Monday, December 31, 2012
Set in the deep south in 1858 Quentin Tarantino’a audacious, bold and very entertaining nearly 3 hour opus is ostensibly about one of the most horrible periods in the country’s history. The story is pretty simple. A slave on his way to be sold meets up one dark and dreary night with a bounty hunter who is looking for three fugitives from the law. The bounty hunter knows of a slave who can identify them and this turns out to be Django who he ingeniously and violently sets free. This sets the film in motion and the two join ranks and set off on a picaresque journey through the nightmare landscape that was the deep south two years before the Civil War. The slave Django very well played by a compelling and charismatic Jamie Foxx also has an agenda of his own, to find his beautiful wife who was taken from him and sold to one of the meanest slave owners in the history of mean slave owners. Django is treated with kindness and respect by the German bounty hunter, who also has his own agenda up his sleeves (his nationally proves important to the plot) played by Christoph Waltz who is simply fantastic and gives a rich and complex performance that even tops his Oscar winning role in “Inglorious Bastards”. On their very perilous and nerve wracking journey they meet up with lots of horrible people who are mostly white but also a few blacks. The worst of the lot (and that’s saying a lot) is the very horrible plantation owner Calvin Candie played by Leonardo DiCaprio who gives one of his best performances in a long time. He’s the linchpin of the story and lives on a spacious plantation named Candyland with his sister from hell. It is here that Django’s wife is being kept in slavery and it is here in Candyland that as the saying goes “the shit hits the fan.” Also living there is the head house slave an Uncle Tom who makes Simon Legree look like a pussycat, and is played with a terrible meanness by Samuel L Jackson made up to look old. This is a twist and a nasty one at that in the story. There is much graphic violence in the film, after all one of the themes of the film is revenge and a lot of the violence is done in a Looney Tunes cartoony way, but this doesn’t lessen the horror of it, there is also a lot of realistic mayhem throughout, this is after all a Quentin Tarantino film, and as usual with his films might not be for everyone. There is also a lot of humor and I mean the laughing out loud kind, what my mother use to call laughing on the other side of your face. Tarintino has always been a referential director and he brings his love of Spaghetti Westerns into this film about slavery and revenge in style, plot and music. The film is causing a lot of controversy some of it because of the generous and some might say overuse of the N word, but as ugly as the word is it was part of this culture that Tarantino is showing us, and how often do we hear teenagers today throwing this word out at each other in a matter- of- fact way. Others are wrongly calling it racist, and this is from people who have not even seen the film. The movie is rooted in film history, in genre and sub- genre if you like, and I might be projecting but I could see Tarantino thinking about taking some American History and mixing it up with the sub- genre of the spaghetti western. Is it a great film? I really can’t answer that yet, I have to let it sit with me for a while but I did love it and left the theatre feeling exhilarated, that I had finally seen something this year really worthwhile by one of the great artists of contemporary cinema. One of the best films of 2012.
Sunday, December 30, 2012
On the joys of going to the movies
Saw Django Unchained yesterday at the BAM (Brooklyn Academy Of Music) and the experience was not smooth sailing. I won't write about the film right now, but this is more about the travails of going out to see a movie. I love seeing movies here, especially in the big theatre with stadium seating. I got to the theatre early to make sure I had a seat that I liked as the rows of seats are continuous with no breaks in them and getting stuck on the sides can make for bad viewing. So I found a seat to my liking. It started to fill up, really fill up and there were two empty seats on my left and right. Directly behind me and I mean directly behind were a group of 8 or so friends one with an especially bad cough and sneezing constantly. However he was not directly behind me, but I was nervous about his condition. Why isn't he home instead of in a crowded theatre I thought passing his germs around. The theatre was quickly filling up, and minutes before the film was to start a guy came into my row and asked if I would move over so three of them could have seats. Being in a shitty mood and resenting his coming in late and told him no I would not move over, this is the seat I picked and I'm not moving over. I would have been right behind a tall guy and I also did not want the guy sneezing and coughing to be right over me, and if I moved this guy would have been right over me. I held my ground not telling him why I wouldn't move. Its none of your fucking business anyway I thought to myself. I took his abuse with calm I wanted to say come early next time asshole but didn't. Of course the two seats on either side of me were quickly taken, I knew this would happen. Maybe if I was in a better mood I would have moved, but I doubt it. I'm serious about my movie going, and when I pick a seat I'm staying in it. Anyway about 45 minutes into the film a yellow haze came over half of the image, at first I thought it was Tarantino being cute and clever, but then it started to go black and the audience started to get annoyed including myself. Finally the film stopped and some manager came out to apoligise for the problem and the yellow tint. "what yellow tint" the nice young woman sitting next to me yelled out, and we all laughed. He said that if anyone wanted to leave they would get their money back and also that we should keep our ticket stubs and we use it for a free admission at a later date. That I will believe when I see it. I stayed and after 10 minutes the film started and we had missed some of the narrative.
