Archive for the 'Arts' Category

21
Jun
20

Shirley

Two of the best acting moments I’ve seen in a while were in this fascinating movie about Shirley Jackson.

Shirley

The first is by Elisabeth Moss, who may be the next Meryl Streep (she seems to be able to play just about anything)*, playing Shirley. The scene is near the end of the film, right before she chases her cheating, controlling, condescending husband out of her study (I think she throws scissors at him) — this look crosses her face, showing that she  despises him (old news) and that she’s okay with that (new news).

The second is from Odessa Young, playing the wife of an equally despicable faculty husband, as she gets into a car on her way to the next stage of her life; when she shudders, and shakes her head, as if waking herself from the dream of the past two years when she completely subordinated herself to what everybody else needed her to be and forgot who she was.

The movie is a little weird, but I get the feeling that the people being represented might fall under that same category. I thought it was generally quite fabulous, and pleasantly surprised that there was something new on that I hadn’t already seen (my husband claims we’ve “used up” Netflix.) 😀

 

*Top of the Lake is amazing; if you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and go.

10
Jun
17

an hour and 45 minutes I can’t get back

Just watched All is Lost.

The reviews were all about how masterful Robert Redford’s acting was; how ingenious that there was an entire movie made with 3 lines of spoken “dialogue” — even though it was “monologue.”

I’ll just say this:

The story was so full of holes, it should have sunk along with the sailboat. And anybody smart enough to go out and sail across the Indian Ocean by himself should be smart enough not to start a fire in a lifeboat. “Resourceful” my heinie…

Just sayin’.

28
Sep
14

some things just shouldn’t be fixed

These are done by a 5-year old who is so deep in the autism spectrum she’s just beginning to speak.

Painting was part of her therapy to help her learn to focus and to take turns. She clearly has a gift. I’m wondering if I could buy one.

Click on the painting for a link to the article.

painting

Did I mention she’s 5?

13
Mar
13

and the award goes to. . .

Jennifer Lawrence, for wit and grace under pressure; also known as “maintaining poise and humor while answering stupid questions from the press.”

I mean, really — these are the best questions they can come up with? Seems like they don’t even need to be asked.

Anyway. I think she’s terrific. She was fantastic in Winter’s Bone, she’s young and beautiful and confident and not a wisp.

My only regret is I managed not to see this until today.

07
Mar
13

“PLASTIC BEACH”

These two amazing people create beautiful works of art from the tons (I’m not exaggerating) of plastic they harvest from a small stretch of beach. They are completely aware of the irony.

“PLASTIC BEACH” Prepare To Be Amazed.

I will take this opportunity to reiterate a point I’ve made a few times before: don’t use plastic that you are going to throw away unless you can’t possibly help it. 

As they point out — the opposite of beauty isn’t ugly, it’s indifference.

27
Feb
13

Well if you put it that way. . .

Interesting take on the controversial “Boob Song” performed by Seth McFarlane on the Oscars a couple nights ago.

Read and watch here.

Discuss.

29
Nov
12

Wildly Low-cost Solution to Clearing Afghan Landmines

Wildly Low-cost Solution to Clearing Afghan Landmines.

Found this on “Quieter Elephant.” (One of my favorite Canadians, which isn’t a worthless distinction, given that I’m married to one.)

Beauty born of necessity. Just hoping it gets done, and that it works.

In a almost-but-maybe-not-quite-related story, we watched Blood Diamond last night. A little Spielbergian-sanctimonious at times, but it really changes the way you think about that particular gemstone. Was wondering if it would help anyone in Africa if I took the tiny diamonds out of my ears.

 

13
Nov
12

there but for the grace of music lessons go

Only Daughter had her first “orchestra concert” tonight. She actually asked me not to go. She took some violin lessons as younger youngster, and feels that the exertions of the 6th grade ensemble are, in a way, beneath her.

I went anyway.

(As a pointed aside, they’re not. Beneath her, that is. She had 5 teachers in 4 years because they kept moving away or graduating from college or taking so many out-of-town gigs she would have one lesson a month so she learned 1/4 what she should have, and absolutely nothing about how to read music much less how to understand what she was hearing.)

The orchestra did a fine job, all things considered. It was noted that there were approximately 75 musicians “on stage” and approximately 65 versions of any given note at any given time, but what’s a person to do?

One of the directors stood up at the end to thank all of the parents for going that extra mile (really? it’s “extra” now? shouldn’t it just be part of what everyone should be expected to do if they want to be a living, breathing, feeling member of the universe?) to support their children’s efforts to learn to play a musical instrument.

Okay, fine. Thanks are good. I’m fine. Really, I am.

Then he talks about the benefits — to the brain, to the person, to society, to the importance of students learning to communicate that which cannot be said in words; I start to think, okay, so he’s not a total doofus. But no, I “forgave” him too soon.

Wait for it. . .

“Maybe if more children learn to be thinking, feeling members of society, fewer of them would be flying airplanes into buildings.”

Oh. I had no idea. If only the terrorists had had music lessons.

=

 

Idiot.

 

25
Sep
12

looks about right

(Clicking on each headline should take you to the article in its entirety.)

(This right after his brilliant suggestion that we “kick [the difficult problems in the Middle East] down the road and hope someone else comes up with a solution.”)

To sum up: Apparently Mitt believes that he is in a dead heat with Obama,  ” . . . an outright denial of political reality, but Mr. Romney’s willingness to stray from the truth is at the root of what’s really going on.”

and. . .


an article which includes the line: “And we need to ask whether we now have an electoral process so vacuous, vicious and just plain silly that most people in their right minds wouldn’t go anywhere near it.”

Which reminds me of this. (Click “this” to read it.)

Alas.

If only we had a Holocaust cloak and a wheelbarrow. (I’m not really sure why the above reminded me of this clip, but it did. Maybe it was just the use of “to sum up.” It’s a good clip, either way.)

18
Jun
12

alone vs. lonely

You can spend a lifetime surrounded by busy-ness and noise and people and feel completely alone.

Husband left yesterday (with the cappuccino machine, which just seems to me to be the Last Straw) and I won’t see him until Friday.

I have so much to do, and I’m busy busy busy doing it, but I know, every minute, that he is 160 miles and 5 days away. Some part of me knows.

Your absence goes through me
like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with is color.

(Merwin, not me. I wish.)

Second Son is in the basement playing his guitar, Only Daughter is at her father’s until tomorrow night, Dexter the Dancing dog is in his “house” for the evening.

I watched Juno and cried, in the usual spot. Can’t find a clip. You’ll have to watch it and see if you can figure out where.

Sigh.

 

18
Jun
12

Cool!

