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Saturday, December 27, 2014

BIG EYES 12/27/14

A short synopsis of what I thought of BIG EYES - Tim Burton's new film about Walter Keane and the paintings that made him the Thomas Kincade of his generation.

This is a strange movie - mixture of parody and feminism with an over the top Christoph Waltz whose performance as Walter Keane annoyed me to no end. As the movie trotted along I began to change my view, and thought that perhaps this was a quizzical and circuitous characterization of a wily, conniving huckster complete with Chaplin-esque rubbery movement. In Waltz's gestural extremes I detected Tim Burton's direction.

The movie portrays the role of women in the 1950's and '60's and how badly they were treated by men who use economic power to control them - particularly the single/divorced woman with a child - the stay-at-home wife, and the women in the workplace - many sacrificing and erasing their own identities for monetary survival. Amy Adams with her blonde wig-like hairdo - the 1950's Doris Day look - conveyed a mixture of goodness and innocence wrestling with betrayal and fraud.

Cliches abound - the artist, the "creative"process, the romantic reasons for making art, the market manipulations - all stereotyped and feeding into a superficial fairy tale view of artists. The audience for the paintings were as flat and dead as those strange repetitive paintings oozing sentimentality and nostalgia (with a few tears thrown in) reflected in those oversized black holes for eyes. AND to give the film a legitimacy and documentary feel, Andy Warhol and John Canaday were thrown into the mix.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

EGON SCHIELE: PORTRAITS 12/18/14



Walking into the Egon Schiele (1890-1918) exhibition at the Neue Galerie, curated by Dr. Alessandra Comini brought me back to the past, when I was an art student drawing all day from the figure, carrying a really tattered Schiele book somewhere on my person - a source of inspiration.  I was intense, learning to see anew and drawing was the key to self awareness and into an odyssey of immutable possibilities that I knew instinctively would transport me into a future, embracing beauty, theoretical concepts, and struggle. I could do this for the rest of my life.

That feeling returned as soon as I stepped off the Neue Galerie’s elevator, but now, many years later, I saw the range of Egon Schiele’s oeuvre - a range that was revelatory - that I did not know existed. To speak of early Schiele’s, mid-career Schiele’s and late Schiele’s is compacting a young man’s passage of time; a young man who died from influenza when he was only 28 years old - but his art, from the early delicately realistic studies which penetrated the psyche of his subjects with a maturity that belied a 16 year old to the late works which were more stylized and experimental - color and forms break up, spidery lines invading the face, shapes splitting apart, finished and unfinished fields of paint abutting one another. 

The horror of being unjustly incarcerated - a traumatic incident  in 1912 - had a momentous impact on Egon Schiele. In 1963, Dr. Comini visited and took photographs of the prison where he was locked up for 24 days - a crucially essential component in understanding his prospective artwork. We access a small room - the area of confinement, where we are privy to documents such as arrest records, photographs of his cell, and Schiele’s beautifully descriptive drawings of the space - drawing becomes a cloak of sanity vital in order to endure this harrowing experience.

The exhibition is divided into other rooms that focus on periods of his life i.e. Family and Academy; Fellow Artists; Sitters and Patrons; Lovers; Eros; Self-Portraits and Allegorical Self-Portraits. In all of them HANDS become a vehicle of expression. I noticed a large photograph of Egon Schiele on the Museum’s stairway - his long, thin, delicate fingers splayed apart a gesture of exquisite communication both fervent and impassioned. In many of his portraits we see elongated hands as if Schiele had grafted an indispensable part of his own limb onto his subjects, literally melding into them.

The Eros room displays drawings, some delineated with gouache, pencil and watercolor - the dominant color red blaring as opposed to many of the later, darker mysterious paintings where the palette is denser and more subdued - light is inhibited from penetrating.  Vaginas peek out unrestrained like butterflies inviting your gaze. They are vibrant and so are the women in the drawings - women in embrace, other’s on their knees; in-your-face seductive portraits -  a counterpoint to Schiele’s “masturbation” drawings which convey pain, pleasure and guilt - arms without the ever present hands cut off - severed….

This exhibition is relentlessly contemporary, as well as being a reflection of Viennese society in the beginning of the 20th century. Portraits are both fragile and obdurate; often images are outlined in black - the body imprisoned - the encasing shell hard against the pliable intimacy of the visceral self. Heads with elongated arms and hair wildly breaking up space; diagonals creating a stretching tension; unpainted areas - the white of the canvas/paper background encroaching on the figure but never overwhelming it. A synthesis of the contradictory Apollonian and Dionysian balance and disproportion, Egon Schiele’s “presence” is always present.

“Egon Schiele: Portraits” runs through Jan. 19 at the Neue Galerie, 1048 Fifth Avenue, at 86th Street; 212-628-6200, neuegalerie.org.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

HENRI MATISSE AND ROBERT GOBER AT MOMA 12/9/14


 I decided to go to MOMA to see the Matisse show and then wandered over to what I consider one of the most beautiful and poetic exhibitions of the year - not Matisse - but Robert Gober's gut wrenching paintings, objects and installations entitled THE HEART IS NOT A METAPHOR. His works transported me to tears, as I contemplated the tensile fragility of an artist who juxtaposes everyday objects into worlds of extreme delicacy and frailty – chronicling personal history tied to memory and a narrative of pain and injustice, so lovingly crafted that I could feel his touch on everything that I saw. Distance is bridged and we are confronted with an acute sensitivity, evident in the caress of his brushwork in an early painting that we first encounter upon entering the exhibition, when he was still a young man. Robert Gober is an artist whose work reveals his innermost self; his being is nakedly divulged and that rare authenticity is what so moves us.

Matisse made me smile; I really enjoyed watching a short film of the great man cutting shapes out of paper - a certain vocabulary of forms kept repeating over and over - with VERY large scissors. For ten years I did cutouts - totally different of course, with none of Henri Matisse's lightness of being but using small scissors and razor blades, so I was fascinated watching the “master” at work.  He constructs a world in his apartment that is sunny and bright  - colorful contours floating on the walls, doors, cutout remnants piled up on the floor; having been pared down to their essence – flat and simplified with the external beauty of gorgeous design and dare I say celebrating the "bourgeois" spirit. I also giggled to myself watching his assistant, a lovely young woman with bright red lipstick dressed in a gown, in high heels helping the elderly artist cut and snip away - delicately holding the paper for him - her fingers long and thin a replica of the slivers of paper curling onto the floor. Many of the pieces seen in the movie were on the walls of the Museum – a rich trove of Matisse’s work – including models for major commissions, studies, etc. I was also intrigued that some of his commissions were from collectors living in California often arranged by his son Pierre – a valuable ally.


I felt fortunate to see two artists – Matisse who died in 1954, and Robert Gober who was born that same year - exhibiting together at the Museum of Modern Art; one disbursing the cloudless luminosity of daylight, and the other the tender mysteries of the night complete with stars and the infinite range of human experience.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

ARTIST IN THE WORLD - NEVER ENDING TRIP 12/7/14

In Brooklyn on a rainy night, my feet sloshing along the sidewalks, a newly bought hat with a large brim acting as a visor so that I could see through my fogged up glasses, walking in a city unused to quiet and quite beautiful with the reflecting lights breaking the silence - I visited Soapbox Gallery to see a “pop-up” exhibition of ARTIST IN THE WORLD - NEVER ENDING ART TRIP.  Andre Smits the itinerant, international artist who photographs artists in their studios ONLY from the back - so that the working space becomes  the key focus. Yet we all know that you can turn artists on their sides, upside down, even inside out - and the places they work will reflect something about who they are and their particular and often eccentric choices and tastes. 

