Sunday, February 14, 2016

ROOM 2/14/16

Kidnapped at fourteen and locked up in a room for seven years with a five year old child conceived through violence, director Lenny Abrahamson’s film inspired by Emma Donoghue’s novel of the same name - a composite of true events - is titled ROOM; a delicate and harrowing story of two people caught in a private space, where they live a life of extreme tenderness and tension.  The actors are excellent, Brie Larson as Ma and Jacob Tremblay as Jack create a home/neighborhood/community/country  inside a small, cluttered “room” with occasional shafts of light beaming down from a skylight that displays the stars and moving clouds - the outside “world” a dream beyond their reach.

 A television sputtering on the blink allows that other “world” entry, but for young Jack, what he sees flickering on the screen is both real and “make believe” ; distinctions have been erased and are unknowable. The relationship between mother and child is stunning - the  connection between them is acutely poignant, as if the umbilical cord had never been severed. Days are spent exercising, running back and forth- sharp turns are necessary after a few steps, making us aware of the claustrophobic feel of the space; and Ma’s attempt to teach her son to read and maintain a somewhat “normal” existence is impressive and heart-rending. Jack’s poetic and descriptive use of words to describe his circumscribed environment invokes the originality and charm of expressing and interpreting  what we see and feel through language tailored to one’s unique cosmos. We also witness the chilling visits of “Old Nick” her captor whose step on the stairs on his way to the “room” is a sign for little Jack to hide and feign sleep behind a shuttered closet door - the presence of “evil” glimpsed through cracks in the battered and weatherworn slats.

When Jack turns five his mother decides he is old enough to participate in an escape plan involving resilience and courage which eventually succeeds. Mother and child are hospitalized and the second half of ROOM begins. How to acclimate one’s self to being separate individuals, after the powerful link between them is sundered - a tie which was both nourishing and restrictive? Accommodation to “freedom” begins, and the aching awareness of the familiar becoming unfamiliar, as well as the unfamiliar becoming familiar, are daunting and formidable.

ROOM is an exquisitely fragile story of the pliancy of the human resolve to survive and adapt to suffocating circumstances and adjust to the shock of change after flight and rescue. A child’s ability to embrace the magic of his new environs - as one Dr. mentioned in examining Jack, “he is still plastic”; and an adult’s more complex road to acclimatization which includes grieving the loss of a singular bond where the “other” completes you to the exclusion of everyone else.

Monday, February 8, 2016


My article on "first love" was published in Women's Voices For Change.

“A relationship of intense beauty and emotional anarchy was formed, waged by teenagers in the vortex of ‘romantic love,’ where infatuation, anger, and jealousy crack through the shell of invincibility and time is forever-after.”

— Grace Graupe-Pillard

Friday, February 5, 2016


Gregory Crewdson's moving and amazing exhibition titled CATHEDRAL OF THE PINES- photographs of landscapes that have the texture, light and resonance of masterful painting with figures that often feel like they were painted by Georges De La Tour or sculpted by Duane Hanson dislocated from their environment, but still vital to the narrative. I leave Crewsdon's exhibitions with an aching sadness.

We enter a darkened room and a see a 3-Channel screen with naked elderly men and women; some seated, some standing, and others moving slowly like turtles on the left screen - their presence invisible to most viewers; the center screen has clothed middle-age people practicing Yoga and other psychological/spiritual practices; and on the right screen where most of the audience is focusing their attention, are a group of nordic-looking, beautiful young people exuding the energy of eros. All of the participants seem to be strangers who are connecting randomly.

The Dutch artist Guido van der Werve's videos are shocking in their blatant depiction of the sexual act from pre-coital touching to the exhaustion of spent copulation. What begins with a programmed gentle touch becomes a slapping mechanical fornication - which goes on and on and is exhausting to witness. Literally stripped of any eroticism - the mechanics of sex becomes laborious and tiresome.
Meanwhile on the left screen the older folk lay about eating and slowly moving from place to place without vitality. At the very end of the film, everyone ends up in similar positions - splayed out on the floor, bodies fallen in utter capitulation to whatever life force has been exerted. According to the Press Release the videos projected on the three walls represent the id/ego/superego lasting about 40 minutes and beginning every hour - played out in 12 acts (the months of the year.) The names of the astrological signs beginning each new chapter with a visual depiction of the constellations. The only sounds, we hear besides the slurping of sex is a lonely player piano in the center of the gallery - a proxy for the artist himself who has "written a score in 12 parts in the 12 major keys" - the tones clear and lucid.
I was both fascinated and bored - despite its rigid structural formality, the images reflected the simplistic categorization of passion/libido with the passing of time. Desire is not wiped out with age - it is enriched by tenderness and experience.

Saturday, January 30, 2016


Dear Netflix,
I am sorry I ever brought you into my life. My daily routine has been disrupted and I am not sleeping because of the long hours I spend being entertained. I can be very excitable, and have a tendency to become addicted listening and watching your tales which can take hours and sometimes weeks to come to some resolution. I am hooked because of great acting, writing, visual imagery, and the mystery, poetry, and diversity of ideas, that are brought into the manageable circle that was my universe.
But a warning: you cannot take over my life so be aware that we are going too fast and need to slow down to make this relationship a permanent one.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


