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2012 SLIFF offers Wagner and Lightning

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 12, 2012 - Wagner and Me: The British actor-writer Stephen Fry is a fanatic for the music of  19th century German composer Richard Wagner. Wagner was an outspoken anti-Semite whose music was adored (and used in propaganda) by Adolf Hitler. Fry is a Jew.

That's the provocative set-up for "Wagner and Me," a moderately engaging documentary that follows Fry (and Wagner) across Europe, ending up at the annual Wagner festival in the composer's adopted Bavarian hometown of Bayreuth. Fry, who intermittently gushes like a Justin Bieber acolyte with his love for the operas of Wagner, makes inquiries into Wagner's life and philosophy as he listens to Wagner's music. He asks himself, and others, if Wagner's repugnant ethnic prejudices, sadly not all that unusual in 19th century intellectual and artistic circles, mean that there is something repugnant about his music.

The answer is fairly predictable, but the journey is worth taking. I was particularly amused to learn that Wagner's extravagant ways got him so deeply in debt that only the King of Bavaria was rich enough to bail him out -- and build him a treasure of an opera house in Bayreuth. Much of the second half of the movie is spend backstage at Bayreuth, where the music makes the heart soar, no matter how vile were some of the opinions of the composer.

-- Reviewed by Harper Barnes

Struck by Lightning

The explosive performance in "Struck by Lightning" isn't given by Chris Colfer, who not only stars in the film, he wrote it. The standout is Allison Janney who embodies a single mother lost in self pity and the medications she takes to combat it.

The movie begins with the death of Carson Phillips (Colfer) by the titular lightning strike. From there we see how he got to be unhappy and unpopular in his small-town high school. He's quick to let classmates and teachers know he's smarter than them and blackmails the stereotypes who make up the other high school characters into furthering his designs to get out of town. You know that there's a decent guy behind Carson's sarcasm, but Colfer doesn't let him out enough.

Most of the three-dimensional performances are by adult women. Given that Colfer is only 22, one might be forgiven for thinking that is less because of the script than the acting chops of Janney, Polly Bergen (a grandmother lost in the fog of Alzheimer's) and Christina Hendricks (who was set to become Carson's stepmother until she figures things out).

--Reviewed by Donna Korando

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