Mike at the Movies

Photo | Submitted “Pavarotti” is Director Ron Howard’s latest biopic.

Photo | Submitted
“Pavarotti” is Director Ron Howard’s latest biopic.

Pavarotti (PG-13)

Director Ron Howard was able to somehow capture the sound of this miraculous talent through archive and live recordings. For it is sound that Luciano Pavarotti was known for—his was a voice like no other that, even on film, reaches into your very innards with its power and clarity.

What is surprising and most gratifying about this wonderful biopic is that the emotions of the famed tenor were so clearly reflected in his singing. Former manager and performer with Pavarotti, Madelyn Renee Monti, explains the tenor voice in the film, pointing out that, unlike a soprano or a baritone, the tenor voice is not natural and has to be “made,” carefully built for maximum effect—and this is perfectly exemplified by Pavarotti.

Pavarotti studied for some time before his debut at Covent Garden in 1961 in a favorite role in “La Bohème.” It was not too long after that in “La Fille du Régiment” by Gaetano Donizetti that the tenor sang the famous “Ah! Mes Amis” aria that includes nine high Cs and his fame was secure. He only built from there.

The film points out that, like men in other fields, Pavarotti was aided immeasurably by his early manager, in his case Herbert Breslin, at one time “the most hated man in opera.” Hated or not, Breslin conceived of the possibility of fame and fortune for his client to be made off of the opera stage; he organized the first concert tours for the singer. They proved to be  immensely popular with the public and cemented Pavarotti’s reputation as the most popular of all modern tenors.

There are several tantalizing subplots in the film: Following a London concert held eventually in pouring rain that soaked everybody, including Princess Diana and Pavarotti, the tenor and the princess formed a close friendship that resulted in the tenor becoming, like Diana, a champion of refugees and war-torn children and their parents. This eventuated in several refugee centers and foundations sprinkled around Europe that exist today.

Another close friendship was with U2 and Bono that further encouraged the singer to get involved with issues that both Bono and Princess Diana supported.

The most emotional moment in the film, and one of the lightest, is the ad-libbed “Nessun Dorma” aria from “Turandot,” performed by the three tenors—Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras—in a spectacular concert in Egypt in which the three play “can you top this?” to great acclaim.

Throughout the film, opera lyrics are a perfect accompaniment to Pavarotti’s turns of fate in his own life. That included the potential affair with Madelyn Renee and his eventual affair with and marriage to the much younger Nicoletta Mantovani. A devout Catholic, his divorce caused his second marriage to be held in a theater. The marriage produced a pregnancy of twins, only one of which, Alice, survived. Things quickly go downhill from there as you will see.

One of the wonderful things about a voice like Pavarotti’s, though not unique to him, is the capability of such voices to fill your insides with sound that actually vibrates and makes you want to stand up and shout with pleasure and amazement. There are several such moments in this film, a tribute to the skill of the sound recordists and editors for Director Ron Howard.

Pavarotti says, near the end of the film, “I could not exist if I did not trust people.” People trusted him, and his magnetic, huge smile continues to charm audiences and encourages them to trust him even in death. This is a magnificent film with sound you may not even believe as you listen.

Stuber (R)

It’s an easy criticism but the title of this film is better as “Stubid.” There are two bits that run through it: Dave Bautista as Vic, a cop, is almost legally blind. The second is that Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) is filled with domestic advice for Vic. Both bits are constantly exercised to the point of boredom, even though they provide what little humor there is in this attempt at a cop-civilian partnership.

Unfortunately for this film, the recipe has been served before and this one suffers by comparison.  Stu is an Uber driver who gets roped into a suspended Vic’s case. It is a drug case, which allows plenty of gunfire with little reloading of ammunition and a maximum of violence against Vic. At 290 pounds and as a former professional wrestler and martial arts professional, one would expect him to win every encounter. He does not, and it’s not funny.

Stu has it figured right. “You’re good for justice; I’m good for brunch,” he says. Still, everybody gets to act violently in this mistake, even the charming Natalie Morales as Nicole, Vic’s artistic daughter. Mira Sorvino, almost unrecognizable as a blond cop, and Betty Gilpin as Becca, Stu’s sort-of girlfriend, are serviceable but don’t add enough to the film to make it watchable.

There are several ineptly orchestrated fights, several badly orchestrated car chases and the director can always insert a scene in which Vic is blindly ineffective and disoriented. I certainly was disoriented along with Vic, and that’s not a good thing. This must have looked good on paper. On film, it’s a mess.

Crawl (R)

Enough to make your skin crawl, this film, made in Serbia, doesn’t care if it strains reality: It’s got scary things to do.

