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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!