I am a voyeur (of sorts) - I love blinking/spying on other people’s worlds, finding individuals surprisingly intriguing - once I get past my own personal prejudices  - which either dissolve or are modified - once I get to know more about a person through any channel - and viewing their work site is one of them. I feel many other people share this curiosity and that is what makes Andre Smits photographs seductively irresistible. He is photographing the “laboratory” where experimentation, dreams, disappointments, intense struggle and passionate creation occurs.

Andre Smits also “maps” a visual diary of his sojourns - in this case 2014 NYC and its environs, but he has traveled to China, Germany, Belgium, Russia, etc. leaving his home base in the Netherlands to restlessly explore outside his own country. Large black and white wall drawings, “home tattoos” taken from sources derived from doodles on snippets of papers which he always  carries with him - ball point pen in hand - making the connections between artists that he has visited each day of the year. The form the wall paintings take vary - sometimes he depicts  images of some of the works he has encountered, but they are always contained within the staccato outline of the tubular networks meandering like cellular technology snaking along the wall with the names of the artists illustrated  - those that he photographed during this particular period - forming patterns that are visually oscillating. We sense the passing of time in the wall pieces beginning with the administrative aspect to Smits’ process - phone calls, setting up meetings, traveling to and from the sites giving us a sense of time made palpable.


In the exhibition at Soapbox Gallery, Andre Smits invited Elise Tak  to collaborate with him; Elise who included her startlingly graphic and diverse portraits of “fictional actors” who have undeniable presence. She creates her own universe of fabricated imaginary actors, complete with screenplays, plots and posters “…visionary film stills and posters present the audience with chimerical scenes from non-existing films…”  The juxtaposition of her “constructed,” imaginary figures  floating among the outlined names of “actual artists” made me think about the ephemeral nature of art and how our ties to one another through the future and the past have a delicate beauty that is fragile and transient. 

http://www.artistintheworld.com/
http://www.elisetak.com/

Monday, December 1, 2014

NATIONAL GALLERY 12/1/14


Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary NATIONAL GALLERY runs three hours; three hours of dissecting and analyzing the workings of one of the world’s great Museums - the National Gallery in London England. Probing paintings’ meaning and content; structure and design; the decisions involved in the way venerated and treasured  works of art are preserved, restored, cleaned, lit and hung.  We also are privy to the voices of the docents, curators, and staff talking about specific artworks connecting their audiences to the aesthetics, beauty, history, and science of conservation; the various pathways a painting takes from its original creation; its entry into various collections, and finally to its safe-keeping for posterity in the National Gallery Museum. We even listen to Nicholas Penny, the rumpled-haired Museum Director in a lecture taking a stab at Poussin - admitting that he is not sure if he likes the work, but is always intrigued by it. 

Questions of elitism and exclusivity vs.accessibility and egalitarianism in light of budgetary considerations are discussed at meetings; there are lots of meetings. The film might have edited out some of the discussions - but I felt that the prosaic, the boring, the everyday-ness was worth observing. The running of a museum is not always glamourous. The decisions that establishments have to make in order to grip the public’s interest - what lengths do they go to attract visitors, and at what price to their institution? 

Wiseman just lets his camera roll; he never uses “voice overs”. His working method and vitality at age 84 is unchanged - not intrusive - the filmmaker is always invisible - interviews are conducted by others. Frederick Wiseman lets us be the proverbial “fly on the wall” in a space that ordinarily would be bug-proof.

I loved watching one of the restorers discussing the cleaning  of Velasquez’ Christ in The House of Martha and Mary and passionately ponder the dilemma -  do we over-strip the varnish used 100’s of years ago and thereby brighten and change the artists’ original intent? Ethical problems and compromises come into question. An in-house construction of a triptychs’ impressive frame delicately carved by the crafts-men and women associated with the Museum, and the lighting of the finished piece held me spellbound, as did the issue of a cast shadow obscuring the top 1/4 of the painting once the work was installed. We also pay heed to restorers scraping away tiny slivers of paint with scalpels, Q-tips, eye-droppers, etc. and then put the minuscule paint shavings on a slide tray to be placed under a microscope to be scrutinized - to be thoroughly examined yielding a plethora of information; new scientific techniques today make this kind of investigation possible. We mark the fragility of time’s passing on art realizing that there are effects that you have to live with, and guard against, but ultimately methodical and deductive technical intervention will be called upon to “save” the work from aging and deterioration.

The camera also takes us outside the Museum with aerial views of Trafalgar Square lit by the  grays of daylight to the shimmering of the early darkness -focusing on the diverse community waiting patiently in the cold to to see the Da Vinci exhibition "Painter at the Court of Milan” (2012.) We are never far away from the human response to art - the intensity of the onlooker’s gaze, the curiosity, confusion, delight, horror and interior peace that art can inculcate.


 Other blockbusters such as “Turner Inspired by the light of Claude” and "Metamorphosis: Titian 2012” are exhibitions that we are fortunate to attend and hear curators/docents of varying sizes, ages and accents advocating for art’s fascination and magnetism;  confronting us  with their disparate styles - some humorous, others psychoanalytical - all informative.  Each artwork has a presence with an individual history and personal narrative imprinted on its essence - like life itself this movie is thrilling, enigmatic, complex and a singular jewel.

Monday, November 24, 2014

INTERSTELLAR 11/24/14



The new film, INTERSTELLAR by Director Christopher Nolan is making me think about… gulp! …topics such as  gravity, space and time. I left the theater after almost 3 hours -  bored, exhausted, annoyed by the striving overreaching, but intellectually stimulated - a strange duality.  Ambitious, often visually stunning cinema that attempts to be 10 movies in one, dealing with “large” topics such as GRAVITY, TIME, BLACK HOLES and SINGULARITY. Those words uttered over and over again - a vocabulary that became sounds without meaning - like a concert of senselessness. I assume that most of the audience, like myself, do not know, nor understand the theories advanced by Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and the physicist Kip Thorne who served as an advisor and executive producer on INTERSTELLAR. But those who are curious in this age of instant superficial knowledge, can check things out the easy way on Wikipedia - ie: looking up the definition of Gravitational Singularity:

I basically felt an aversion to this slick epic space movie -  though on reflection I can see how it tried to shoehorn a bunch of ideas into a box of Hollywood entertainment stratagems. Even the handsome Matthew McConaughey got on my nerves as Coop -  the never aging, slowly dripping southern molasses drawl  of a pilot/engineer who has been chosen to save mankind by exploring other galaxies in order to find viable life for the human race to survive. A big responsibility!  Our planet Earth has destroyed its valuable resources - we have ruined our nest.  Time is running out.

The plot was full of contrivances which felt stilted and often predictable. Events spring up like deus ex machina devices primarily to bring gratuitous action and "excitement" to the movie propelling the action in uneven ricocheting directions - not essential to the essence of the plot which is a simple story of a man's love for his children - particularly his strong-willed daughter Murph - a feisty performance by Mackenzie Foy as the ten year old child who is devastated by Coop’s leaving, (Jessica Chastain plays the adult Murph who eventually matures into a brilliant scientist) and his struggle to "come home" to them after his expedition into other galaxies and the “fifth dimension”. Tension over the aging process and keeping “time at bay” in outer space becomes an important element in the film metaphorically and as pure science. Time on planet Earth vs. Time in space where one hour can equal 7 years. 


The first 1/2 hour showing the dust bowl dryness of the barren earth and how it no longer can sustain civilization was promising, but once Daddy Matthew flew off into space - we got hooked into lots of flashing machines, and oft-seen space maneuvers. References to “supernatural” or quasi-relgious phenomenon - objects moving ghost like and falling off shelves felt like a  “cop-out”; perhaps the director Nolan is hedging all his bets and with INTERSTELLAR is trying to have it all - to plunge into deep theoretical ideas and to keep one foot in heaven.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

FURY AND STONES IN THE SUN 11/22/14


Yesterday I did something I have not done for years - I saw two feature films in one day with a one hour break for a quick gulp of food. My movie partner gave me the privilege of choosing what to see. We began the evening with Director David Ayer’s horrific war drama, FURY - starring Brad Pitt as the lead honcho, a tough father figure of a Sherman Tank crew of 5 men, including a virginal, brilliant blue-eyed  “rookie” as the gunner (Logan Lerman), a  boy/man whose unshaven cheeks are as supple as his belief in the “goodness” of his  fellow human beings, even in the most grisly of circumstances. His transformation into steeled “manhood” is a painful reality to observe. 

