Film Review: PAVAROTTI (USA 2019) ***1/2

Pavarotti Poster

A look at the life and work of opera legend Luciano Pavarotti.


Ron Howard


Cassidy Hartmann (consulting writer), Mark Monroe

PAVAROTTI is one famous opera tenor that everyone has heard of – even though he has passed away in 2007 from pancreatic cancer.  PAVAROTTI is arguably one of the most famous tenors ever lived.  PAVAROTTI is director Ron Howard’s doc and from the tone of the film, his tribute to the great singer.

Ron Howard’s PAVAROTTI is a riveting documentary that lifts the curtain on Luciano Pavarotti, the icon who brought opera to the people.  At the film’s start, the audience sees the man travelling to the Amazon in South America to bring opera to an obscure part of he world.  Pavarotti is credited with introducing an “elite art form to the masses.”  (The film is from the same team behind the acclaimed The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years.)

  Documentaries about famous celebrities follow the same outline.  There is a story of the celebrity’s background, where he came from, his influences how he became famous and the good he or she has done for mankind.  As with every person in life, there would be a downfall, usually the larger the celebrity, the larger the downward spiral.  Then there is the redemption or climb back to normalcy.  Howard’s PAVAROTTI follows the same pattern.

Director Howard question at the film’s start Pavarotti’s gift.  Is it a purpose or a burden?  The film sets out to reveal the answer.

The film thus traces Pavarotti’s earliest beginnings to the very last days of his life,
the film following the renowned tenor over the course of his prolific career.  It features history-making performances, intimate interviews, never-before seen footage and previously
unknown details about one of the beloved entertainers of all time.

The film’s highlight are, expectedly Pavarotti’s performances especially the concerts.  He organized the 3 tenors (himself together with Plácido Domingo and José Carreras)..  The concerts with the three opera singers singing their best make the film’s best segment.  Other highlights include the concert in the rain in the United Kingdom attended by the then still living Princess Diana.  The weather did not cooperate with the concert organizers.  So it was announced during the open air performance for the audience to close their umbrellas despite the rain so that the view of the stage will not be blocked.  Everyone ended up having a great time despite getting wet.  The shot of Pavarotti together with Princess Diana is unforgettable.

Pavarotti’s rendering of Puccini’s famous song in “La Turandot’ marks the best of all the singer’s performances.  Watch the film  in proper theatrical sound as in cutting-edge Dolby Atmos sound (that was used in the press screening attended).

As for the celebrity’s downfall, director Howard  concentrates on the man’s weakness for women.  While being married, he flirted around, finally finding his true love with Nicoletta Mantovani and having a daughter before being diagnosed with cancer.  Howard concentrates more on the singer’s good deeds, like helping the poor especially the children, particularly organizing benefit concerts with other famous people, including rock starts to help the poor and unfortunate.

PAVAROTTI ends up superlative entertainment even for non-opera fans.  It ends up too study of a man with talent and how this man or for that matter, any person with a gift can and should use it to help mankind.


Film Review: BLACKKKLANSMEN (USA 2018) ****

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BlacKkKlansman Poster

Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, successfully managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and became the head of the local chapter.


Spike Lee


BLACKKKLANSMEN opens with a shot similar to the famous one seen in the poster of one of Spike Lee’s best films DO THE RIGHT THING.  The shot is focused on the centre of the image but the characters stand around in the perimeter.  Both that film and his new Cannes premiere hit BLACKKKLANSMEN tackle the problem of racism with savage brutality.  Though this film contains more content, Lee tones down his anger a little compared to the more energetic DO THE RIGHT THING. 

The film is based on the autobiographical book Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth. Set in 1970s Colorado, the plot follows an African-American detective Stallworrth (former footballer John David Washington and son of Denzel) who sets out to infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan.

The film arrives after lots of hype after the Cannes premiere where many critics have hailed the film as one of the Top 10 films screened there.  The truth is that the film is that good though not without flaws.  It competed for the Palme d’Or and won the Grand Prix at Cannes.

Not since Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER’s climatic scene where he intercut the talking of peace with the different crime bosses to the execution of the bosses has irony been so vividly captured on screen.  Lee intercuts the two rallies of the rise of black power to that of white power in one of the film’s key segments.  Best still is the irony on display when Jewish cop Adam Driver denounces his Jewish heritage as Lee’s camera is placed in the position to emphasize Driver’s semitic nose.