First, make sure your lead actress can at least seem like a good swimmer. She’s supposedly a constant second at the University of Florida, but against gators, I guess second is fine.

Unfortunately for anyone who values logic and realism in film, having her character, Hailey (Kaya Scodelario), outswim alligators with a chunk out of her leg and a serious bite on her arm, while dragging her father (Barry Pepper) while the film clearly shows no injuries and very little blood. Damn credibility anyway!  Did you know you could kill an alligator by pointing a flare down its throat as it eats your arm? Keep that in mind. You can shoot them in the throat with a pistol taken from a dead cop, too, if you’ve a mind to. And always remember, keep swimming UP! Don’t stop until you reach the attic and then the roof of your destroyed house and pray for a chopper to fly in a hurricane through rain that had stopped several moments before.

The weather is bad in Gainesville, and it makes me happy yet again that we moved to a desert town in California where it seldom rains. All we worry about are coyotes, and they don’t swim very well.

One good thing about the film: The setting and the storm make possible natural loud banging noises that have to be manufactured in most horror films in order to scare you. I could go on at length, but the fish is frying in the kitchen. See you later, alligator!


Spider-Man: Far From Home (PG-13)

What a disappointment! Spidey stayed in high school and so did the plot of this latest entry in what is clearly a franchise. As such, it can get away with more impossible things than usual and make adult audiences wonder why they even bothered.

Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is puny enough for a high school kid, but to try to shoehorn him into being a superhero like the rest of the now-defunct Avengers fails in this solo effort. Jake Gyllenhaal as the villain Quentin Beck/Mysterio is far more convincing, but his character is such a mess that we’re not sure whose side he’s on. It all depends on who has Tony Stark’s magic glasses. Taken from Robert Downey’s face, the glasses determine the number and savagery of drone attacks when Mysterio wields them, while they are more beneficent when Spidey wears them. Not content with putting glasses on Peter Parker, the costume for Spidey in much of the film is stark (no pun intended) black.

The plot is simple. Peter’s class is taking a trip to Europe, and adventure and romance follow. Romance builds between Betty (Angourie Rice) and Ned (Jacob Batalon), Happy (Jon Favreau) and Aunt May Parker (Marisa Tomei), and Spidey and MJ (Zendaya), but the romances often get in the way of blowing up Venice and Prague. Through the miracle of modern technology, both cities, upon the class’s departure, are miraculously restored to pristine condition after having been flooded and burned to smithereens by terrible monsters summoned by Mysterio.

Research must have indicated that the Spider-Man audience is overwhelmingly high school age, which explains lame lines like “I want to totally kiss you, but I just threw up a little in my mouth.” Then there is helpful advice such as this from Mysterio to Spider-Man: “You’re not a jerk for wanting a normal life, Kid.”

There is one other problem in the film: if Marisa Tomei gets any hotter, she’ll have to play MJ instead of Peter Parker’s mother. She is becoming ageless and one wishes she was in the film more. For you who love old TV shows and stars, Cobie Smulders from “How I Met Your Mother” is featured as a villain’s assistant and does a convincing job. For the rest of the small adult audience for this franchise, you’ve got nothing.

Midsommar (R)

A film that seemed edited by stopwatch—all scenes were 30 seconds or less—made you wonder, was it only 2 hours and 20 minutes in length?

Helsingor is a small town in Denmark, and they should hang banners and put out signs disavowing any connection with this snooze fest. As the home of Hamlet (Helsingor=Elsinore), they don’t need any more banners.

Florence Pugh (Dani), who was an energetic lady wrestler in “Fighting With My Family” earlier this year, is almost somnolent in this piece, but then, so is Jack Reynor as Christian. As a couple they go with a Swedish friend of theirs to Helsingor’s Midsommar celebration. Along with them go five friends who fade away as the “sommar” goes on.

At first it seems like the five friends had a good idea to escape the weird all-white-with-St. Lucia-headgear atmosphere, but it turns out that not all of them actually left. The food is good, the Swedish women as blond as advertised and all are absorbed in one or another aspects of Danish country society. The weirdness is advertised early as Director Ari Aster for some reason turns his camera upside down as the troupe goes to Helsingor. Why? Never did figure out a good or even a bad reason, but it seemed stupid at the time and remains so.

Events do pile up and, under the influence of a very powerful drugged tea, Dani enters a dance competition with the prize of selecting who will die. Meanwhile, Christian gets involved with the same drugged tea and enters a contest to see if he can get a Heslingorian pregnant in one try, aided by 12 nude women who chant. (Getting too weird for you? It gets worse.) But I’m so tired from surviving the almost two-and-a-half hours of this movie that I will leave the rest to your imagination. Not for the sleepy or the faint of heart.