Like the Battle of Thermopylae the odds are stacked against this team of hardened, profane, American warriors fighting the Nazis on German soil in April 1945 - a last ditch violent effort by the Axis to prevail, realizing that defeat was fast approaching. The cinematography with its deep, muddy browns and fiery oranges casts a blazing light which  permeates into the conscience and hearts of the characters. War is not exonerated or laundered; it is bloody and dirty - one’s moral compass is abandoned in the effort to survive slaughter and death, be it by one’s own hands or at the hands of others. It is hard to imagine going through this experience and not returning home shell-shocked and psychically wounded.

In the platoon is a soldier who puts his belief in God’s will and protection, nicknamed  “Bible” (Shia La Beouf,) an actor who has never been able to seduce me….until now. In FURY  I finally understood La Beouf’s appeal, with those dark penetrating eyes and a smile that conveys the Divinity’s rapture; he is a symbol of underlying goodness prevailing over his own destructive power and the carnage of the “enemy.”

We then saw STONES IN THE SUN directed by Haitian filmmaker Patricia Benoit focusing on the struggling lives of Haitian immigrants in Brooklyn, NY who had fled the torture and repressive reigns of Papa Doc Duvalier  and Baby Doc Duvalier, his generals  and the Tontons Macoutes/death squads in the 1980’s. 

“Duvalier authorized the Tontons Macoutes to commit systematic violence and human rights abuses to suppress political opposition. They were responsible for unknown numbers of murders and rapes in Haiti. He included among his opponents those who proposed progressive social systems. Political opponents often disappeared overnight, or were sometimes attacked in broad daylight. Tontons Macoutes stoned and burned people alive. Many times they put the corpses of their victims on display, often hung in trees for everyone to see and take as warnings against opposition…” (Wikipedia.) 

STONES IN THE SUN  makes clear that we can leave our land but the land remains steadfast in our hearts; memories are seared into the ex-patriates’ consciousness; the scars and beauty of the homeland weaves them to their past forever.

 Benoit concentrates on 3 families to give a fuller dimension to the diaspora. I was particularly moved by a married couple, achingly played by Patricia Rhinvil as the wife Vita and her husband Ronald (James Noel,) a cabdriver who was forced to flee for demonstrating in Haiti, leaving his wife behind at the mercy of men in the dark who commit bestiality upon women’s flesh. The history of sexual brutality is wreaked upon Vita’s slight frame. She arrives at the Airport, shyly observing her husband with sideways looks - fear, love and apprehension flicker across her face; beautifully acted;  words are superfluous. Glimpses of a more care-free time are cut into the frames - what might have been - and what was, and what is.

How each character deals with the past AND the future in both FURY and STONES IN THE SUN, is both poignant and eloquent. The impact of ruthlessness and savagery on society and the individual; whether it be in the 1940’s, 1980’s or the present are devastatingly traumatic and  transformative.  


Haitian proverb: “Stones in the water don’t know the suffering of stones in the sun.”

Thursday, October 30, 2014

PICASSO AND THE CAMERA AT GAGOSIAN GALLERY, NYC 10/31/14



I never thought that we could get into the PICASSO AND THE CAMERA exhibition organized by John Richardson at Gagosian Gallery (522 W. 21st Street) without having to wait on a long line and snake through a packed room of people, heads locked together preventing us from examining the work. We were WRONG. It was spacious - not that many people in a dimly lit room with guards stationed  every 10 feet making sure you do not cross a tastefully placed barely perceptible gray strip on a gray floor - giving them something to do since nobody noticed the line. I told them that they either have to paint it a neon color or electrify the barrier because  there ain’t no way you can even see it. Then we engaged in a "serious" discussion as to what constituted a violation of the space ie: if an individual's feet were behind the line, but the stomach protruded into the space? Strangely enough this repartee seemed fitting in this environment and underscored the “lightness of being” of Picasso’s work.

Mixing photos (225 of them) that were taken as early as1909, continuing up to the later years, with paintings, sculptures and drawings was revelatory. I should have known that Picasso’s curiosity would embrace new technology and that he would make use of it in his work. AND he did - for documentation, source material for art, and capturing the psychological and personal relationships in his life - my favorite shots. I ran around looking for images of his wives and lovers and compared them to the inventions that he created.


Picasso was a man built like a brick shit house not pear shaped but rather like a cube which makes sense. His physique was multi-faceted; solid but also fleshy, prancing around in home movies that were projected on 4 walls in an enclosed space; the films all running at once, forcing me to spin around to see fragments of each one giving me glimpses of a life well-lived. One particular grainy movie by Man Ray in colors which reeked of memory and redolent of time, gave me the opportunity to see why Picasso loved this atmosphere and the beautiful woman that he cavorted with. I could sense the sexual intensity of this large dark-eyed man, his delight in the childlike, and the deep concentration and focus that is necessary when an artist is constructing a work- be it a painting or a sculpture, stepping back every few minutes to assess one’s choices. I was flooded with recollections  of process - the intimate familiarity with the distinctions and decisions that artists constantly make on the road to discovery. This exhibition brought Picasso back to earth for me.


http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/28/arts/design/picasso-the-camera-john-richardsons-latest-show.html?_r=0

Sunday, October 26, 2014

ST. VINCENT 10/26/14


Saw movie ST. VINCENT reminding me again what a great actor Bill Murray is. His expressionless face which ironically exudes anger, grief, disdain and affection with just a raise of an eyebrow, and a gait which conveys a range of inarticulate and viable emotional states, transforms him into a superb lyrical poet of film.

The entire cast rescues this tug-at-your-heartstrings movie from Hollywood fluff with some well-written lines and wonderful performances. Vincent is a gruff, annoying character with the proverbially heart-of-gold; his new neighbors - a single hard-working mom with an adorable kid who Vincent ends up baby-sitting in order to make some much needed extra cash to prop up his dissolute habits; and a once a week quick shtup (hop in the sack) with a Russian "lady of the night" - beautifully acted respectively by Melissa McCarthy, Jaeden Lieberher and Naomi Watts.

And bring tissues!

Friday, October 24, 2014

KILL THE MESSENGER 10/24/14


I try to see every one of Jeremy Renner’s films after his great performance in Kathryn Bigelow’s THE HURT LOCKER where he played a Sergeant in Iraq dismantling IED’s (improvised explosive devices) in the dusty,  tension filled streets of BaghdadI will never forget a scene in the shower, water pouring over his bloodied torso slowly slumping down to the ground, tears mixing in with the wet spray that was bathing his body; an attempt to cleanse his psyche of the horrors of warfare. In KILL THE MESSENGER  directed by Michael Cuesta, based on a true story, Renner is in another descent - one that is politically driven - in an intense performance as Pulitzer Prize winner Gary Webb, an investigative journalist for the San Jose Mercury News writing a series entitled “Dark Alliance” on the CIA’s drug dealing connection to the “Contras” during the war in Nicaragua in the 1980’s.