But how does it work?

pamelia_kurstin_plays_the_theremin.html

05
Jun
12

from Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson

“. . .Every spirit passing through the world fingers the tangible and mars the mutable, and finally has come to look and not to buy. So shoes are worn and hassocks are sat upon and finally everything is left where it was and the spirit passes on, just as the wind in the orchard picks up the leaves from the ground as if there were no other pleasure in the world but brown leaves, as if it would deck, clothe, flesh itself in flourishes of dusty brown apple leaves, and then drops them all in a heap at the side of the house and goes on. . .”

28
May
12

I can’t decide

Whether I like this (the original, I believe):

or the cover by Jayme Dee:

better.

I do know that I have a new favorite song. For this week, anyway, during which I will listen to it way too many times and by July wish I hadn’t. Like eating too much cake, that’s what I (always) do.

23
May
12

sorrows keener than these

. . .We stood and brushed each other off.
There are sorrows keener than these. . .

(Jane Kenyon, “The Blue Bowl”)

I got up this morning and sat on the couch in my pajamas while Only Daughter got herself ready for school. She sat for a while underneath my legs underneath the alpaca blanket, chattering about this and that as she is wont to do. When she went out for the bus I went back to bed and slept until almost 11.

I can’t seem to do anything, at least not anything that matters.

After a brunch of poached eggs and bacon with the fattiest portion sliced off and sourdough toast I glued the broken-off border mosaic tiles back on to the table I made for my mom many Mother’s Days ago. Two of the border tiles, and most of the edging ones, are missing. I’ll have to figure out something else to do there. I had this feeling as I was doing it that I was reassembling more than a table; something right out of a Coppola movie. Forgiveness, absence, loss, misunderstandings, shortcomings, misapprehensions — all filled in with a squirt of glue and a purple glass tile.

As if, right?

17
Apr
12

on poetry

I find myself thinking still about Merwin’s “On the Subject of Poetry,” especially trying to figure out why Merwin called it that, and I think I owe oldblack an apology.

I think I got it all wrong.

Instead, the young man in the garden, with his hands in his pockets, listening to the wheel that is not there, is us, trying to discern what the poem means. And it is exactly that enigmatic nature that is poetry.

                               . . .He does not move
His feet nor so much as raise his head
For fear he should disturb the sound he hears
Like a pain without a cry, where he listens. . .

 

You can hear it, see it, just there. No, not there, there. And trying to explain it is the act which destroys it.

 

For some reason this reminds me of a beautiful, powerful moment in the haunting movie Tsotsi.  Tsotsi, (the name he has given himself means, literally, “thug,”) has invaded a young woman’s home and is forcing her to nurse the infant he has inadvertently stolen and then decided to keep. He notices some mobiles the woman has made. One is made of bits of scrap metal. When Tsotsi asks her why it’s all rusty she replies, simply, “I was sad.” Another is of broken, colored glass. He pokes his head into its dangling strands and asks, “This one, you were happy? How much?” She says “Fifty dollars.” “Fifty? For broken glass?” “No, silly, for light, and color, on you. Can’t you see?”

 

06
Mar
12

Game Change

Roger Ebert has reviewed the new movie Game Change, starring Woody Harrelson as one of McCain’s advisers, Ed Harris as John McCain, and Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin. The movie itself looks really good, but Sarah Palin makes me so angry just on principle, (kind of like how our cat feels about the dog), that I’m not sure watching it would be a good idea.

It does reveal two interesting things I did not know before:

The incessant repetition of her trademark tag lines was scripted, a way the advisers devised to keep her from revealing how incredibly ignorant she was, and some of the advisers were so disgusted by her that they themselves were unable to vote for McCain.

I don’t find either one of those things very hard to believe.

I’d ask where is she, but I don’t really care. I’m just glad she’s disappeared.

 

05
Mar
12

Goldberg, Variation 1, Take 1

After taking Dex to the vet for his ahem gender revision surgery, spent the morning doing yoga

I will do this. I don't know when, but I will. I'll be sure to let you know

and being Martha Flipping Stewart making Roman blinds for my front windows.

I have some group classes starting soon, so thought I’d calm myself down preemptively get in the mood by practicing a little Bach.

Recorded this on my iPhone on the first take. A little rushed in a couple of places, a little sloppy here and there, but not bad for the first run.

Recording quality isn’t the greatest. . .but I’m going to put it up anyway to try to get me off to a good start.

And, in addition to the order from chaos, it just seems so darn joyful.

Hope you like!

Goldberg variation 1

04
Mar
12

untangling the tangles

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I was going to start a new project — one Goldberg Variation a week until the whole piece is learned.

Yesterday I started the first Variation.

But let me digress for a moment.

I’ve noticed over the past several months that when I’m feeling emotionally turmoiled (isthataword?) I turn to Bach. At the end of a particularly long day or in the middle of a stressful week or after a difficult or disappointing conversation or encounter, I find myself sitting at the piano, working my way through a Prelude or Fugue; musical Valium, if you will.

The past couple of days were particularly trying.

To spare you all of the gruesome details, let’s just say that a student of a colleague of mine at “my” college misinterpreted and/or misrepresented a very brief and casual exchange and the colleague, someone I like very much, and thought liked, trusted, and admired me, assumed the worst. And, rather than asking me what had happened, wrote me an email telling me how unprofessional and insensitive I was, and then blithely went about the rest of his evening, not getting my phone message, not reading my email. I, being the I-must-be-the-crappiest-person-in-the-world type, was awake until 3 a.m., and awake again at 6:30, and had a generally overwhelmed and in-the-overtired-induced-ozone all day Friday.

We exchanged a few emails after he FINALLY returned my call at 9:30 the next morning (15 hours after his message), and he apologized for jumping to the wrong conclusion, and for not asking me about it first, but I still generally felt like crap about the whole thing, but for gradually evolving reasons.

After I got over the self-loathing stage, I was angry, and had a few questions.

Why did this person so easily assume the worst? This isn’t the first time this has happened to me; it seems to be my superpower; I’d rather have another. I’ve always worked really hard, I’m fairly good at what I do, I’m organized and responsible and conscientious. This seems to have hurt me rather than helped me. I’ve actually been told that, as an adjunct, I “didn’t know my place.”

Anyway. . .

Even if things had happened as the student seems to have portrayed them, why is this automatically a bad thing? We coddle students too much, we treat them like customers rather than students; our job seems to be more about patting them on the head and making sure they feel good about themselves than about actually pushing them to achieve their best or challenging them when they don’t. This can’t be good for them, nor for society in general.

And, finally, why do I ALWAYS go so easily to self-critical, self-loathing, even when righteous indignation or outright anger is what’s called for? I think it’s a woman thing. I’m not sure, however, that it’s a good thing. Husband points out that he goes right to anger; he is much more efficient that way. I think it’s a guy thing, and I’m not sure that’s such a good thing either.

I always end up feeling like this: (from thisisnotthatblog.com)

when I should probably be feeling like this

So, back to Bach. . .(remember Bach?)