Friday, December 28, 2012
The Cabin in the woods 2012
I wasn’t going to write about this piece of crap but since its been popping up on some 10 best lists and after reading A.O. Scott’s (he should stop writing about movies and get a job driving a cab) glowing review I thought maybe they saw a different movie than I did. Am I living on another planet or in Bizarro World where dreadful films suddenly appear on best of the year lists? This is a “hip” aren’t we cool take on the once lively horror genre that the filmmakers of this thing, Drew Goddard it’s director and Joss Whedon the screenwriter make me think that they are out to bury the genre once and for all. I could just see these two boobs sitting around smoking some good high end weed maybe watching Inception and other pop de-lux horror and Sci-fi movies of the past 10 years for the umpteenth time and thinking “Hey Bro maybe we can make a movie mixing horror slasher flicks with sci-fi.” Far fucking out. The film begins like so many of these movies do with young attractive 20 something airheads heading off for a weekend in the country. We have the usual cliché driven morons, the jock, the druggie, the slut, the virgin and the nice guy but with a little twist. The filmmakers don’t keep us in the dark for long with what’s going on, and we are soon in some corporate like environment where the employers of this no name company are controlling the lives of the characters and the action of the film. They are the puppeteers and the gang of 5 are the puppets and are at their mercy. It seems that the five airheads have to be sacrificed in order to save the world from being destroyed by evil creatures that live under the earth. At this point I was laughing and howling so hard and loud that I’m surprised my neighbor didn’t call the cops. Soon they are being killed off by the company who commands the zombie like creatures and other ugly things and monsters, but the film is so dark and muddy that it’s hard to tell just what is happening. Cut to the chase and we are left with 2 of the original 5 who have somehow managed to survive all the mayhem and gore and are met in the “underground” of the corporation (get it the underground) by a Pandora-Cassandra like figure played by an unbilled famous actress who weaves together all the loose ends, and believe me there are as many of those as there are dead and mutilated bodies. And in one of the most ludicrous scenes I’ve seen in a movie this year (actually it’s a tie with Mary Todd Lincoln battling vampires on the battlefield of Gettysburg in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter) there is a girl fight between Pandora-Cassandra and the virgin, but again the film is so dark that it was hard to tell who was slapping and hitting who. The film ends badly of course and the world and this piece of garbage come to a terrible end. Now I have nothing against the reworking of various horror and sci fi genres and I relish the few and far between that actually pull this high wire act off. One filmmaker who has done this is Christopher Smith a youngish British director and you can read my reviews of his films which I think are original and twisty takes on the genre on my blog at this link.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Flying Down To Rio and The Marx Brothers At The Circus
Watched these two 1930's movies tonight on a double bill. The beauty of dvd's. Both films are surreal, with The Marx Brothers film having the usual amount of anarchy and mayhem this time taking place at the circus. The best parts of "Flying" are the musical numbers, including the elaborate and sexually charged "The Coppelia" and all the girls at the end of the film on the airplane wings singing Flying Down To Rio which is crazy and salacious. Rio was the first of the Christmas attractions at Radio City Music Hall in 1933 and is really special and important because it's the first time Astaire and Rogers danced together, otherwise the film is predictable and draggy. With Dolores Del Rio who is ravishing but stilted and a surprisingly sexy Gene Raymond. The Marx Brothers film At The Circus is basically interchangeable with all of their films, this one has songs by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg the best one being Lydia, the Tattooed Lady which is a classic of sorts and a lively number with African American kids that thankfully is void of any racism. The romantic leads are kenny Baker and Florence Rice who might as well be invisible, for all the charm and heat they generate and are not very attractive romantic leads. Then there is Eve Arden who plays what might be her only unsympathetic role as a not so nice circus performer who walks on the ceiling for her act, (one scene is so sloppy that you can easily tell that its not her doing the stunts) and of course the wonderful Margaret Dumont is also on hand. Made for M.G.M. and it shows in the production values that are hard, grand and glossy.