“…Webb investigated Nicaraguans linked to the CIA-backed Contras who had smuggled cocaine into the U.S. Their smuggled cocaine was distributed as crack cocaine in Los Angeles, with the profits funneled back to the Contras. Webb also alleged that this influx of Nicaraguan-supplied cocaine sparked, and significantly fueled, the widespread crack cocaine epidemic that swept through many U.S. cities during the 1980s. According to Webb, the CIA was aware of the cocaine transactions and the large shipments of drugs into the U.S. by Contra personnel. Webb charged that the Reagan administration shielded inner-city drug dealers from prosecution in order to raise money for the Contras, especially after Congress passed the Boland Amendment, which prohibited direct Contra funding…” [Wikipedia]

In this film we experience an institutional backlash to Webb’s reporting, including correspondents from the prestigious NY Times, The LA Times and The Washington Post, all glazing over the story in their own papers; the tragic manipulation of facts in order to destroy the veracity of Webb's coverage of events. We view the absence of San Jose Mercury News’ editorial support at critical moments in Webb’s heroic delving into extensive research; the Reagan Administration’s financing of a war through drug trafficking pitting “truth vs. power”; the perversion of principle to the needs of “security” on the backs of the  south central Los Angeles community. One does not need to “kill the messenger” with bullets - one can do so through the media attacking the person not the story under the potent pressure of the government.


KILL THE MESSENGER attempts to portray Gary Webb in his domestic, familial role as a loving though humanly “flawed” father of 3 children, with a supportive loving wife (the beautiful actor Rosemarie De Witt)  all in danger and threatened by Webb’s probing into the murkiness of political sludge - the undisclosed secrets of the inner workings of government aired out inviting dirty revenge. This is also a David vs. Goliath tale - a lone person who in his “innocence” believes in the unveiling of the machinations of authority through the pen and the judiciousness of our legal system. 

The portrait of Gary Webb is a tenacious and vivid study of idealism in the fight for the unearthing of corruption. I left the theater saddened and disheartened, but at the same time hopeful for those rare individuals who are fearless enough to stand up for what they believe when their support system has been paralyzed by fear of retribution. Hard to do. They merit my deepest respect and admiration.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

THE DROP 10/15/14

James Gandolfini’s last film, THE DROP is a good one starring Tom Hardy (who I loved in LOCKE), Noomi Rapace and James Gandolfini...my kinda movie full of contrasts. Written by MYSTIC RIVER’S  Dennis Lehane and directed by Michael R Roskam, this darkly filmed tale of “redemption” - an “innocent” man beautifully played by Tom Hardy as Bob Saginowski, a seemingly clueless individual bartender tending bar in a neighborhood Brooklyn hangout; a place where there is both laughter, joy, and deceit, working for his burly cousin Marv (Gandolfini ) whose questionable ethics precipitates a deadly confrontation with Chechen mobsters who use The Bar  as a place for their underworld “money drop” (laundering) operations.

Great actors operating in luscious, yet stark environs, with a tension that does not let up evident in the terse, almost silent dialogue. One night the "repentant" man walking home  from work  - a man  who tries to live a quiet solitary existence - saves the life of an abused pit bull dog; this act propels the plot and alters the situation of key figures in the movie. The cocoon that encased Hardy unravels with the yelp of a vulnerable near-death puppy; and with it a protective instinct  is generated which extends to Noomi Rapace - a frightened demoralized young woman whose house and property are pierced by the cries of the anguished dog - a psychotic message delivered in a garbage can.

Other characters menace and stir unrest and danger - the plot becomes convoluted and there are scenes giving us the back story of Marv’s (James Gandolfini) domestic arrangement with his sister, a man in debt, a father in a nursing home and enormous pressure to get out of town - to get away from it all. His cousin Bob Saginowski is unflappable observing what is going on, but at the same time sympathy and tenderness begin to penetrate his sentient “stillness.” This could be considered a familiar oft-told- tale, but what makes it a successful movie is THE DROP ’s study of the humanization of a person who has “dropped out” and the stoic Tom Hardy who does not say much, but through facial and body movements conveys the deeply human need for connection.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Panel Vienna 1900: Portraiture, Perception, Reception, and Restitution 10/6/14

The International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) Panel with Alessandra Comini, Prof. of Art History Emerita at SMU in Dallas and curator of Egon Schiele: Portraits exhibition opening this week at Neue Galerie in NYC , Eric Kandel, Nobel Prize Neuroscientist and Jane Kallir Co-Director of Galerie St. Etienne was excellent. All three panelists gave us differing yet complementary insights into post 1900 Viennese portraiture.
Alessandra Comini focused on four turn-of the century Viennese Expressionists: Egon Schiele, Richard Gerstl, Max Oppenheimer and Oscar Kokoschka. Her presentation was - as usual - and I am a big fan - delivered with clarity, straightforward and humorous, without undermining the intensity of their work, but rather enhancing our awareness of the artists and their art with surprising unconventional observations. She also related these artists to an important historical period of time, contrasting their "expressionistic/anxious" portraiture with 19 century staid representation. By placing images side by side we experienced the powerful break from tradition mirroring the historical changes in the Austro - Hungarian Empire.
I was fascinated by Eric R. Kandel's presentation. He wrote a book titled Author, The Age of Insight—The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain - [The Age of Insight takes us to Vienna 1900, where leaders in science, medicine, and art began a revolution that changed forever how we think about the human mind—our conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions—and how mind and brain relate to art. At the turn of the century, Vienna was the cultural capital of Europe. Artists and scientists met in glittering salons, where they freely exchanged ideas that led to revolutionary breakthroughs in psychology, brain science, literature, and art. Kandel takes us into the world of Vienna to trace, in rich and rewarding detail, the ideas and advances made then, and their enduring influence today...] Dr. Kandel was also quite charming with a great sense of humor including sound effects of neurons charging in his powerpoint images of the brain looking at art - which made me laugh out loud.
Jane Kallir took us into the questions of restitution in re Nazi art stolen from Jewish families during the Holocaust - using her grandfather Otto Kallir - who had a gallery in Vienna called Neue Galere (no relation to the Lauder Museum in NYC) - and his flight after the 1938 Anschluss to America where he opened Galerie St. Etienne in NYC in 1940 bringing with him Schieles,Klimts, Cezannes, and other Modernists that the Nazi's allowed out of the country at that time because they were considered "degenerate art." Kallir's first show of Schiele was in 1940 but he was unable to sell any of the work - the drawings went for $20 and the watercolors for $60.. Later the Nazi's held on to the "despised" art and sold them to countries that did value the work in order to get money to use for the war effort. 

Fascinating panel and personal, as my parents also fled Nazi Germany and came to America in 1939 and settled in NYC.  

Sunday, October 5, 2014

GONE GIRL 10/5/14


Man as possible wife-killer; woman as possible psycho; two conflicting stories clash in director David Fincher’s new film GONE GIRL, an emotionless, topsy-turvy commercial thriller with no heart and a web of deceit. It is hard to write about the film without giving away any spoilers so be forewarned in case I slip. This movie could have been interesting dealing with the charade of  appearances, media manipulation and sensationalism of a tragic event; the psychological ramifications of childhood idealization, and a look at the dynamics of marriage - but instead devolved into a badly made horror film wielding not fright, but embarrassed laughter. I ended up not giving a damn about Nick or Amy as the couple were named, and kept muttering (sotto voce) who cares???? 

Beefy Ben Affleck is the accused husband  Nick Dunne - bland and physically big - his neck almost lost in his ever-worn blue shirt. I suppose GONE GIRL wanted  a man who exuded strength, but his mumbling words often got lost in the sound track and he was so expressionless, even in the throes of early romance, that  I liked him better in the much - maligned 2003 movie, Gigli.  

Rosamund Pike plays the beautiful wife Amy Dunne - a childhood heroine of a beloved children’s book series called Amazing Amy, written by her parents idealizing their young daughter - who in the pages of the story lines achieves unattainable pinnacles of  success  - the seeds of the earliest misrepresentations and distortions germinating in her young life. Pike is not lusterless and her appearance and cooly calculating mood changes, gives her more profundity than her bland, stolid husband.  Games, stratagems and subterfuge are at the essence of this femme fatale’s style and spirit. 

