Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words—Filmmaker Tom Volf assembled this portrait of the iconic Greek-American opera star of the ’50s who for her devoted cult remains, forty years after her death, the definition of “diva” before that term became trivialized. Volf gives us a rough synopsis of her life in her own words—sometimes spoken by her, in interviews with the likes of David Frost and Edward R. Murrow, sometimes through her letters, to the likes of Grace Kelly and Aristotle Onassis, and other writings, read by Joyce DiDonato. While we hear all this, we see beautiful photos and footage, much of it in color, of Callas at work and play. We also hear her sing a number of arias, several of them full-length, from Verdi, Puccini, Giordano, Bizet and the Diva’s beloved Bellini (“Casta Diva” from Norma).
For her worshipers, this is obviously a must-see. Those less familiar with her may find it fascinating as well: a glimpse of a time, overlapping with the rise of, for instance, Elvis Presley, when the press would still gather at an airfield for an arrival of an opera singer. Partly, of course, this is because Callas wasn’t just any opera singer; along with her astonishing soprano, somehow simultaneously dulcet and piercing, there was her peculiar beauty and her tumultuous personal life—her difficult relationship with her mother, her long affair with Onassis (which supposedly continued into his marriage with Jacqueline Kennedy), her tendency to cancel performances, sometimes halfway through, over health issues.
Volf’s film suggests a sadness under her poised, dignified manner–again and again Callas mentions that what she really wanted in life, or thought she wanted, was a conventional happy family. Modern sensibilities may wince when she says “I think it’s the main vocation of a woman.” Of opera itself, on the other hand, she’s sensible and accurate: “Opera can be a very silly thing, but it can be the most gorgeous thing in the world.” Especially with her.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web—This movie might have been of more service released in July; it’s set in Stockholm, in gritty industrial apartments or sterile offices or dilapidated mansions, and every shot of it made me feel cold. It’s a sequel to 2011’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, adapted from another of the Swedish novels about Lisbeth Salander, the badass leather-clad, Ducati-riding young computer hacker and vigilante againstscumbags who abuse women.
Lisbeth was played by Rooney Mara in the 2011 film; this time the role’s been given to lovely, wide-eyed Claire Foy, who amusingly barks out her terse dialogue. This time Lisbeth’s struggling to retrieve a horribly ill-considered computer program that would give nearly absolute power to its possessor. She’s also trying to protect the programmer’s young son (Christopher Convery), who holds the key to the system’s use.
Nasty, often sadistic violence ensues, as our heroine runs afoul of a shadowy criminal organization known as The Spiders, hence the title. These creeps can trace their lineage, among shadowy criminal organizations, through SPECTRE and KAOS all the way back a full century to Fritz Lang’s The Spiders (Die Spinnen) in 1919. We also learn some of Lisbeth’s awful Gothic backstory, and her red-clad sister (Sylvia Hoeks) enters the story as well.
Make no mistake, despite its too-cool pose, this blend of James Bond movie and Calvin Klein perfume commercial is every bit as ridiculous and cornball as any 12-chapter cliffhanger serial, and not always as well paced. But there’s no denying the visceral pleasure every time we see Lisbeth inflict pain on another rotten male.
In wide release.
Outlaw King—Like Girl in the Spider’s Web, this historical hack-fest set in Scotland in the 1300s has a pretty chilly atmosphere as well. At its center, however, is the warmth of Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce.
The movie chronicles, in broad melodramatic strokes, the Bruce’s clash with the brutal, greedy, treacherous English, led by Edward Longshanks (Stephen Dillane) and his feckless son, the future Edward II (Billy Howle). Pine plays the Bruce as nearly a fairy-tale prince, with a sly smile and a relaxed, approachable lack of imperial attitude. It’s no wonder his young bride (Florence Pugh) in an arranged marriage soon decides she actually likes him. We’re inclined to forgive him even when he abruptly kills a rival, in a church.
Directed by David Mackenzie, this is a sort of Braveheart lite; the medieval bloodbath nicely offset by a modest, unassuming ease and likability in the central characters. I personally preferred it to Gibson’s epic, but don’t be misled when I say “lite”: Outlaw King is at least as unstintingly savage, as laden with dismemberment and disemboweling, as the earlier film. To quote Robert Burns, putting words in the Bruce’s mouth: “Welcome to your gory bed.”
Opening at iPic in Scottsdale