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Saturday, November 22, 2014

FURY AND STONES IN THE SUN 11/22/14


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

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



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

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


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


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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

ST. VINCENT 10/26/14


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

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

And bring tissues!

Friday, October 24, 2014

KILL THE MESSENGER 10/24/14


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

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

THE DROP 10/15/14

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

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

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


Monday, October 6, 2014

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

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

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

Sunday, October 5, 2014

GONE GIRL 10/5/14


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

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

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

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