PAVAROTTI – movie review

CBS Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ron Howard
Screenwriter: Cassidy Hartmann, Mark Monroe
Cast: Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Griminelli, Nicolette Mantovani, Placido Domingo, José Carreras, Angela Gheorghiu, Carol Vaness, Vittorio Grigolo
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 6/4/19
Opens: June 7, 2019

Pavarotti Movie Poster

I had what passes for a discussion with a fellow who is fifty years younger than I am. Though a fan of movies like “Avenger” and “Terminator,” he wondered why people went to Broadway musicals. “It’s not real, I mean, people in ‘Oklahoma’ in its days as a territory did not start singing every twenty minutes. And where does the music come from? Are there orchestras wandering around the place waiting to be cued by a singing couple?” “Would you say the same about opera?” I queried. He thought for a minute and said that he heard the word “opera” spoken but had little idea of its meaning. “I countered: “In the 19th century in Italy, even coal miners went to opera. In fact the singers were the rock stars of the day, though it helped that in those days Puccini and Verdi were better known than Springsteen.”

If this sounds like fantasy, as though high-school kids can’t be that ignorant, ask twenty pupils from a typical public school to identify Luciano Pavarotti. Don’t be surprised if you get zero responses, though in the technologically primitive days of the 20th century you couldn’t miss his name, whether or not you heard him in concert or bought one of the one hundred million albums that he sold. Now Ron Howard brings forth a documentary with a boatload of archival film, the most precious being those involving snippets from favorite arias, combined with prescient interviews and sightings with folks like his manager, his producer, his two wives, and critics. “Pavarotti” fills us with momentous music including some of the singer’s high C’s (a pun for high seas), which orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta tells us could make our ears vibrate.

Luciano Pavarotti comes across through Paul Crowder’s virtuoso editing highlighting his zips and zaps of photos of the great man with and without a beard, with an expansive belly and not, singing to the point of tears as the clown in “I Pagliacci” and showing his teeth (quite often) when meeting such attention-getting people as Princess Diana—who in one scene is shown with hair completely disheveled when a large outdoor crowd at a concert closed their umbrellas during a pouring rain so better to see.

All you want to know about the facts of one of the most celebrated figures of the last century can be found in Wikipedia, which I recommend you peruse to prepare you for the rush of interviews, as the movie charges ahead at a rapid pace from concert hall to concert hall, opening up not in a large metropolis with an opera house in Modena, New York, or London but in the Brazilian Amazon where the singer is enjoying the boat ride which takes him and his entourage to a concert hall “in the middle of nowhere.”

All who know Pavarotti are aware that he was a tenor, along with potential revivals like Placido Domingo and José Carreras—both of whom have something to say and both of whom join Pavarotti in concert embracing their title as The Three Tenors. Because the film is largely hagiographic, it trips likely over his flaws, principally, of course, his relationships with women (whom he adored), but why not? After all he did raise big bucks for charities, graphically shown by his cause for the children of war-torn Bosnia—which gives director Ron Howard a single scene of bombs falling on Sarajevo. Pavarotti loves everybody and they love him back: his daughters Lorenza, Giuliania and Cristina and also his wife Adua Veroni, among millions of others. Director Howard exudes his affection for the man and is well qualified to direct this film, given his feelings for “The Beatles” (2016), the astronauts in “Apollo 13” (1995), and interviewer David Frost, enjoying a takedown of President Nixon in “Frost/Nixon” (2008).

Whether or not you care for the typical format of documentaries, namely interviews–of which you get plenty here– you can’t fail to embrace the incredible music that captures the Great Man at the top of his game.

114 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

BEL CANTO – movie reveiw


Screen Gems
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Paul Weitz
Screenwriter: Paul Weitz, Anthony Weintraub, Ann Patchett, based on a novel by Ann Patchett
Cast: Julianne Moore, Christopher Lambert, Ken Watanabe, Sebastian Koch
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/27/18
Opens: September 14, 2018

Bel Canto Movie Poster

If there’s one word to describe the plot, that word is “goofy.” Being goofy makes this a fun adventure to watch from your theater seat but it next to impossible to suspend disbelief enough to give the film a thumbs-up. “Bel Canto,” or “Beautiful Song,” was filmed in Mexico City to stand in for an unnamed South American state—possibly Peru because there’s a Japanese president or maybe Colombia because of its history of rebellions, “Bel Canto” has at least one thing going for it: that’s the exquisite soprano voice of Renée Fleming as lip-synched by Julianne Moore, whose role is that of opera star Roxanne Coss.

Paul Weitz, who directed films as varied as the TV series “Mozart in the Jungle,” about finding love and music in NY and “Little Fockers,” a comedy about a patriarch who needs to find a successor, is at the helm of this bizarre series of events. On exhibit is Stockholm Syndrome, in which a singer, like Patty Hearst in her own 1974 kidnap, identifies with a group of South American rebels holding her and a band of wealthy people hostage. By the same token, the rebels identify so much with the multi-millionaires they are holding captive, that they are risk becoming seduced by the bourgeoisie, i.e. taking a new interest in the culture and materialism of the middle and upper classes.

The rebels, led by Comandante Benjamin (Tenoch Huerta) demand the release of all political prisoners and, in that regard, wind up holding the party-goers, dressed in formal attire for a party, for a month. Meanwhile, Messner (Sebastian Koch), a Swiss citizen working with the Red Cross, serves as negotiator, zipping back and forth from the elegant home of the vice president Ruben Ochoa. Here is a sample of the goofiness: Katsumi Hosokawa (Ken Watanabe) is in the South American country to negotiate a deal to put up some buildings, accompanied by his translator, Gen (Ryo Kase). In the course of the month as rebels and millionaires share a common humanity, Gen falls in love with a female rebel while teaching her to read both Spanish and English. They get it on. For her part Roxanne Coss, twice divorced and admittedly lonely despite her vast audience of opera buffs, digs Katsumi. They get it on. The entire contingent of green-uniformed Fidelista-type Marxists play soccer with the folks whom they have threated to kill. I think the invited party guests, including French Ambassador Simon Thibault (Christopher Lambert), let the other guys win. Simon plays a mean piano to accompany Roxanne, and Roxanne teaches one of the rebels how to sing opera.

If you look up Ann Patchett’s novel on Amazon, you read critics’ comments about Bel Canto such as this one by Lloyd Moss of WQXR, “…should be on the list of every literate music lover. The story is riveting, the participants breathe and feel and are alive, and throughout this elegantly-told novel, music pours forth so splendidly that the reader hears it and is overwhelmed by its beauty.” You’ve got to wonder just how much of the best-seller comes across in the movie. The book does not appear to be at all (pardon the iteration) goofy.

102 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C+
Acting – B-
Technical – C+
Overall – C+