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Back from seeing this today at the Bam (Brooklyn Academy of Music) and wish I liked it more than I did. At times it felt as long as the Civil War, and didn't like some of what Spielberg did, the beginning scene after a civil war battle was silly and not needed, and did he really need to end it with his death, which was also not needed. On the plus side Lewis is unforgettable , but don't know if he will get a third Oscar for it and his scenes with Sally Field are engrossing. The whole 19th Century political games with the 13th amendment is dense, confusing and not all that compelling, even though we have some good scenery chewing hams like Tommy Lee Jones. The entire supporting cast besides Jones is large and good and since most of the historical figures are pretty much unknown we don't have the impersonation waxwork syndrome which usually kills this sort of film for me. Still I can't see the film getting much love come Oscar time, it just isn't compelling or exciting, but it will get the respect and attention that must be paid to this sort of historical drama. A side note which I found totally amazing to me halfway through the film a guy (no teenager) in front of me actually took out his dumb ass phone and started to tweet away, the light shinning in my face. I tapped on his shoulder to turn it off, but in doing so I stepped on the foot of the guy sitting next to me. You would think that someone his age would know better.
Amethyst Arsenic has just posted 4 of my notebook drawings from 1983. You can see them at this link
Friday, December 21, 2012
Thursday, December 20, 2012
review of my art
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925
Just saw this amazing show today at a member's preview at the Museum of Modern Art so it was a nice calm view for me. Beautifully installed with great works many by some of my favorite artists and some new discoveries by artists I had never heard of and artists whose work is not often shown. Never knew Nijinsky did drawings, there are four beautiful ones by him included, and when was the last time we saw something by Duncan Grant or Vanessa Bell? The small Picasso at the end of the show seems more like an afterthought or homage but a small quibble. This is a beautiful and memorable show.
Monday, December 17, 2012
I gotta say
I gotta say that there are more than a few splendid exhibitions on right now in Chelsea that for me ends the year on a bright note (with regards to art that is).
Henry Darger: Landscapes. Ricco/Maresca Gallery.
This show of Darger’s dreamlike and violent landscapes might be hard to take for some at this moment in time, because well his stuff can be unsettling especially with regards to violence towards children. That said I consider him to be a great artist, totally unique in his vision as weird and fantastic as it is. By now the story of Henry is pretty well known, at least to some. A complete loner and eccentric he worked as a janitor by day in Catholic hospitals in Chicago and by night he became this visionary artist of distorted fairy tales and reality. His huge body of work was almost lost to us after he died, and was basically saved from the trash by a couple of his neighbors. I love the Vivian Girls these 7 little things who took on all the evils of the world and generally won out against most odds. The show is a little too sparse for me, I love Darger best when there are lots of his work covering every bit of wall space, but this show is a good place for folks not familiar with his beautiful compositions to begin. There is also a very good documentary on him In “The Realms of The Unreal” which I highly recommend.
El Anatsui Pot Of Wisdom Jack Shainman Gallery
Stunning and breathtaking show of El Anatsui’s large scale abstract wall sculptures that he makes with the help of many assistants. These beautiful and compelling works are comprised of found metals, copper wire, bottle caps and other found materials. Weighty and light at the same time they also are autobiographical in that they recall El Anatsui’s African background in his use of color and form and texture. They have a textile look to them and at first they appear to be just that until you get up close and realize what they are made of. They loom over you, pull you in and mesmerize with their sheer beauty scale and inventiveness. I also wondered how they made them, did they wear gloves to protect there hands, did they get cut by the sharp edges, and what about eye strain. The one free standing work was for me less successful than the wall pieces and the work does come with the wow effect but I for one am looking forward to his show coming up in February at The Brooklyn Museum.
