At Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square:
Late last year we had Maria by Callas, a tour of the diva’s life in her own words. This year it’s another magisterial documentary biopic about an opera legend, primo tenore Luciano Pavarotti. This one, on the whole, is more cheerful.
Ron Howard directed the chronicle, starting with Pavarotti’s youth in Modena, singing in the choir with his baker father, his early success as Rodolfo in La Boheme, performing opposite Joan Sutherland, his mastery of the nine high Cs in Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment. Those of us used to Pavarotti’s iconic portly, bearded vintages may be startled by how much, as a young man, he resembled Jack Black, or, from certain angles, Nathan Lane.
Later, we’re shown Pavarotti’s “crossover” stardom, schmoozing on TV with Johnny Carson or Phil Donohue or Tony Randall, his many charity concerts, predictably sniffed at by opera purists, with rock and pop stars, notably Bono and company. We see him sing at a remote, empty opera house in the Amazon. We even see him sing for a rain-bedraggled Princess Diana in Hyde Park. Howard does, however, show some discretion; the film omits any reference to Pavarotti’s one notorious foray into movie acting, 1982’s Yes, Giorgio.
Bono is among Howard’s talking heads, as are Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras and Zubin Mehta and wives and mistresses and daughters and managers, all speaking of the singer with fondness and awe. You’re likely to come away with both feelings yourself; even non-opera-fans aren’t likely to miss the combination of staggering vocal purity and immaculate technique with sheer, unbridled joy in performing.
Cinematically, there’s nothing terribly distinctive about the film; just the usual clear, capable, well-managed Ron Howard narrative craftsmanship. No more was necessary here; the title character, simultaneously lovable and astonishing, makes the movie an extraordinary document.
At AMC Arizona Center 24:
Katie Says Goodbye
This one opens with the smiling, delicately beautiful face of Olivia Cooke as the title character, making herself up for work. Katie is a waitress at a diner in some wretched little high-country town in Arizona (though the film was actually shot in New Mexico). The sole support of her long-unemployed, depressive mother (Mireille Enos), with whom she shares a trailer, Katie also has a side gig: prostitution. She’s saving up cash, in a shoebox under her bed, to move to San Francisco, and to give her Mom enough money that she doesn’t have to feel too guilty about abandoning her.
“Stay sweet” says the most avuncular of Katie’s clients, truck driver Jim Belushi, at the end of their encounters, and she does her best to obey. She’s constantly upbeat and guileless and mindful of the feelings of others. In short, she’s another example of that perennial archetype, the “hooker with a heart of gold.” And for a little while it looks like this low-budget indie, written and directed by Wayne Roberts, is going to take a sentimental view of her prospects.
This doesn’t last. Poor Katie falls in love, pretty much at first sight, with a monosyllabic ex-con auto mechanic (Christopher Abbott) who’s new in town. When he is spitefully informed about Katie’s side business, things start to unravel for her, fast and hard, and the tiny, heartbreakingly vulnerable heroine is subjected to nearly unwatchable, yet appallingly believable, agonies.
Even so, the movie, shot several years ago and getting a very under-the-radar theatrical release, is well worth watching, for the deeply endearing performance by Cooke — a Brit, of course, doing a flawless American accent—as the all-but-saintly Katie. Roberts showcases his star excellently, giving her strong scenes opposite veterans like Enos, Belushi, Mary Steenburgen and others. Cooke gives the character such an indomitable spirit that she single-handedly lifts Katie Says Goodbye above its own miseries.