We meet the couple - where else but at a cocktail party - wham! love at first sight - their flirtatious language is pure Hollywood banter, and soon the idyllic relationship jumps to the next level - wedlock. We meet them again at their 5th wedding anniversary when Nick returns home to find his wife is gone amidst a scene of broken glass and  possible violence. The plot with all its contrivances then becomes a whodunit and a dissection of “holy matrimony.”  Among the possible offenders are the #1 prime suspect Hubby? Or ex-boyfriend? stranger? or an elaborate frame up? The movie goes on for almost 2 1/2 hours ensnaring the audience in spiraling serpentine maneuvers of revelations and booby traps that are moving so rapidly that we do not have time to get bored. A highlight of the film Tyler Perry’s performance as the ultimate high-powered defense attorney - sharp, cynical and very expensive with a constant twinkle emanating from his eyes -  a breath of much needed fresh air wafted unto the screen when he appeared. Too bad GONE GIRL did not have more of that revitalizing oxygen instead of its suffocating ossified climate. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT 8/30/14



Oh Woody Allen what has happened to your work? The most recent films have become so light-weight that they float lazily into oblivion. MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT  turns the spotlight on an abrasive, egocentric magician outfitted in “exotic” Chinese garb performing stereotypical tricks to great acclaim by appreciative audiences in 1928 - a time  between the two World Wars - a period of wild release and emancipation. Though this epoch is not integral to the story, it gives Woody Allen an opportunity to clothe the actors in roaring twenties attire, showcasing upper class elegance in the milieu of the wealthy - their grand homes, furnishings, decor and cars. The best part of the movie is the use of a soundtrack with some wonderful Bix Beiderbecker, Cole Porter, Beethoven, etc. scores. Colin Firth - who literally appears anguished at having been cast in the role  of Wei Ling Soo aka Stanley Crawford - a British “rationalist” snob, who is an unlikeable bore, both whiny and pretentious, ironically disdainful of the “sucker” patrons who applaud his “genius” at deception and chimera.

The gist of this tale is the attempt by Stanley Crawford - our “brilliant” illusionist who literally knows all the tricks in the book - to debunk a young beautiful “spiritualist”, Sophie Baker (a vapid performance by Emma Stone,) who is creating a sensation in the Cote d’Azur for her clairvoyant skills. He is called to this task by a fellow magician and childhood friend, Howard (Simon McBurney - a Roman Polanski look alike) to expose Sophie as a fraud, having seduced a wealthy family and particularly the shallow, banjo crooning scion into her world of seances, contacting the spectral inhabitants of the invisible “world beyond.”

Romance blooms - Pygmalion style - as love is the ultimate head-spinning aphrodisiac. The power of attraction transforms the world  from the mundane to the exciting  - this is where true alchemy resides. Since this is a Woody Allen movie, we  have come to anticipate his fascination with the mysteries of amore, his fixation on chemistry and  magnetism; MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT continues that predilection with enchantment. 


Allen is also attempting to deal with the consequences of surrendering oneself to a belief in magical thinking, and the lengths to which faith can be a necessary corollary to existence in a world fraught with uncertainty and eventual death, dealing with the big existential questions - tossing in heavy-duty names such as Nietzsche and Hobbes. Lots of potential here but alas  MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT is neither a side-splitting parody nor a serious exploration of the mysteries of existence. Instead it relies on a veneer of “style”, jaunty music, quick cuts, and predictable blathering in an endeavor to captivate and beguile audiences, who will not be fooled by the film’s superficial chicanery.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

BOYHOOD 8/3/14


Richard Linklater’s masterful new movie BOYHOOD chronicles one family’s journey through time - focusing primarily on Mason, a 6 year-old boy who we first see engulfed by the green of a meadow, gazing up at the clouds in a clear blue sky - dreamy and contemplative - peering at a “hole” in the firmament - indicative of a spirited intelligence and a demanding curiosity which becomes more apparent as we accompany him through the seasons of his life till he becomes 18 years old. What makes this movie so rare and  acutely natural, is the director’s use of identical actors -  Linklater reunited the same cast a few days annually -  over the span of 12 years to film a narrative based on fiction, though (according to interviews I read with the director) some parts are semi- autobiographical. We the audience are privy to the ease of the character’s interactions, the resilience of relationships, the corporeal transformations, the disappointments, struggles, and joys as we pass through the unknown that is the span of their lives, echoing the stories of our own odysseys. 

Ellar Coltrane as Mason gives a performance that is not a performance but a revelation - an uncovering of a presence — the son of a divorced woman (a luminous Patricia Arquette) who is responsible for the care of her two children; a carefree, unaccountable, but loving father (Ethan Hawke in another terrific role) and the ever-present sibling (Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter, a  feisty budding actor playing the sister) who is three years older and both annoyed and annoying to her little brother. The tribulations on the path from childhood, when we do not have much control over one’s life to adulthood, when you do have the ability and capacity to make choices for yourself  - are documented with an honesty which pays attention to details that are both intricate and commonplace.

There is a lot of familial affection in BOYHOOD as each individual in the movie reconciles, adapts or rebels at changes in his/her situation.  Adults make mistakes - the ever-watchful mother is equally observed by her vigilant son who is sensitive to nuances in the glances and expressions that pass between grownups, which only a child can sense intuitively, without fully  grasping their intent and personal significance. Mason is a rangy, affable young man - good-natured, perceptive, and literally probing -  investigating the world around him, be it by asking THE existential questions such as - how do we find and express that kernel of ourselves distinct from others - or in his teens examining the poetry of  phenomena and wonder with a camera. 

BOYHOOD could have been titled FAMILY-HOOD; the dynamics of the nuclear family are played out from the drama of routine financial burdens to the thrilling awakenings and complexity of sexual attraction, love, friendship and loss. The continuous unfolding of the passage to maturity is breathtaking in its subtlety.  Before our eyes we witness the entry to confidence and self-awareness using a cinematic technique that is unique; one scene smoothly flowing into the next communicating that time moves on relentlessly - and we are all caught up in the undulations of the tides. 

Link to Interview with director Richard Linklater:

http://tinyurl.com/mx3z6g9e

Friday, July 11, 2014

JEFF KOONS - WHITNEY MUSEUM EXHIBITION - 7/11/14

Had to exit the Jeff Koons show early as all the surface shininess triggered one of my ocular migraine "auras" and the world before my eyes shattered into zig-zag patterns. Coffee anyone? The polished stainless steel mirrors and fabrications penetrated my retina but not my being and therein lies the rub. Ironic that I was not disappointed to leave because nothing made my heart skip faster. I was so looking forward to a "rush" - to that feeling of excitement that I got upon seeing the Isa Genzken show where connections were being made that felt fresh and discoverable.

Previously I had been charmed - utterly charmed particularly by Koons' large outdoor sculptures, but this exhibition revealed a wannabe Disney world seductively beckoning, but with a cynicism - a lurking, underlying moral abyss/vacuum. That brings me to the earliest works on view - the Hoover Vacuum Pieces - elegant sculptures encased in an airless void lit by cold fluorescent lights to become worshipful glowing objects of yearning acquisitiveness.