His music often seems like a tangle. It can take days to work out fingerings that allow you to navigate the passagework; and often there seems to only be one fingering that actually works. The melodic lines can be easily identified and unraveled when listening to a good recording, or even just by looking at the score, but making them audible can feel like trying to untangle a large skein of yarn after the cat has spent a night “playing” with it. A forest of whirls and knots and undergrowth. And then, often seemingly suddenly, the order is revealed, and everything clicks into place.

Maybe that’s why. Order from chaos, eventually, but always ultimately, revealed.

In a not-completely unrelated story, we were without power for around 18 hours because of “bad weather.” (We’re not really sure what it was, although it was a little windy and we live in the forest, and apparently 74,000 Consumers Energy customers were without power in Michigan today, so I guess we’re lucky that it’s back on “already.”) Anyway, nothing restores a sense of order like coming home from good Thai food and Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in the same movie, to lights and heat and finally being able to clean up the kitchen.

Husband says that the clean kitchen is a sign of hope.

That makes sense to me, although I think the order-from-chaos thing helps.

I would post a recording of me playing the first Variation, but Husband thinks that recording it at 11:52 p.m. after a glass of scotch might not be a good idea.

He’s probably right.

Another time, then.

01
Mar
12

ah, Bach!

Am thinking I need a project, so have decided to try to learn one of the Goldberg variations every week until I’ve learned them all.

But first, what I really want to know, is whether Bach might have actually had 12 fingers on each hand; or maybe a third arm?

It would really shed some light on the whole thing.

27
Feb
12

531 posts, 1,397 comments, 212 followers, but NOT J-Lo’s nipple

642 hits so far today, wait, now it’s 669, mostly by people apparently looking for a picture of J-Lo’s nipple. In fact, this seems not to be that rare of a sighting; maybe you should just keep paying attention and someday you, too, can claim that you saw it, along with most of the modern Western world. We can all say we knew you when.

I apologize to my faithful readers, if you feel that you are being unfairly scolded. A good opportunity to apply the “if the shoe fits, wear it” adage.

Wouldn’t we all be better off if we spent more time thinking/worrying/doing something about/empathizing over things like politics, religion, parenthood, marriage, life, womanhood; things that matter I imagine, no, hope, to many in the world?

I don’t have a picture of J-Lo’s nipple, and I’m not going to look for one, although nothing’s stopping you from trying here.

I thought, briefly, about putting up a picture of one of mine, but that would just be weird, and wrong, and weirdly wrong, and I imagine there are at least 15 of you out there who just heaved a giant sigh of relief. (The rest of you, please just keep whatever you’re thinking to yourself thankyouverymuch.)

You’ll have to content yourself with this nipple-like picture of the halo effect caused by a lunar eclipse.

Besides, a nipple’s a nipple. What possible difference could it make?

Ew. Just made the mistake of looking to see if I could find a picture of a “generic” nipple to post.

Now I have to go poke my eyes out.

Tomorrow we shall return to serious topics, like Rick Santorum saying that the separation of church and state makes him feel sick to his stomach. Take THAT Tea Partiers.

27
Feb
12

pandering post-Oscar post; Updated

Okay, first of all, I was really curious as to why I had 51 hits in one hour last night when the usual hourly rate is more around 10-20. Then I discovered that J-Lo apparently had a wardrobe malfunction, and I had a post about J-Lo from a couple New Years Eve’s ago. Really? This is all you have to do? Look for a picture of J-Lo’s nipple? I’m betting it looks pretty much like anybody else’s.

Sheesh.

ANYway. . .

…I have just wasted 30 minutes I can’t get back looking at pictures from the Red Carpet “ceremony” (seriously? it’s a ceremony now?) so I thought I would waste a few more commenting on them.

But first a question. How much Botox is too much? The bottom half of Billy Crystal’s face looked 60+, but his forehead NEVER moved. Weird.

For the sake of fairness/disclosure, all of the photos below (unless otherwise noted) were taken from theenvelope.latimes.com.

20120227-105343.jpg
41 going on 60. If she gets any thinner she’s going to look 160.

In her pre-skeleton days she used to be beautiful.

I just don’t get it. Why does this repeatedly happen, where there seems to be no such thing as “thin enough”?

Speaking of skeletons. . .

20120227-105511.jpg
We all want to know, Angelina. What was up with the leg? Did you lose a bet or something?

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How does one write a choking sound?

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The top of this gown is at LEAST two sizes too big.

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Santa!

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Um, polka dots? Um, no.

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Is it just me, or does he actually LOOK like Puss in Boots?

20120227-111128.jpg
Stand up girl! You’re at the Oscars!

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“Princess Charlene and Prince Albert”
Who?

Enough of the ridiculous, now for the “Stunning”:

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20120227-110339.jpg

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20120227-110513.jpg

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(I am a little curious about the back.)

20120227-110638.jpg

22
Feb
12

“Snow Bunnies” Trampled Art by Sonja Hinrichsen

This is way cool. No pun intended. Okay it was, just a little.

“Snow Bunnies” Trampled Art by Sonja Hinrichsen.

16
Feb
12

“Clarity” Paintings by Jason de Graaf

“Clarity” Paintings by Jason de Graaf.

Really stunning paintings that you won’t believe aren’t photographs. Thanks artstormer!

30
Jan
12

Something worthy of the 501st post. . .or maybe not

Politics: Is it really possible that the Republican party can’t come up with someone more viable than Mitt Romney and his millions and his condescension, or Newt Gingrich and his volatility and personal and professional unreliability?

Religion: Read this post by the Circular Runner. (Another one of those “what he said” moments.)

Home: Dexter the Dancing Dog has seriously backslid on potty training. I hope it’s just a teething phase or something. He was with Only Daughter at Only Daughter’s Dad’s (ODD?) house for the weekend — complete upheaval, probably, and I think he missed me. He won’t get out of my lap this morning. He’s very soft and cuddly, so it’s okay.

Culture: Saw two great movies on DVD over the weekend — Contagion and The Conspirator. The whole time I was watching Contagion I was worrying about picking up my own wine glass in case I was going to catch something. And Marion Cotillard has the most beautiful accent I’ve ever heard. Robin Wright was absolutely amazing in The Conspirator, and the issues addressed: the rights of civilians to civilian trials, the beliefs held by people in power that law can and should be suspended in times of “war,” hit way too close to home and the Bush/Iraq era.

Books: Just finished reading Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. Loved it. Don’t know what to read next. Any suggestions?

Music: Does anyone know how to use Ping? I want to be able to post music for my piano students to listen to. I thought that was kind of what it’s for but I can’t figure out how to use it.

