7.
I had never heard of the pipa before I attended this concert given by the Kronos Quartet and pipa player Wu Man, but I immediately recognized the sound of the lute-like instrument from countless Asian-themed movies. Part of the joy of the concert, however, was hearing Wu Man play the instrument as part of nontraditional compositions, music that doesn’t immediately bring to mind a watercolor image of a delicate woman in a silk cheongsam.
Inside Man opens with a long shot of an old-fashioned roller coaster. The roller coaster, of course, is a familiar metaphor for the thriller, so the shot (accompanied, oddly, by a jaunty Bollywood number) reads like a promise of high-tension and a truly spectacular climax.
The movie certainly has its share of twists, but it never builds enough energy or momentum to be a roller coaster. The pleasure of Inside Man is the details, the quirks that make it a Spike Lee joint rather than a generic heist pic.