The wall texts talk about the culture of manufacturing desire through advertising and salesmanship and how JK wanted to expose that subterfuge. Except with time and the costs of fabricating larger and more expensive pieces to meet collectors' demands, Koons becomes the salesman that he once decried - he learned too well and metamorphosed into the commodity that he once had "railed" against.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

JERSEY BOYS 7/6/14



Though I was born and raised in NYC, I am a Jersey Girl, having spent almost half of my life in the “Garden State.” Clint Eastwood’s new film, JERSEY BOYS closely follows the stage play of the same name, including the device of having lead characters face the camera uttering  asides to the audience to move the plot along with personal observations revealing some unsaid impressions. Unfortunately the movie is filled with the cliches that foster the stereotypes of a strong NJ Mafia/mob-controlled existence; a large Italian populace speaking with strong Joisey accents, girlfriends treated like chattel - mothers like worshipful angels; teenagers pulling off minor felonies, rotating in and out of  jail as if it were a cakewalk none the worse for their “time” in prison.

 In the midst of this milieu which is filmed with a real nostalgic 1950’s feel - we meet a “saintly” young man from Newark, NJ, Frankie Valli (born Francesco Stephen Castelluccio) whose voice  charms all those who know him, bringing out their protective instincts to “save” this young man from the recklessness of the city’s “evil streets”, in order to preserve his vocal chords for posterity.  The law enforcement community is complicit in being prescient ( though not judicious) in  allowing potential talent to trump criminal mischief. John Lloyd Young does an adequate job as Frankie Valli, but I was not drawn to this actor who lacked charisma, OR his wondrous voice with its high falsetto screech which began to feel mannered and much too predictable.

JERSEY BOYS deals with the personal interactions of 4 young men who group together, eventually becoming The Four Seasons to “make it” in the music business and by the looks of it - their rise to success came pretty smoothly, so any drama in this biopic is ancillary to familiar songs and performances that are the movie’s highlights. Yes there is the humdrum boredom of traveling to gigs and back, sacrificing one’s family in the process of building a career  to ultimately achieve fame and fortune as well as the unmitigated bully - the founder of the group Tommy DeVito - a roguish Vincent Piazza - who is the “satan” to the celestial young Valli - being both his benefactor and his tormentor. 

Eastwood cast many unknown actors - none of which stood out for me, except for an easy-going natural performance by Christopher Walken; his demeanor on the screen had presence - lots of it - and I looked forward to watching an old pro use barely perceptible facial reflexes, and the flourish of a hand to convey a wide range of attitudes. To appear in a scene with Walken lamentably made the other actors look like pallid amateurs - like placing a Leonardo Da Vinci next to a Thomas Kincade painting.


JERSEY BOYS is basically about time - time gone by - a visual clue being a short clip of the virile Clint Eastwood in a scene from a much earlier western playing on the boxy TV in a hotel room. Eastwood can be a great director (Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Gran Torino etc.) and has worked with period pieces in the past, but they were infused with a beautiful insight into the darkness and lightness of being. This musical, on the other hand is slight, and weightless, BUT still worthwhile, bringing to an audience - particularly whose who lived in the 1960’s and ’70’s - joy and entertainment through a sentimental journey evoking memories that have floated deep into the past. Like a Proust madeleine - the songs Sherry, Can't Take My Eyes Off You, Walk Like A Man, Big Girls Don't Cry transported me to my youth dancing cheek to cheek with my first love the tall and handsome Richie, when the world was full of  possibilities and everything was imaginable and credible.


(Note: Frankie Valli is one of the Executive Producers of the movie.)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

IDA 6/8/14

 Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s new film IDA is visually stunning. I am a painter  whose work deals with light and color; this film extrudes color out of infinite blacks, grays, and whites culminating in a blinding silver light. The poetry of tonal form in synch with the secrets of the unknown, contrasting the innocence of spiritual isolation with the realities of political ideologies has a streaming effect on the bloodlines of our interior selves.

We meet Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska in a beautifully understated performance) - a novitiate nun running through the snow with her “sisters” lightly carrying a statue of Jesus Christ, which is gently lowered  into a circular crevice in front of the Convent where Anna has been sheltered for the past 18-20 years, having been brought there as an orphan when she was an infant in the early 1940’s. The time is now 1962 and the place is Poland under Communist rule. 

Before taking her vows, Anna follows the advice of the Mother Superior to visit her only living relative, an aunt who over the years has never attempted to contact her.  Anna’s simple, spare, and silent world, where the love of God consummated her every need, leaves the Monastery for the first time, braving surroundings that are antithetical to the tranquillity and stoicism that she is accustomed to.

As soon as Anna meets her mother’s sister, Aunt Wanda, a once beautiful woman, now disheveled, wearily smoking, a drink sloshing in her hand,a man in partial undress glimpsed in the back room, Anna is told that her real name is Ida and that she is Jewish - a shocking revelation, but Anna/Ida’s response to this news is barely perceptible. Her lovely face never reveals private intimate turmoil. Agata Kulesza is excellent as Wanda who we get to know as brutally honest and uncompromising - a Communist state functionary - an ex-prosecutor who is now a Judge living with having made desperate life decisions that are remorselessly haunting - a woman attempting to survive anguished memories.

IDA becomes an intimate existential road trip, so authentically filmed that the ambiance of the subsistence countryside envelops us with its rough beauty, The two women attempt to uncover the secrets of their horrific past living under Nazi occupied rule, and the ramifications of being a Jew in a country where the innocent were literally slaughtered because of fascist ideology, often with  the compliance of their fellow human beings. We witness history unfolding a generation later - the same country now under totalitarian Communist rule. 


Anna/Ida during this short period of time is faced with choices that affect the very essence of her understanding of the outside world, beyond her previously cloistered life, questioning the ecstatic power of faith vs.the banality of everyday existence.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

THE NORMAL HEART 6/1/14


My beautiful dark eyed friend and former gallery dealer, Ricky called me in NJ at 3:00 in the morning from a hospital bed at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles hiccuping uncontrollably - reaching out -  between grasping gulps of air - to make contact and say hello. It was late - an ungodly  hour - but his life was ticking away on its own clock - perceptions of time speeding up and slowing down, out of synch with the familiar rhythms of  the earth’s rotation.  I had just returned from Venice, CA to see him - hoping it would not be the last visit - which grievously it was. Ricky knew how to unfold himself like no one else I had ever met. He brought me gifts from trips around the world that excavated (inside of me) buried, silent tears of joy - offerings that celebrated not only his singular moments, but what I meant to him in life. This delicate man’s existence burned out quickly, once he was diagnosed with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome - AIDS. Today, looking back I keep thinking, (as so many of us do) - IF ONLY he had held on another couple of years, he would still be around for me to glance at once more with such silken pleasure.

Seeing the film THE NORMAL HEART  based on Larry Kramer’s play of the same name (he wrote the movie’s screenplay) brought back a wave of memories of this era which was likened to a “plague.” Young vital men, were disappearing before our eyes; the arts community was being decimated. Cancer was no longer the disease of certain death - it was supplanted by HIV-AIDS - the “gay cancer” - as it was called in its early medically ignored and confounding stage . But of course 30 years later we now know that there are no borders and HIV -AIDS  has affected the world’s population - men, women, and children.

THE NORMAL HEART directed by Ryan Murphy brought flashbacks of a wildly ecstatic era - when sexual freedom and experimentation went unrestrained - tender and callous, continuous without any awareness of a rampant virus which was creeping slowly into the erotic, passionate, rough and intimate f*cking that was occurring. The movie begins with shots of gorgeous young sculpted men traipsing out to Fire Island dreaming of commingling and delighting in the lack of restrictions that this vacation spot holds for them. The atmosphere is filled with amorous/seductive fleeting once-overs filed away for later exploration and consummation.  The film arouses all our senses, both visually and through the pounding music which further accentuates the interweaving of bodies heating up alongside the cool water.

THE NORMAL HEART  has many heroes - one of them being Ned Weeks (an excellent, believable and nuanced Mark Ruffalo ) who early on sees a pattern developing - buff bodies wasting away, and dying  - at first just a few of his friends are infected, but soon like a geometric progression, the numbers increase and keep multiplying. Weeks becomes one of the founders of The Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) with its impassioned mission to bring this burgeoning epidemic to the public’s attention; many obstacles block their efforts - from both inside and outside their own community. This was and still is an advocacy group advising on an illness which in the early 1980’s many  considered an intrusion on a lifestyle of sexual liberation that seemed finally attainable.  

