Film: As Variety puts it, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is the first slam-dunk of the year for a best picture Oscar nomination. Possibly so, but certainly in a summer season crowded with comic book-based superhero epics, Nolan’s tale of the crucial World War II battle in Northern France sticks out as a serious history lesson aimed at an adult audience. That is not to say there is no action in Dunkirk. The aerial dogfights alone are the best ever captured on film. Compared to Memento and Inception, Dunkirk is relatively conventional in its storytelling, but it is still stirring, edge-of-your-seat stuff. A new young Nolan discovery, Fionn Whitehead, is the rookie British soldier through whose eyes we see the warfare, but Oscar winner Mark Rylance and Cillian Murphy also emerge with acting honors.
Music: For opera fans, the works of Richard Wagner were the original Netflix binge: three or four hours of epic story and music woven together in a spellbinding way that brought you into a fantasy world from which there was no escape, only immersion. But it’s been decades since South Florida fans have been able to see any of his operas. The most recent production was Tannhäuser in 2002 at Palm Beach Opera, and before that, a 1995 production of Die Fliegende Höllander at Florida Grand Opera. And you have to go back to 1989 for the last time anybody did a Ring opera, when FGO presented Die Walküre. Tonight, however, the Miami Music Festival’s Wagner Institute brings the real deal to Miami with the complete first act of Walküre, along with parts of Act III and the prelude to Götterdämmerung, starring two great contemporary Wagnerians: Alan Held and Christine Brewer. Joining them will be the students of the festival, led by its founder, Michael Rossi of the Washington National Opera. Last year’s rendering of Wagner selections was a huge hit at the New World Center, and the followup at 7:30 p.m. at the Arsht Center promises to be just as wonderful. It’s a rare opportunity, and true opera devotees shouldn’t miss it. For information and tickets, visit miamimusicfestival.com or call 305-482-3793.
Theater: In a South Florida summer unexpectedly rich in musicals by the challenging Stephen Sondheim, Broadway’s foremost composer-lyricist, the jewel in the crown is Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Directed by Clive Cholerton, who popularized concert versions of shows at PBD and previously at his Caldwell Theatre, he has graduated to fully staged renderings like this steampunk-flavored take on the “penny dreadful” tale of a vengeful barber who returns to Victorian London, intent on exacting revenge on a corrupt judge who sexually abused Todd’s wife and has set his sights now on Todd’s daughter. The score contains some of Sondheim’s most beautiful melodies, which arise just as violent mayhem is imminent. And yes, the body count is high for a piece of musical theater, but see it anyway. Through Aug. 6. Call 561-514-4042.