Music part 2: Just finished putting the whole book of Honk! on CD for an area high school for rehearsals. Nothing like trying to learn and record an entire musical in a week, not to mention the 2-hour long argument I had to mediate last night between my digital recorder and iTunes. (I prevailed, finally.) Does anybody know why iTunes insists on reordering things when importing? I had to manually drag all of the tracks around (3 times, because the first two times didn’t seem to transfer correctly) and then when I burned it to the CDs it removed all of the labels from the tracks. REALLY FRUSTRATING! Although I’m sure it has a lot more to do with me not really knowing what I’m doing than about the limitations of the program itself.

Blogging: Two blogs I’ve recently discovered which I’m really enjoying: Redamancylit, where the blogger posts excerpts from various writings, many of them profoundly beautiful; and musicandstroke, written by a friend of mine, a percussionist, who suffered a stroke about a year ago, and who writes about the recovery process and how different life/the world looks afterwards. Check them out!

Family: First Son is about to turn 22. Why does that sound so much older than 21? And Only Daughter will be 11 on Wednesday. Sheesh.

Some pictures from the last week of facebook postings:

And this, just because you can never have too many boots, or cats:

 

05
Jan
12

following the youtube trail

Was watching the video clips from my “life, in dance” post, and clicked on a couple of the follow-ups.

You must watch this:

and this:

Absolutely stunning. Especially the second one.

22
Dec
11

life, in dance

21
Dec
11

Christmas music that won’t require a follow-up insulin injection

 

 

20
Dec
11

absolutely lovely

Besides its beauty is its transience, which becomes part of its beauty; the fact that he knows when he begins that it will be gone shortly after he finishes; the many who stand to watch, and shout out warnings, “The tide’s coming in!” Even the water itself contributes.

And his obvious joy.

23
Nov
11

this year’s gratitude

For finding my way through the darkness,
For flashes of insight and joy,
For sadness, and hope from unexpected places.
For strength and struggle, disappointment and pain,
For the reprieves of sunsets,
and beautiful meals and that perfect unoaked Chardonnay.
For the people who enrich my life,
for being heard, and being known.
For yesterday, and today, and,
as far as I know,
tomorrow.
Thank you.

12
Nov
11

what he said

Some things that made me laugh, or nod my head, or laugh and nod my head, from Stephen Marche’s “Wouldn’t it be Cool if Shakespeare Wasn’t Shakespeare?” riff from the NYTimes.

The article is written in response to the movie “Anonymous,” which claims that Shakespeare’s works were actually written by one Edward de Vere. Of course this is bunk, and I won’t get into that now. But he (Marche) put a couple of things particularly succinctly, and amusingly, which I wanted to share.

This:

You don’t have to be a truther or a birther to enjoy a conspiracy theory. We all, at one point or another, indulge fantasies that make the world seem more dangerous, more glamorous and, simultaneously, much more simple than it actually is. But then most of us grow up. Or put down the bong.

and this:

The original Oxfordian, the aptly named J. Thomas Looney, who proposed the theory in 1920, believed that Shakespeare’s true identity remained a secret because, he said, “it has been left mainly in the hands of literary men.” In his rejection of expertise, at least, Looney was far ahead of his time. This same antielitism is haunting every large intellectual question today. We hear politicians opine on their theories about climate change and evolution as a way of displaying how little they know. When Rick Perry compared climate-change skepticslike himself to Galileo in a Republican debate, I dearly wished that the next question had been “Can you explain Galileo’s theory of falling bodies?” Of all the candidates with their various rejections of the scientific establishment, how many could name the fundamental laws of thermodynamics that students learn in high school? Healthy skepticism about elites has devolved into an absence of basic literacy.

and this:

The Shakespeare controversy, which emerged in the 19th century (at that time, theorists proposed that Francis Bacon was Shakespeare), was one of the origins of the willful ignorance and insidious false balance that is now rotting away our capacity to have meaningful discussions. The wider public, which has no reason to be familiar with questions of either Renaissance chronology or climate science, assumes that if there are arguments, there must be reasons for those arguments. Along with a right-wing antielitism, an unthinking left-wing open-mindedness and relativism have also given lunatic ideas soil to grow in. Our politeness has actually led us to believe that everybody deserves a say.

The problem is that not everybody does deserve a say. Just because an opinion exists does not mean that the opinion is worthy of respect. Some people deserve to be marginalized and excluded. There are many questions in this world over which rational people can have sensible confrontations: whether lower taxes stimulate or stagnate growth; whether abortion is immoral; whether the ’60s were an achievement or a disaster; whether the universe is motivated by a force for benevolence; whether the Fonz jumping on water skis over a shark was cool or lame. Whether Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare is not one of these questions.

Yeah.

28
Oct
11

the tree of life

Just finished watching The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, with a few brief and puzzling appearances by Sean Penn.

First of all, I feel I must stress that I have no problem with poetic moviemaking, powerful symbolism, or beautiful cinematography. What I do have a problem with is the fact that the director, Terrence Malick, seemed to have two irreconcilable goals in the making of this movie: trying to tell a compelling and powerful story about a complex character and the family at his mercy, and trying to incorporate every powerful moment or image Malick has experienced since childhood.

It’s kind of funny that I ended up watching this tonight, because I was thinking, literally just a couple of hours before, about whether it would be possible to tell the story of a life through a series of songs, or pictures; whether the changes in feeling and ambition and perspective that mark one’s passage through this life can be reflected adequately without a narrative.

This is what Malick seems to have tried to do, but I don’t think he did it very well. There are too many gaps in the narrative — principally, which son died? and at what point in the rest of the character’s lives? If you want to do it poetically, you need to do it all poetically.

Instead, when he gets to a point in the story where he doesn’t know how to tell it, he just cops out, and opts instead for montages of creation-of-the-earth-à-la-2001:A-Space-Odyssey, or crowds of people “coming to the water.” Then, when the images seem to have tried the last possible shred of patience from the viewer, he returns to the story at some point in the future (or, even more frustratingly, cuts to the closing credits). I guess we are all supposed to feel that the “story had been told” (did it not matter? was it supposedly obvious? is it too pedantic of us to want to have a vague idea what’s going on?) and are just so flippin’ happy to be done watching volcanos and dinosaur/bird/pterodactyl things poking each other with their beaks we won’t mind or notice.

Didn’t work for me.

Should have watched The Third Man.

The opening monologue, though, is lovely — apparently two writings called “The Way of Grace” and “The Way of Nature.” Anybody have/know the text?

06
Oct
11

what we’ve lost

I mourn, often repeatedly, when the world I know loses someone who still has a lot to offer.

Jeff Buckley comes to mind.

07 Lover, You Should Have Come Over

Going a bit further back, Robert Kennedy.

And now Steve Jobs.

I know I’m “late,” his death “old news,” but I had a busy day, and this is the first chance I’ve had to really sit and think and write.

