Scarcity creates value.
So when computer graphics were new and expensive, and therefore unusual, films crammed with eye-popping special effects and feats of physical-impossibility were just the thing to draw an audience.
Now every mangled tale of a forgotten B-list Marvel superhero of the '70s conjures up a convincing army of physics-defying orcs and droids and CGI ho-hum magic whatever. Common as dirt. Far harder to find are actual human stunts, performed by actual human stars. So they stand out, despite being a practice that traces back to silent picture days.
Or at least one stunt was enough to draw me to the cinema to see the latest "Mission Impossible" installment. Just as Tom Cruise bouncing around the top the Burg Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai forced my ass into a seat to see "Ghost Protocol" in 2011, so his heavily-publicized take-off clinging to the outside of an airplane as it takes off was lure enough to compel me to see "Rogue Nation" a couple weeks back.
Boy-howdy. The short review is, it's everything it's supposed to be. A superb thriller, packed with the sort of stuff that a movie like that is supposed to be packed with. And the airplane stunt, at the beginning of the movie, was truly memorable. I don't know if Cruise does his own stunts because he's crazy, or to show off the physical prowess of the Scientology lifestyle, or with the exact cynical intention of drumming his movies.
But it works.
I even, at one point during the film, said to myself: "Okay Tom, so be a Scientologist then." Not that it isn't still a scary, vindictive cult. But really, what faith isn't?
The movie is not without flaw: a few BMW product placements too many, intrusions that stop the plot as surely as if John Cameron Swazye stepped from behind a pillar and attached a Timex watch to the frame of Cruise's motorcycle to illustrate its durability. And the hero-is-about-to-be-tortured-but-gets-away trope has to be proclaimed officially dead and buried after "Rogue Nation." No mas.
|Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson at the Vienna Opera.|
Sure, the segment is another cliche, an attempt on the life of the Austrian prime minister by a team of bad guy assassins, interspersed with satisfying snatches of "Turandot." Though the set piece is forgivable because it contains the immortal line, "You want drama, go to the opera."
Exactly. And its very derisiveness made me think of the many, many great opera movies that are not only fun to watch, but help introduce newcomers to the art form. This being a humble blog, I will limit myself to my favorite six opera movies, though feel free to add your own (though not "Pretty Woman," which I didn't forget, but am excluding, because it's a romantic comedy about a streetwalker who looks like Julia Roberts, and whose prostitution leads to wealth and happiness, which is like writing a musical about a heroin addict who looks like Taylor Swift and who, thanks to her addiction, finds love and fulfillment).
I'm also leaving out the Bugs Bunny shorts that introduced most of us to opera, since they aren't technically "movies," and probably deserve a post of their own someday.
So, with no further throat-clearing, my list of Great Opera Movies, in order of their greatness..
2. Moonstruck. I would have put this first—it's one of my favorite movies—but didn't want people to smirk. Norman Jewison's wonderful 1987 family comedy stars Cher, of all people, who is surprisingly capable, despite what you think of her. She is the aging accountant,
|Cher and Nicholas Cage at the Met|
4. The Untouchables. Kevin Costner in a historically-iffy but satisfying portrayal of Elliot Ness and his battle against Al Capone in Jazz Age Chicago. Sean Connery is the street smart
|Robert De Niro at the opera|
5. A Night at the Opera. The only way Margaret Dumont could be any stuffier was to make her a wealthy dowager interested in investing in the New York Opera Company. What opera goer hasn't, at one point or another, wished the Marx Brothers would burst in an bring some interest to a production? Here they switch the sheet music to "Il Trovatore" for "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and in general make a hash of the production (including a chase in the rafters that isn't anything like the one in "Rogue Nation." This 1935 classic—No. 12 on the American Film Institute's list of all-time funniest movies— did much to kidnap "Pagliacci" and hold it for ransom in popular culture, with Groucho adding his own lyrics. "Ridi, pagliacci, I love you very much-ee."
|Fabio Armilato can only sing when wet.|
Anyway, those are mine. Did I miss any?
(Yes, I have. Readers on Facebook have been suggesting their own favorites, and one mentioned the heartbreaking scene in 7. "Philadelphia" Jonathan Demme's ground-breaking 1993 movie about a lawyer with AIDS, where a dying Tom Hanks, who won the Academy Award for his role, tries to explain "La mamma morta" from "Andrea Chenier"—sung by Maria Callas, no less—to Denzel Washington. "The place that cradled me is burning..." Notice the moment when Washington glances at his watch. That's what we're up against. Just love that scene. I can't believe I forgot it).