Fascinating questions are raised in the film about what are the best means to politically get funding from a government  that is firmly entrenched in homophobia, “morality”, hypocrisy and denial. Exposing the pragmatic realities within the organization itself - the “handsome” President, Bruce Niles - a Wall Street banker (Taylor Kitsch doing a great job as a “closeted” leader) vs. an impassioned and often irascible Ned Weeks whose anger and rage  at the “system” is fueled by the tears, snot, saliva, blood and shit that is oozing out of a generation’s diseased core. 

THE NORMAL HEART’s heroine is Julia Roberts in one of her best performances as Dr. Emma Brookner - rapidly scooting around in an electric wheelchair disabled by an earlier generation’s virulent virus, Polio -  who tirelessly and desperately tends to her patients, her compassionate face revealing the overwhelming odds that she is up against - fighting for the funding that will propel the medical establishment into action. I remember  reading the daily obituaries in The NY Times from that period, and the ages of the dead jumped out at me, becoming almost commonplace - many in their early 30’s and ’40’s -  never given the opportunity to scout out and sift through the unique complexities of our journey on this planet.

There is also a personal love story, revealing an affectionate, temperate Ned Weeks - in contrast to his public persona - prone to explosive outbursts, impatient with those who disagree with him and his unrelenting militancy; in private we see a man deeply committed to his partner - a rapturous burning intensity coupled with a profound grace is achingly visible between them, and an integral counterpoint to the urgent couplings of anonymity. 



The human species is irreparably linked  and the tentacles of contamination do not live in a vacuum, spreading rapidly like an ignited fire. THE NORMAL HEART  introduces us to other characters whose unremitting efforts in puncturing and unmasking this once-hidden, scourge and bringing it into the brilliant clarity of light, opened the path to the research which would eventually create the medical cocktails we have today for HIV-AIDS.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

THE CHEF (5/21/14)

Saw THE CHEF written and directed by Jon Favreau -a "Foodie Road"
film - riches to rags to riches (through an unconventional path,) while maintaining one's creative integrity is the underlying theme of this delightful and very entertaining movie. Has something in it for everyone to love: an adorable child actor/get up and dance latin music/closeups of colorful and sizzling food/ and cameos by Scarlett Johansson/ Dustin Hoffman/Robert Downey Jr. etc. 

I relished viewing the food preparation - the art of chopping up veggies, the subtle delicacy of making a Grilled Cheese sandwich with that very special touch. Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo and Emjay Anthony were naturals and became a solid team. BUT I like to write about movies that I can chew on for days to come. This one is a tasty appetizer!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

LOCKE 5/16/14


Steven Knight, a filmmaker whose work I deeply respect (EASTERN PROMISES AND DIRTY PRETTY THINGS) has done something unorthodox; he has written and directed LOCKE, a movie which runs for 90 minutes on the shoulders of a singular actor Tom Hardy (Ivan Locke) in one location - a car - whose life unravels before us while he is driving to London. There is suspense, tension and psychological mood swings that encompass a universe of emotional stillness, despair and resolution.

Ivan Locke is a builder whose love for the material he works with - cement - is akin to an artist’s passion for the viscosity and the tactile quality of paint/clay; both are aware of the importance of the strength of the foundation for the future integrity of structures. We meet a man who is a “righteous” individual - who prides himself on being conscientious, painstakingly meticulous and in “control” of his life.Tom Hardy’s one-man performance is stunning in that we see on his face the spectrum of life’s unexpected caprices and jolts episodically flitting across his moods, like nature’s fleeting atmosphere.

The other characters in the film are only heard - voices projecting rage, anxiety and dreams that are both realized and broken; their contrasting tones resonating in the tight enclosure. The car phone is Hardy’s connection to life-changing events in the microcosm that is his world. We also get insight into Ivan Hardy’s personal relationship with his father and the disillusionment with him is deeply anchored into the bedrock of who he is, and who he tries to be today - pushing back against his own familial history. 

The cinematography is both beautiful and strangely enigmatic with extreme close-ups of objects inside and outside the car becoming mysteriously decomposed; lights from other cars create a montage of saturated color and chromatic intensity transporting and confusing our sense of space and expectations of what exactly are we looking at.



Life’s fragility is conceded - one “wrong” act; one misjudgment has repercussions. To do the honorable thing has repercussions as well. Ivan Locke tries his best to straddle this vulnerable human dilemma; in so doing he reveals his inner turmoil with exquisite grace and sensitivity. A belief that has steadfastly sustained him throughout adulthood - a faith in the construction of his personal architectonics -  is now threatened and solutions are uncertain.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

LOVE IS STRANGE - 4/23/14


LOVE IS STRANGE, a film, unaffectedly directed by Ira Sachs, is so natural and unassuming in its portrayal of relationships that the divide between audience and the characters on the screen disappears; we are directly slipping into their lives with the ease of familiarity. There is a formal beauty to the movie, thanks to the cinematography of Christos Voudouris - the way he captures each space - delineated not only through d├ęcor, but through the light which mutates with the atmosphere, very much like a Chardin still-life painting, classic in its grandeur and silence.

The plot revolves around two gay men who have lived together for 39 years and finally get married, a decision that will alter their lives in ways that are unexpected and transforming. We first meet Ben, a seventy-one year old artist, (John Lithgow in a breathtaking performance) and his partner George (Alfred Molina in an equally fine portrayal,) a music teacher in a Catholic school  - both excitedly, and nervously preparing for the ceremony and the post-wedding party. From the moment we first view Lithgow and Molina singing a duet together  - their voices and theatrics in synch and at odds - tender intimacy is apparent. Ira Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias have created two remarkably gentle and loving individuals, their intimacy and enduring connection, is both understated and powerfully passionate.

The consequences of ultimately legitimizing their union bear witness to the harsh realities that accompany that choice. Soon after the nuptials, George gets fired from his job, and the economic demands of existing in NYC, forced to sell the apartment in order to find more affordable housing, interrupts their former cadence of living. Having no alternative, George and Ben, temporarily separate to move in with friends and relatives till they can find a home of their own. Molina and Lithgow stunningly convey the anguish of living apart and the intense longing of being united again. It is as if one person is sliced in half – going through the motions, but not fully functioning without the other.

LOVE IS STRANGE also references the mysterious corridor of generational diversity - both fractious and enriching. The anxious, rebellious teenager slowly embracing life’s uncertainties embodied by Joey, Ben’s great-nephew in an excellent performance by Charlie Tahan who is likable, secretive and obnoxious – an eternal artifact of an adolescent’s growing awareness of life’s promises and aching discomforts. And approaching mid-life, are his parents - Kate (Marisa Tomei - a natural wonder)  - a writer trying to meet the demands of motherhood and still do her own work and Elliot (Darren E. Burrows) a father too wrapped up in doing business (supporting the family?) to notice the splintering family dynamic. Tomei’s facial expressions convey a woman’s inner tug-of-war between being a caregiver and accomplishing her own ambitions, shifting from haggardly frustrated to a luminous empathy, particularly for the growing pains of her son on the cusp of adulthood.


Director Ira Sachs has given us a tone poem to the beauty, delight and fragility of living in a city - New York - dynamic, diverse and constantly changing, echoing the vicissitudes of life as we stumble through our own personal unfolding. A love story that has depth and endurance - delicate and supple, both romantic and mundane, LOVE IS STRANGE is wrenchingly lovely and generous, but also a reminder that nothing is permanent.

Postcript: This film will be in theaters in the summer of 2014. I saw a preview at  The Tribeca Film Festival.