I’m typing this on a MacBook; I just checked my Twitter account on my iPad. I used my iPhone for email and texting and phone calls at least 15 times today. It’s not even the devices themselves, but the elegance and synergy they provide and represent. My contacts and calendar files scroll like a rolodex, my “files” go into file folders, when I send a text to my son I can read every text, in consecutive order, (amusingly, in little speech-bubbles like those in cartoons), that we’ve exchanged since the last time I emptied the file. The virtual world he has created works the way the real world does, which makes things intuitive and easy and fun.

And then there’s the aesthetic. Things are clean, sleek, clever; from the way the power cord wraps around it’s own self-contained brackets to the way the pages in the iBook “fold” and “turn” the way a real page turns. The keys click just enough when you type on them, resolution is crisp and rich and realistic.

It’s been said all along, and especially today — he was a visionary, a genius, not for the grade point he didn’t earn at the college he dropped out of, but for his ability to learn from mistakes, make new opportunities for himself, and judge well what the world wanted/needed next.

You’ve probably all watched it/read it/heard it today, but today I heard his 2005 commencement address to the graduate class at Stanford (an audience apparently quite amused by his confession that he never graduated from college, and that quitting college was one of the “smartest” things he ever did), and a few things really hit home for me.

Especially these:

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

and

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

If the measure of a successful life is what I seem to think it is: that you have done what you loved, and done something good for the world, you have been a resounding success.

Good-bye Steve. We thank you, and we’ll miss you.

 

20
Sep
11

a new five-year plan

The bloggess posted today about a meeting with her “shrink,” and the shrink’s desire for her to figure out what she wanted out of her life.

She replies to this, after a week of thought, with:

I’m not one of those people.  I just do shit and then other shit happens.  Sometimes it’s good shit and sometimes it’s shitty shit, but none of it is planned.  And I sort of suspect that if I stopped to actually consider who I am, I’d stop being “me”.  ”Me” never knows who I am.  And now I sound like an existential Tarzan.  Awesome.

It’s been eating at me for the last week, but I think I’ve finally figured it out.   My five-year-plan is to never be the kind of person who’s stable enough to have a five-year-plan.  It’s technically the same plan I had five years ago, and guess what?  I’m totally on track.

Those of you who read her blog will recognize her particular sense of humor, and writing style, but this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now, and, as you know, quite intensely. You can read about my midlife crisis here, if you haven’t already.

I met with a good friend this morning, a woman a few years older than I am who has just started a new business in facilitation/leadership coaching/engagement consulting, and we brainstormed about my strengths, interests, personal and professional goals, etc. I have a few ideas, some suggested readings, and a model for designing a business plan.

I’m excited about this, and hope it leads to some clarification for me, and maybe a more focused path for the next/last twenty years of my professional life. I’m thinking these are all good things, and wondering if they are things I should have done twenty years ago, but never mind about that.

I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about my “self” twenty years ago — what I thought I knew, what I thought I wanted, how I thought I’d get it or decided I didn’t deserve it. Part of this recent thinking is triggered by professional frustrations, but also because my sons are approaching the long-awaited Age of Independence, and I’m constantly trying to find the balance between being a “parent” and letting them figure it out for themselves. As I commented on the Bloggess’s post, my sons make me crazy sometimes because they’re so optimistic and I just think they’re being irresponsible because they don’t account for all of the possible things that might go wrong on the way to their poorly-thought out, not-that-ambitiously-pursued dreams. At the same time, I kick myself Every. Single. Day. for not being braver, and thinking of all the cool, kick-ass things I would have/could have/should have done when I was young and relatively free of responsibility if only I would not have been afraid. So clearly I’m not qualified to give them advice, or even a hard time — maybe they’re doing right all the stuff I did wrong.

She also posted this video. Amanda Palmer, “In My Mind.” Love the words, and although I’m not planning on getting any tattoos (maybe a little one?) or painting my eyebrows on quite like that, I find it to be very inspiring. I think I’m going to listen to this every morning for a while.  UPDATE: I especially like the last stanza: And in my mind, I imagine so many things, things that aren’t really happening, and when they put me in the ground I’ll start pounding the lid, saying I haven’t finished yet, I still have a tattoo to get that says I’m living in the moment. And it’s funny how I imagined that I could win this winless fight, but maybe it isn’t all that funny that I’ve been fighting all my life, and maybe I have to think it’s funny if I want to live before I die, and maybe it’s funniest of all to think I’ll die before I actually see that I’m exactly the person that I want to be.

So my new five-year plan: look for open doors, and walk through them. Meanwhile, try to more thoroughly enjoy the room I’m in.

06
Sep
11

cool beests

Check this out: http://www.strandbeest.com

The best are the video clips of Ordis 2007, Umerus 2009, and the Rhinoceros.

A little like tall ships meets George Lucas.

 

05
Sep
11

synechdoche, new york

Just watched this excellent movie, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman (fantastic actor, although he really needs to be careful ’cause he could really go to “seed” without traveling very far) and Catherine Keener (love her, love her voice).

If you haven’t watched it already, get thee hence. And be prepared for a not-brief stretch of puzzlement around the middle, but see it through. And pay attention. It’s totally worth it.

The premise is that the marriage between Kaden (Hoffman), a theater director, and Adele (Keener), a visual artist, is not a good one. They have a wonderful fantastical (wonderfully fantastical) daughter, Olive, who is the key “player” in an emotionally gripping scene at the end, where Kaden recalls a moment from her childhood where she “directs” their play: they are fairies, and she is gravely ill, and wants to be put in a box with a tiny glass of water and a thousand tiny pizzas. . .well, it makes more sense in the movie, and I don’t mean just relatively speaking.

Sigh.

Adele goes to Berlin for an art show, and takes Olive (age 4) with her, presumably for a month. But they never come back. Meanwhile, Kaden wins a MacArthur genius grant, and proceeds to spend the rest of his life creating a play based on his life. The viewer, after coming out the other side of puzzlement/confusion, realizes that he or she is watching a sort of existential worm hole, a life within a life — at one point there is an actor named Sammy, playing Kaden directing the play about Kaden, and an actor playing Sammy, etc., etc. The set is of a part of Manhattan built within a warehouse, which includes a set of the set of the part of Manhattan within a warehouse, etc. . . There’s a moment in, well, “rehearsal,” (although at this point the action in the play is every bit as real as the life the actors are leading, if not more so) where SammyplayingKaden says something to the womanplayingHazel and Kaden stops them, saying “I never said that.” Sammy says, “No, but you thought it.” Or maybe he says “But you should have.” Same difference I guess.