Lee is fond of filming his segments with the camera slanted with a resulting slanted frame, used by many directors to emphasize a distortion of the events occurring on screen.  Lee uses the tactic several times, particularly during the black rallies.

Though basically a period piece, Lee ties in current events to the story.  There is a shot of Trump’s speech about very bad people in demonstrations s well as newsreel footage of violent police and crowd clashes during demonstrations in the August of 2017.  Trump’s favourite line of making America great again is echoed in the film’s dialogue during of of the Ku Klax Klan leader’s speeches.   Lee obtained permission to include the image in his film of Heather Heyer who called killed by the car ploughing into the crowd during a white supremacy rally.

Lee’s film not only incites anger among African Americans but also among Jews and gays.  It is as if Lee is recruiting allies agains redneck whites in the movie.

It is always a pleasure to watch Adam Driver in a film.  Driver (PATERSON) delivers an astonishing and powerful performance without having to resort of cheap theatrics, written dialogue or bouts of put-on anger.  His mannerisms and body language tell all.  Alec Baldwin is also memorable and hilarious as a bigoted doctor speaking on white supremacy.  But all the white racists are treated as silly, stupid and ignorant country bumpkins, easy target for Stallworth and the good cops.  It would be a more challenging task to have them made a more formidable foe.

The film contains lots of film references like the opening scene with the famous GONE WITH THE WIND  street scene where wounded soldiers lay scattered to the blackpoitation films like SUPER FLY, COFFY, CLEOPATRA JONES and SHAFT.  Included for laughs is a debate on who is better, Ron O’Neal or Richard Roundtree?  The racist D.W. Griffith’s classic, BIRTH OF A NATION is also given special treatment – Spike Lee style.

BLACKKKLANSMAN is quite good but could have been more effective if Lee put more anger and opted less for comedy in the film.



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Movie Review: CHI-RAQ. Directed by Spike Lee

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chi-raqCHI-RAQ (USA 2015) ***
Directed by Spike Lee

Starring: Nick Cannan, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett

Review by Gibert Seah

CHI-RAQ, the film’s title is made up of the first and last syllables of the cities of Chicago and Iraq respectively and used s the title for the reason that more people have been killed in Chicago than the Americans in the Iraq war with the result of south side Chicago (the film’s setting) being declared a war zone.

The film, a mix of satire and musical contains lots of song and dance numbers with a very strong message. The message is to save the babies and do away with guns. The film begins with the death of a little girl from a stray bullet. The black women of Chicago have had enough. The women of the two gangs, Spartan and Trojan (their meeting is plain hilarious) decide to withhold sex to prevent their husbands from fighting. The local priest, Father Mike Corridan (John Cusack) steps up to help the fight.

One has to be able to bare Lee’s preachiness. And Lee can be the most preachy at his most preachiness. This is illustrated in a segment in which the priest preaches his preachy sermon to a congregation, in which part of his sermon is repeated so that nothing can be left out.

If the film’s dialogue sounds Shakespearean, it should be noted that the script, written by Lee and Kevin Willmott is based on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, the classical Greed comedy play in which women withhold sex as a weapon to prevent their husbands from going to war. The film is framed with a spritely delivered narrative by no less than Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson has never been in a film in which he has not uttered he m***f**er word, and this film is no exception.

An impressive cast includes old Lee collaborators like Jackson, Angela Bassett, Wesley Snipes (as Cyclops) and new ones like Jennifer Hudson, Teyonah Parris and Nick Cannon playing the lead role.

CHI-RAQ is everything one can expect from the controversial Spike Lee. His film touted controversy from the film’s music supervisor Kendricks who got fired for charging a fee to musicians for having their music considered on the soundtrack to Lee calling the Chicago mayor a bully for demanding the film’s name be changed or the city’s tax credits not apply for the film. Love it or hate it, this latest joint by Spike Lee is unforgettable.

Music and dance play a big part in Lee getting his message across. The first segment has a song played loud with subtitles for those unfamiliar with the south side Chicago accent. But the film with its message is catered towards the adult black folk, judging from the steamy sex scenes and language. Perhaps the message should also be told to the younger teens and pre-teens who eventually become the violent criminals depicted in the film.

The $15 million budget film has already grossed $2.7 million in a limited release in December of 2015. For all the good intentions and huge effort put in by Lee and his gang, the film hopefully, will do well in its wider release now.



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