Monday, April 14, 2014

THE LUNCHBOX 4/14/14


 THE LUNCHBOX is a graceful, delicate film directed by Ritesh Batra about two lonely people who get to know each other the old-fashioned way – through delectable, beautifully prepared meals, and the passing of folded notes tucked away discreetly in a lunchbox. Mumbai with its mesmerizing lunch delivery system, reminded me of an assembly-line of various conveyances racing to different locations - scooter, bicycle, and foot, incredibly well-organized and always efficient – delivered on time and most importantly to the proper destination. Except in this case a mixup occurs. And that is the kernel of this tale of emotional transformation.

Nimrat Kaur portrays Ila, an underestimated, disregarded housewife who believes that she can rekindle the magic of her relationship with hubby through the art of culinary skill. She is being coached and advised on food preparation and love relationships by a neighbor called Auntie who she communicates with by screaming out the window - a bit of a heavy-handed comic distraction, but also a narrative device to fill in historical and familial stories.

We see the coldness of Ila’s domestic situation when her husband comes home from work, barely noticing his wife and their young child. The only prospect of contact she has with him is the daily lunchbox meals that get delivered to his place of work. Ila’s fantasy that the metal canisters of various dishes, carefully and tenderly prepared, can bridge a gulf of indifference is both poignant and heartrending.

The amazingly expressive actor, Irrfan Khan plays Saajan Fernandes, a widowed bureaucrat in a busy office, weeks from retiring; a man who does his job well, keeps to himself, seemingly standoffish, rarely interacting with any colleagues at work. His solitude and desolation are evident when he comes home from work, smoking on the balcony wistfully watching another family across the way responding to his intense gaze by drawing the curtains to shield the view.

Saajan is the recipient of the mis-delivered lunchbox, and as the film progresses, we witness his re-emergence into society and humanity, the initial reawakening through the savory reception of Ila’s lovingly cooked meals. She quickly realizes that her husband did not receive her special “gift”, but the anonymous person who licked up every last bit of her cuisine appreciated her artistry, so she continues to send out the lunchbox, but includes scraps of paper with bits and pieces of her life slowly opening up to a sympathetic and sensitive association  - one that will subtly and softly burnish both their lives.

Once Saajan opens the door to his inner secret self, even if ever so carefully, another character appears – a young man, charmingly portrayed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Shaikh, an ambitious apprentice in the office who is being trained by Saajan to be his future replacement. Their complicated relationship is both intensely heartrending, and eloquent in the way it conveys Sajaan’s growing awareness of the inequity of class distinctions in India.

THE LUNCHBOX is more than light comedy. It is a gentle tale of lives inadvertently bumping into each other and careening off in distinctive directions, influencing one another by encounters that are humble and often unassuming, but reverberate, echoing permanently.


Friday, April 4, 2014

CESAR CHAVEZ 4/4/14

Saw director Diego Luna's film CESAR CHAVEZ - a docudrama about the non-violent civil rights advocate and union organizer of the farm workers in California - a film worth seeing for all of you who do not know about this important man and the National Farm Workers Association he co-founded with Dolores Huerta. 

The fine performer, Michael Pena plays Chavez, but physically he is a very different body type from Cesar Chavez who was a lean, intense looking man, so the mis-casting intruded on my memory of Chavez. Yet Pena conveys the quiet indomitable spirit and rage of those who fight a system which is tied to corporate dollars....and how that determination can eventually succeed..(for the time being.)

The steps to realize social justice and the toll on the workers and their families including Chavez' own conflict with his son brings a personal element to the movie. The farm workers' struggles inspired people all over the world to boycott grapes - even I did at the time.

Monday, March 17, 2014

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL 3/27/14


I absolutely adored Wes Anderson’s MOONRISE KINGDOM – a film that was enchanting, eccentric, visually as clear as breathing in the early morning light. The director successfully used actors against type making me realize the range of their abilities. I was held captive and surrendered my prosaic reality for almost 2 hours until the magic ended.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL was about 70% as mesmerizing even though the dialogue was snappy, the actors racing back and forth – torsos rigid and legs moving like Keystone Kops right out of a Mack Sennett film  were endearing, but “sight gags” too oft repeated can be tedious. Anderson walks a tightrope – between being overly cute, and conjuring incisive transformations that are entrancing. He teeters on both sides of that thin line – sometimes outrageously playful and facetious, and at other times predictably slapstick and repetitive.

Through flashbacks, we are introduced to Gustav H. (a wonderful stately, farcical Ralph Fiennes) who is the ideal concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel located in a fictional kingdom somewhere in Central Europe in the 1930’s. We are shown inklings of a tremulous and uneasy time period between the wars, and the cataclysmic changes that will soon overtake the continent. Glimmers of fascism are on the rise, but the movie treats the black-shirted “thugs” with short shrift – ridiculing them as if they were burlesque characters out of a Marx Brothers film – impotent and ridiculous.

Gustave H is a gentleman who lives by the rules of his profession and has a genuine affection for his job and his patrons. He is a man who believes in “service,” and has the personality and charismatic appeal to glide in out of seductions, preferably with the older and wealthier of his female clientele. Cynicism is made palatable by the undeniable joy and high spirits of his antics.

 Basically this is a mystery tale – a whodunit involving the murder of one of the hotel’s customers; a missing will and the theft of a valuable painting. It is also essentially a film about a friendship – a mentorship of a young apprentice, aptly named Zero Mustapha (an enthusiastic and winning Tony Revolori) who is the most fully realized individual in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL,) a “lobby boy” taken under the Concierge’s wing becoming his ally and devoted friend. Their adventures combine whacky perilous undertakings overlaid with the innocence of innate goodness, often involving Wes Anderson’s ensemble cast – Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson with “newcomers” Jude law, F. Murray Abraham, William DaFoe, Jeff Goldbaum and the fragile Lea Seydoux thrown in the mix.


Visually THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL feels like a fairy tale. Once upon a time…in a far off land …describes what Anderson’s world evokes. Emotional resonance does not peek out very often, except for a few tender scenes between Zero and Gustav H. and even then there is a wall of self-conscious drollery that separates us from them. But I definitely think that this is a film one should see by a director who deserves our attention. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

TRUE DETECTIVE 3/10/14


True Detective, an ambitious 8 part series on HBO, where the word Detective is singular not plural. Always wondered if the title gave that designation to Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) who obsessively continued "detecting/searching" for 17 years after a serial killer case in the backwoods and swamps of Louisiana was "solved" with lots of unanswered questions left in the dank and steamy air. His partner - Marty Hart ( Woody Harrelson), a mercurial, womanizing, down-to-earth antithesis to Cohle saw the conclusion of the case, and the end of their relationship as the finale to a tormented, life-altering period.

We meet them again in 2012- a plot device which had many "red herrings" -the two former Louisiana detectives being interrogated - a flashback technique - addressing issues of hindsight, marriage, prevarication and the attempt to bring some clarity to the intervening time period.

Basically this series was about the relationship between these two men; their different approaches to investigation - the ups and downs of their personal connection - interspersed with mysticism, philosophical gibberish, religion, hard drugs, drinking, rough sex, shootouts, and most importantly deeply ingrained familial tragedies that slowly leak - drip by drip down to the next generation. We can not escape the "darkness' of our forebearers, at least that is what creator Nic Pizzolatto would have us believe.

What held my interest, despite the convoluted plot and Rust Cohle's pretentious monologuing, was the strong acting performances by McConaughey and Harrelson. The chemistry between them was strong, their human failings and the burdens of life's heavy lifting were etched in their body language as well as their oftentimes passionate and eloquent features. Each stayed in character - one mask like and inscrutable, the other engaging with a seductive grin - the tongue peeking out with delight out of the corner of Harrelson's lips.

I believe the last episode left an opening for a sequel. I hope so.