I am mesmerized by the Netflix series MAKING A MURDERER - the title is open to many interpretations - does it refer to the corrupt system that wrongfully imprisoned a man for 18 years - does that "make" a murderer; is it the pinpointing of an individual without investigating other potential suspects - "criminal tunnel vision" in revenge for a suit brought against local county officials "make" a murderer; or are Mr. Steven Avery and his nephew the murderers of a horrific crime committed 2 years after DNA exonerated Mr. Avery of the first offense?
Questions about class and "justice"; the fascination of watching a trial in progress - the process revealed - the time, expense, and terrible emotional costs to all the families involved are part of this intense viewing experience - a documentary that is still unravelling.
Truth can be slippery and fragile to grasp. MAKING A MURDERER is profoundly sad; a stunning portrait of the "powerless" pursued by those who have institutional power to alter the trajectory of their lives. Mis-steps are brutal and unforgiving.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Director Cary Joji Fukunaga's "BEASTS OF NO NATION" is a terrific film - beautifully acted, directed and photographed. I am numb from the sadness of watching a movie about the recruitment of young boys to participate and be indoctrinated into the horrors of war, where fellow "soldiers" grown into your family. These children witness what can never be purged from their minds and hearts. To lose the innocence of childhood, to descry the cold-blooded murder of one's relatives, and the loss of the land of your ancestors - watching your country being torn apart by constantly changing political factions; survival becomes a momentary respite from killing or being killed; it all becomes easy and commonplace.

War turns a sensitive, imaginative and intelligent youngster into a "beast", but one who never loses his moral conscience, therefore suffering from the fact that he cannot dismiss his own conduct in a world that he was tragically thrust into.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


Quentin Tarantino’s films are wildly original, despite his cinematic homage to great directors. I know there will be an excess of violence, blood will hemorrhage, splatter and “spritz” over everything and everyone, while the characters keep on talking  literally to their dying breath. Dialogue which is both amusing and penetrating is the linchpin of his movies -  refreshing in its fearlessness in talking about issues of hate, misogyny, and racism that have oozed under society’s surface veneer of civility, over the centuries. Tarantino’s approach is not to preach but to show through his characters their appetite for revenge, greed and the conceit of self-interest.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT opens up with panoramic shots of horses galloping in rhythm pulling a stagecoach silhouetted against vast mounds of white snow; an infinite vista emptied of form with only a white light flooding the screen.  We are blinded by the beauty and the calm stillness of the landscape; short-lived - the drama begins. Words slice through the silence and language becomes a weapon; Tarantino’s unique verbiage becomes a tool that wounds and spills blood setting the stage for physical slaughter.

 Bounty hunting for the most ruthless,  becomes the chosen profession of both former Union and Rebel fighters who are skilled in bringing “accused criminals” - those WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE back to small frontier towns to be hung. Trials are an afterthought - the reward is in the successful transport of prisoners to the “hangman.” In this movie, there are at least 7 men and one woman who are itching to shoot each other down with very little pretext. All the lives of the “hateful eight” converge and ignite at Minnie’s Haberdashery - a cabin with a stable and outhouse set like a punctuation mark in the center of the pristine snow-covered terrain - a warm space serving food and drinks for drivers and passengers and a shelter for the exhausted horses. 

Like a lot of Tarantino’s movies, his characters are mysterious - past lives and actions are questionable - truth weaves in and out of the picture; the agility of “the talk”, the facility of the tongue to deceive is always hovering in the fetid air. The first person we see emerging from the all-encompassing blanket of snow is Samuel L. Jackson halting a stagecoach speeding to keep ahead of the blizzard, and  confidently hitches a ride - frozen prisoners - all dead in tow. Jackson gives a terrific performance as Major Marquis Warren - a grizzled legend in the land, not only for bringing in his bounties “dead” rather than alive, but for being a pen pal and confidante of President Abraham Lincoln, a letter from Ole Abe reverently folded up in his breast pocket - the letter being a catalyst for discussion and a symbol of the former black Union soldier’s stature. THE HATEFUL EIGHT bristles with post Civil War disputes - the war might have ended a few years before but a peace treaty does not allay animosities that run deep from generation to generation to this very day. 

We next meet  the wagon’s occupant, John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) handcuffed to a swollen, blackened eye Daisy Dormergue (great performance by one of my favorite actors - Jennifer Jason Leigh) being brought into Red Rock - for the $10,000 reward. We are never told what Daisy was charged with, but the racist venom spewing out of her mouth reveals a grotesque spirit which is palpably visible on her battered face. Tarantino’s over-the-top violence does not coddle women and it is difficult to watch Daisy being a punching bag and receiving the brunt of “the hangman’s”  brutality, but Tarantino literally does not pull any punches especially when he is dealing with a fanatical bigot.  Another passenger, who is frozen  by the extreme elements, is added to the group -  Walter Goggins plays Chris Mannix an ex-Confederate soldier and the newly appointed sheriff of the town where the hanging will take place.

Upon arriving at the rest stop, the action begins - 4 men are already there waiting out the blizzard - with a mesmerizing performance by Bruce Dern as Confederate General Sanford Smithers - an elderly man whose claim to fame is the slaughter of a black Union Calvary Division. To round out the “hateful eight” picture we have Tim Roth (always a favorite of mine) as the actual Hangman of Red Rock complete with a phony British accent, suave and ironic (reminding me of Christoph Waltz’s character in Django Unchained,) and Michael Madsen - a Tarantino ensemble regular as Joe Gage - a laconic stranger lurking in the background, quietly observing the scene. And then there is Bob (Demian Bichir ) dubbed “The Mexican” who seems to be running the joint - claiming that Minnie is out of town. For Major Marquis Warren who misses nothing - it all does not add up.

What ensues in this darkly lit claustrophobic space with occasional bursts of light from the door opening and closing by the storm’s wind  is mayhem. Tarantino’s ability to use language is irresistibly seductive and I was never bored. Shards from words piercing the atmosphere infuse the room with a straining tension. Rapier wit together with brutish violence dominate the expansive monologues. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is interesting in that of all Tarantino’s movies - this one is intentionally the most constrained by the oppressive limited space; ultimately there is only the outside and the inside.