Throughout the movie Kaden suffers from a series of mysterious ailments which cause a variety of difficult/uncomfortable/degenerative symptoms. He seems always to be dying, as are we all. When a relatively young Hazel realizes that she and Kaden will not manage to find a way to be together she decides she needs to create her own life, and tours a house that is for sale, and perpetually on fire, and says to the realtor that she is concerned about buying a house — it’s a big decision, after all, and she’s afraid of dying in the fire, and the realtor responds by saying, “It is a big decision, choosing how you’re going to die.” Years later the house is still on fire, crackling in the background as they talk in Kaden’s car on the street outside, when they finally spend a night together. . .

Everything is about life, and life real v. imagined, and choices and the self-closing loops they create, and the timeless battle between all that we hoped for/believed about ourselves and all the ways the world/ourselves disappoint us.

The final scene involves Kaden on various life support machines, and then getting up from his bed and walking through the set where most of the actors have apparently died in some kind of apocalypse. The woman, Ellen, (Diane Wiest, fantastic as usual), at this point in the “play” playing Kaden, in voice over which is simultaneously telling Kaden what to do/think (I’ve *** over the parts that only make sense in the context of the whole movie and to try to create a logical narrative):

***

there was supposed to be something else

you were supposed to have something

calm, love, children

a child at least,

children

meaning

***

he hates me

I disappointed him and he hates me

****

Everyone is disappointing when you know someone

***

I remember having that picnic with my mother

Look at me

I was so young

there was so much hope

***

look at the night table for a note from Adele

stare out the window

remember the time she got you to pose for one of her paintings

how she told you how beautiful you were

how she made you feel pretty again for a little while

think how you miss her

stand up

now you are waiting and nobody cares

and when your wait is over

this room will still exist and it will continue to hold shoes and dresses and boxes and maybe someday another waiting person and maybe not

the room doesn’t care either

what was once before you, an exciting mysterious future is now behind you; lived, understood, disappointing

you realize you are not special

you have struggled into existence and are now slipping silently out of it

this is everyone’s experience, every single one,

the specifics hardly matter

everyone is everone

so you are Adele, Hazel, Claire, Olive, you are Ellen, all her meager sadnesses are yours, all her loneliness, the gray strawlike hair, her red raw hands, it is yours; it is time for you to understand this

walk

as the people who adore you stop adoring you,

as they die,

as they  move on,

as you shed them as you shed your beauty, your youth,

as the world forgets you,

as you recognize your transience,

as you begin to lose your characteristics one by one,

as you learn there is no one watching you and there never was, you think only about driving

not coming from any place, not arriving any place, just driving, counting off time,

now you are here

it’s 743

now you are here

it’s 744

now you are

stop

***

27
Aug
11

not just me, then

Husband and I had a debate recently, which prompted me to post this survey.

The tepid response has not helped resolve the debate, but I was encouraged when reading the New Yorker review of the movie Crazy, Stupid, Love.

“The young actress Emma Stone, playing a straitlaced law student, has a classic moment: going home with Jacob, she orders him to remove his shirt, which he does, revealing a chest so perfectly sculpted that she’s revolted. ‘Seriously? It’s like you’re Photoshopped.’ Men may be relieved to hear that at least some women find a gym body a little too close to narcissism to be a turn-on. . .”

As the bloggess would say,

23
Jun
11

Dumbest question ever

So I’m Googling the question “Is it safe to swim in Lake Erie,” and I find this question:

“I went swimming in Lake Erie last week and I missed my period that was due on Monday. Can I be pregnant?”

Seriously? Is it possible that someone is this stupid?

Or maybe it’s a joke, like Joaquin Phoenix’s infamous meltdown, or this “singing” teacher that posts a bunch of tutorials on youtube:

Which reminds me, how about this guy?

 

15
Jun
11

stupid art

Except I don’t see “themes of the human condition, humor, warmth or poignancy”. To me it’s just stupid. And ugly. Stupid and ugly.

I can kind of talk myself into “getting” this one,

if it’s only supposed to represent a “hedgehog in blankets.” But for some inexplicable reason it seems to be part of an exhibition entitled “Disagreeable People.” So is the hedgehog hiding from disagreeable people? or is the hedgehog supposed to represent “people” who are disagreeable, and who should therefore do society the service of hiding themselves from sight and the need for the rest of us to interact with them?

And what’s this supposed to be/mean? Must be some kind of shortcoming on my part. I just don’t get it.

This next one is called “Headthinker,” and was apparently part of an exhibit about what actually happens when we’re sleeping and/or dreaming. It’s not clear whether the “sculpture” was created for this event, or if it was adopted for its use after the fact. In any case, I can’t really figure out what Ms. Ford is trying to say. That thinking makes us tired? That thinking turns us into asses?

It just seems stupid to me. And ugly. Stupid and ugly, ugly and stupid.

Maybe it’s just me.

05
Jun
11

Platoon

Just watched Platoon for the first time since the late 1980s. Some random thoughts:

First of all, I enjoyed the fleeting glimpses of a very young and unknown-at-the-time Johnny Depp. Beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

John McGinley is a whack job. This is clear in this movie, as clear as it is in Scrubs. In some strange way, they seem to be the same character.

Tom Berenger (Barnes) is a terrible actor. He had one convincing moment, when his eyes met Charlie Sheen’s (Chris) in the helicopter right after Chris realized that Barnes had killed Elias.

Willem Dafoe (Elias), on the other hand, is amazing. Even when he’s playing a character who seems a bit over the edge, (English Patient, too), he’s completely convincing and sympathetic.

And finally, if Charlie Sheen were old enough to play a soldier in a movie made in 1986 he is, in fact, old enough to know better. And what’s up with the forced smiles? Not happy in his work? You can see more here.

15
May
11

what I’m doing when i’m not writing on my blog

Played through my upcoming Italy program for a couple friends today and tried out my new Sony PCM-D50 digital recorder. (Love it!!!)  Here are a few tracks from the live performance. My piano hasn’t been tuned in a while — have to wait for the weather to settle down a bit, so hope it’s not too painful for those of you with discerning ears.

Hope you enjoy!

01 Excursion No. 1

07 Variations in F Minor, Hob. XVII_6

08 2. Orientale

01
Apr
11

spring break adventures

Yesterday was Only Daughter’s first day of spring break, but I had college classes to teach, so today is “our” first day of spring break together.

We started by getting up “early” (8:00) and heading off to Frederick Meijer Gardens to see the butterflies.

Here are some of the pictures.

If you look closely you should be able to see lots of butterflies. The air was just aflutter.

These are feeding on little balls of nectar.

Wonder if this one is wearing enough SPF.

“Does this flower make my wings look bluer?” “Yes! Now hold still!!!”

Ready for takeoff!!!

This next butterfly is quite large, and the inside of its wings are a beautiful powder blue. One of these types kept flying around and around us, and we were hoping it would land on one of us, but it didn’t. It was a bit disconcerting, though, because it liked to circle our legs, which made us afraid to take a step in case we stepped on it. If you look at the first picture, you can see a hint of the blue as a bright streak between the two wings. The second shot, taken more from the side, better shows its striking eye-markings. I stood and waited and waited and waited for it to fly so I could try to capture it with the wings open (he would NOT hold still). As you can tell by the 3rd shot, it didn’t work out so well.