Henry Moore: Late Large Forms. Gagosian Gallery
Ok I admit it I was never a big fan of Moore’s so you can imagine my shock and absolute pleasure of seeing this magnificent show of his. We usually think of Moore as being an of doors sculptor, big organic forms plopped down in the landscape or in a pool at Lincoln Center which I have always disliked. However seeing these huge and monumental works in a clean very big white space was a complete and totally new experience for me with regards to Henry. Sensual and smooth with wonderful skins of color they can’t help but drawn you in, and yes the great big size of them has a lot to do with their allure. A riveting and majestic show.
Romare Bearden: Urban Rhythms and Dreams of Paradise. ACA Galleries.
Large and beautiful show of collages by this great artist from 1945 to 1988, and should be relished by anyone interested in urban pictorial beauty along with fantastic landscapes and abstraction. There are a lot of stories in these works along with lots of joy, passion and sadness. Bearden has long been a favorite artist of mine and this is a top notch museum quality exhibition of his superb art.
Vincent Hamel Works On Paper. Howard Scott Gallery.
Dutch artist who is new to me gives us a show of 30 intimate (most of the drawings are no larger than 8 ½” by 11”) drawings that are beautiful and engaging because of his use of texture and color. Casually pinned to the walls against white pieces of paper that pull you in to get up close and personal. These are special sophisticated yet eccentric little gems of abstraction using all sorts of materials including acrylics, crayons and ball point pen. A lovely show.
Elisa D’ Arrigo. Some Vases. Elizabeth Harris Gallery
Another artist who is new to me who it seems has returned to working with ceramics after an absence of 30 years of working in this medium. This is a large show of marvelous vases that for me work equally well and maybe more so as quirky beautifully made small sculptures. D’ Arrigo has a great feel for the clay and uses it in wonderful ways creating her eccentric shapes with enticing colors and surfaces. I don’t think flowers are necessarily needed to make these vases come to life.
Sylvia Iskander. Mother Earth Skoto Gallery
Beautiful exhibition of small elegant stoneware sculptures depicting the female form minus the heads by an Egyptian born artist. They have a strong archeological feel to them and are impressive in her use of rich colors and textures. Iskander works the entire figure front and back and enables us to view them this way. Some of the figures are decorated with fruits and flowers and other decorative elements and have a vessel like appearance.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Red Rock West 1993
Directed by John Dahl this is a very good greasy spoon contemporary neo noir puzzle filmed in bright saturated colors and set in a no man’s land in the western part of the United States. Starring Nicholas Cage (still good at this point in his career) as a hapless drifter with a bum leg, who stumbles into a twisted murder plot set up by a greedy husband who wants to get rid of his greedy wife. The husband is played by the late and very fine actor J.T. Walsh and the wife, the femme fatale of the movie is played by skin and bones Lara Flynn Boyle who would no doubt get a big two thumbs up from Ann Savage, Claire Trevor and Jane Greer. She absolutely reeks of venom. Also in the cast and my one problem with the film is Dennis Hopper who once again plays psycho killer. I would have preferred a more subtle and less obvious actor in this part than Hopper who telegraphs his performance with big quotes around it. Still the film is nasty and bad with enough twists and turns to keep the viewer attentive and happy.
Star of Midnight-1935
A little Art Deco bauble of a mystery set in New York City and starring that most Art Deco of actors William Powell as a lawyer who also dabbles in solving crimes now and again. Along for the ride is Ginger Rogers who plays a rich young woman who has been in love with Powell since she was a little girl and is determined to get Powell to marry her. The plot concerns the disappearance of the female star (who by the way we never see) of a Broadway revue called Midnight thus the title. At first I thought the title referred to a fabulous diamond and the film would be a light romantic heist film. Wrong. Directed by Stephen Roberts who I had never heard of, probably because he died in 1936 at 40, but who did quite a few popular films in the early part of the decade. Powell who did the first of the Thin Man films a year earlier, plays his part with Nick Charles style and like Charles consumes an incredible amount of booze thorough out the film. Rogers was just starting a miraculous dancing partnership with Fred Astaire (she had already done Flying Down To Rio, The Gay Divorcee and Roberta) before taking on this rather colorless role, but she plays well against Powell, granted she was no Myrna Loy but who was. The plot is heavy with characters, and can be confusing at times but it does include a cross dressing villain which definitely adds to the fun.