The funnest part is when you leave, you exit through a vestibule of sorts so they can check for hitchikers.

I tried not to let it bother me when oblivious people would push into view between the scene and my camera and stand there, or when one woman stood and watched for many minutes while her daughter tried repeatedly to catch one of the butterflies, inches from the sign that says “Please Do Not Touch the Butterflies.”

We decided to make the most of our visit, so walked through the sculpture gallery, currently featuring works by Jim Dine. Only Daughter summed it up as such: tools, women (he has a fascination with Venus di Milo), hearts, and Pinocchio. My cynical self wonders if taking four completely unrelated ideas and juxtaposing them qualifies one as an “artist.” Most of it I don’t get, including this:

Now that’s one heck of a tool belt!

It is interesting in that all of his sculptures are in bronze, but treated in such a way as to look like wood, or bone, or even rubber. The security guard pointed out that, after 8 hours a day 5 days a week patrolling the sculpture hall, he was noticing more and more details, such as wondering if the tread on the two tractor tires (connecting an axle which bore more farm implements, a “metal” pig, and a rather large skull) was going in two different directions on purpose — was it implying some kind of circle? Hmmmm, good question, but not good enough to balance out the general state of perplexity and lack of emotional connection I had with most of the work.

There was a “bouquet” of Venus di Milos which I kind of liked, but after I took the picture above Only Daughter pointed out the “No Photography” sign, so I decided I better not take another.

The following are part of the permanent installation:

“Seven Saints and Sinners” by Marshall Fredericks

(Daughter liked that the baby has a halo, too.)

and

“Hagar” by Jacques Lipchitz

Some of you may know Hagar from the story of Genesis: originally the handmaiden of Sarai (Sarah), Abram’s (Abraham) wife, who was offered to Abram by Sarai when she became concerned over her barrenness and believed that she should do this in order to fulfill God’s promise. As you can imagine, Hagar became pregnant before Sarai did, and resentment brewed. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, who became the leader of the Ishmaelites. Hagar is also mentioned in the Koran, although not by name, as it is believed that through her son comes the Prophet Muhammed.

I like this sculpture very much. Its twistings, intertwinings, seem to well represent the complexities of Hagar’s actual and emotional circumstances.

You can see a bit of the Chihuly chandelier in the background.

***************

Phase 2 of Day 1 involves the making of Monkey Bread. Careful consideration of the ingredients (2 sticks of butter, 3 eggs + 2 egg yolks) implies that I will not, however, be eating very much of the monkey bread.

And I think I might have agreed to take her to see a potentially cinematic monstrosity known as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules” this afternoon. It must have been a weak moment.

11
Mar
11

chicago, part ii

Three moments of grace:

Yesterday, the Lincoln Park Zoo parking barricade won’t let the bus out. We are due for a rehearsal in 25 minutes. The church is at least 30 minutes away. The director must be stressing out beyond the comprehension of anyone who isn’t a performer, (although she appears to be completely calm), but she stands up, “ooohs” on a pitch (G, I think) to get the choristers attention, the choristers join in, and she asks them to rehearse the 3rd verse of one of their pieces for their concert. Forty young choristers sing, a capella, filling the bus with an ethereal, beautiful sound.

Today, at the pool, the choir director wants to make an announcement. As she walks past, someone says “Good luck getting their attention,” so I start the G “ooooh” — by the time she’s at the end of the pool the whole group of children is singing along. It’s like magic. Works as well as in my piano classes when I turn the pianos off.

Tonight, after pizza at Giordano’s (40 children, 14 chaperones, LOTS of pizza) the children stand around in a big disorganized blob and sing “People who make music together.” The whole restaurant pauses to listen.

Ah, the calming, unifying power of music.

09
Mar
11

the art of song

I think it would be worth taking voice lessons for 10 years just to be able to sing this song (it’s me at the piano, NOT singing; nobody wants to hear that):

08 Psyche

(Emile Paladhile)

And this might actually be one of the most beautiful things ever written:

03 Liebst du am Schönheit

(Gustav Mahler)

That or Brahms Intermezzo Op. 118 No. 6, or maybe Strauss’s Four Last Songs.

Hmmm. . .something to think about.

02
Mar
11

Enough

If my feet weren’t so cold right now

I’d go out on the deck and press

a handprint into the snow —

a mark that I’d been here; her;

I’ve only ever wanted to feel

I’ve done something that mattered.

 

We’re all such imperfect people

and even when we, at long, long last,

find that we have everything we

ever thought we wanted, we realize

we want more.

 

The living-room doorway is reflected

coldly in the glass sliding door, the faint

light from the bathroom nightlight casts its

weak shadow barely into the dark.

 

It’s March now, but early, and I can’t

shake winter’s grip.

 

Enough.

Enough already.

07
Feb
11

American influence spreads (get it? spreads?)

After a two-year loan to the United States, Michelangelo’s David is being returned to Italy.

His proud sponsors:

(Thanks K.B. — you’re always good for a laugh!)

04
Jan
11

James Levine

Maestro Levine is a paragon of conducting in the United States, with extended tenures at such notable institutions as Tanglewood, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and the Boston Symphony.

His contribution to the canon is remarkable, as his longevity. He has reputedly not been up to his usual standard since around 2003, a result of various illnesses and resulting physical infirmities.

I have nothing but respect for his intellect, musicianship, and accomplishments.

But whenever I see a picture of him, I notice an uncanny resemblance. Maybe it’s just me.

07
Dec
10

the same thing, over and over and over again

from “The Lacuna,” by Barbara Kingsolver

The, I assume, fictional, lead character is a young man, Harrison Shepherd, half Mexican, half Caucasian, who worked in the household of the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo when Trotsky lived with them, in hiding from Stalin. Harrison writes, in 1946, from South Carolina, to Diego, reporting on the nature of politics in the U.S.:

“So that is the report you asked for, not entirely good. Our newsmen mostly reviled the ‘worker’s rebellion.’ Politics here now resemble a pillow fight. Lacking the unifying slogan (Win the War), our opposing parties sling absurd pronouncements back and forth, which everyone pretends carry real weight. How the feathers fly. The newsmen leap on anything, though it’s all on the order of, ‘Four out of five shoppers know this is the better dill pickle,’ assertions that can’t be proven but sway opinion. ‘Dance for the crowd’ is the new order, with newsmen leading the politicians like bears on the leash. Real convictions would be a hindrance. The radio is at the root of the evil, their rule is: No silence, ever. When anything happens, the commentator has to speak without a moment’s pause for gathering wisdom. Falsehood and inanity are preferable to silence. You can’t imagine the effect of this. The talkers are rising above the thinkers.”

Hmmm. . .sounds familiar. . .

06
Jun
10

Brothers

Here’s a movie that repeatedly, through intermittent jarringly bad writing, fails to live up to its potential.

It’s a powerful story: young Marine (Sam) with two young daughters redeploys to Afghanistan shortly after his brother (Tommy) is released from prison. Shortly after (?) deployment, Sam is shot down in a helicopter, and presumed dead (although no body is found, nor dogtags, so this is an early weakness in the plot). Wife (Grace) and daughters mourn, somewhat messed-up brother steps up. He visits/plays with/entertains his nieces, fixes up his sister-in-law’s kitchen with the help of some bumbling contractor friends of his, apologizes to the victim of the crime that put him in jail in the first place.

As can maybe be expected, the brother (well-played by Jake Gyllenhall) and sister-in-law (adequately played by Natalie Portman) grow closer, to the point of a very poignant moment where they (only) kiss once. They decide immediately that they mean too much to each other as family to allow anything else to happen.

Meanwhile, Sam, a Marine commander of an intermediate rank, portrayed unevenly by Toby Maguire, has been taken prisoner along with the only other survivor of the helicopter crash, a less Marine-like private. They are kept captive for months, and routinely tortured, as their captors try to a) extract information and b) coerce them into confessing on video that they (that is, the American military) have no business being in Afghanistan. Victim to the stress of the general situation and a particularly frightening dénouement, Sam commits an unspeakable act, but is eventually found and returns home, where he has to try to deal with society as he no longer knows it and wrestle with the fear that his wife has betrayed him with his brother.

First, Toby Maguire as a Marine seems to be desperately miscast. I understand that physical and emotional rigidity might be desirable in this case, but in the character rather than the acting.  It’s also hard to get past that, until the very end of the movie (where he somewhat effectively plays a desperately troubled man), he looks and sounds like a 15-year old with a bad haircut and adenoids. There is no true exploration of his relationship with his wife, his daughters, his brother, before he leaves for Afghanistan, no emotional context except maybe for the clichéd “Why can’t you (Tommy) be more like your brother (Sam)?” military father. Because of this lack of context, of empathy for the characters, trying to become invested in the story that follows is made that much more difficult.

There are also many (many many) places which seem to have suffered from the equivalent of 9th-grade writing and/or poorly considered editor’s cuts. I got the feeling on numerous occasions that someone had arbitrarily decided the movie absolute MUST come in under 1:50, so many key conversations were reduced to pithy single lines which failed to communicate or to convince.

Example:

Daughter #1, being tucked into bed after dad has suffered from a violent outburst, confessing that she liked it better when Daddy was “dead” and wishes Uncle Tommy could be her Daddy instead: “Will Daddy be okay?” Mom: “Of course.” Daughter: “Thanks, Mommy.”  Well, that was easy.

Sam calling his brother from prison after a violent and frightening altercation: “You’re my brother.” Tommy nods. Ooooooookay. . .

Closing scene, Sam finally confesses to wife the atrocity he committed, in a single sentence: subject-verb-object. Wife nods, embraces husband, the camera pans away. No horror? No explanation? I guess it’s believable that she had an idea (there’s an earlier scene in which this is a possibility), but there’s no drama, no emotion. Realism and believability sacrificed for a stylized minimalism that just doesn’t work.

Another problem is a lack of chronological context. We don’t really know how much time has passed from deployment to capture; from capture to crisis; from crisis to return. We don’t know how long he’s home before it all starts to fall apart. This could, and should, have been done much more clearly.

It’s interesting that The Hurt Locker seemed to communicate all of the angst and drama so much more effectively in such a drily devastating way, including the soldier’s inability to return home and fit back into his family life.

This movie hinted at a valid and powerful exploration of the difficulty of life for a member of the military: go to boot camp, be conditioned to be courageous and strong and capable of dealing out death; return home, without any kind of reverse conditioning, be open and communicative, understanding and kind.

The failure to live up to this potential makes it even more disappointing.

21
May
10

American History X

I’m haunted today by this movie, which I watched for the first time last night.

Derek Vinyard, played with brilliance and subtlety by Ed Norton, is a skinhead, first encouraged in his racism by his father, who is killed by a minority in the line of duty as a fireman; and nurtured in his hatred by a leader of the local skinhead group, creepily portrayed by Stacey Keach. Derek’s intelligence and physical power (Norton supposedly spent a year in the gym bulking up for this role) make him a natural leader, and his younger brother, Danny (also played with beauty and subtlety, in this case by Edward Furlong, John Connor from Terminator II) idolizes, and idealizes him.

Derek brutally murders two black men with whom he has had altercations in the past, principally over the rights to a basketball court in Venice Beach, and who have come to his house at night to terrorize him and his family and/or steal his car (this part of it isn’t very clear, he seems to be being deliberately targeted, but this isn’t carried out in the action necessarily). Danny has witnessed the whole thing, including Derek’s proud defiance as he is taken away by the police.

Because the two men he murdered had come to his house armed, Derek is convicted of a lesser charge, and is imprisoned for 3 years and change. While in prison, Derek undergoes a gradual but dramatic conversion. He begins allying himself with fellow skinheads, but gradually realizes that the leader of this group is doing “business” with everyone, including blacks and hispanics, and Derek feels betrayed by this lack of ideological conviction. At the same time he has built a reluctant friendship with his partner in the laundry room, a gregarious black man who has been imprisoned for 6 years because he, in the process of stealing a TV from a store, accidentally dropped the TV on a policeman’s foot, and has been convicted of assault. When Derek acts on his disillusionment, and “cuts” the skinhead leader in “the yard,” he is targeted for a brutal attack and rape in the showers, and realizes that there is evil, and good, in all races.

When Derek is released, he sees that his younger brother, now 17, has continued on Derek’s path, and he realizes that he has some work to do; not only to help his family recover from their difficult financial and living circumstances, but to help save Danny from a life of prejudice and hate. Meanwhile, Danny is dealing with some race issues of his own at his high school.

I don’t want to spoil anything by giving away the end; I’ll just say that it is a movie that is well-written, well-acted, and simultaneously haunting and uplifting. Many beautiful moments (i.e. when Derek and Danny silently take down the posters and flags of hate from their bedroom walls, and then sit and look at the bare paneling), some really powerful narrative parallels and symbolism, no clichés.

Beverly D’Angelo and Avery Brooks do a great job in their supporting roles.

Put it on your list of must-sees, along with Crash, The Lives of Others, American Beauty and Amelie.

16
May
10

Billy Crudup

Just trying to figure out how all this time has passed, and this is the first I’ve heard of/seen Billy Crudup.

Has someone been keeping this from me deliberately?




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