Thursday, January 31, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013

And away we go...

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”
--Miriam Beard

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
--Martin Buber

Friday, January 25, 2013

Just finished reading...

...NIGHT OF THE JABBERWOCK by Fredric Brown.

I have heard Brown's name bandied about in fantasy/sci-fi circles as a sort of legendary writer who worked within a classic framework of the genre. Prolific in the 1950s and inspired by pulp novels of that period, he wrote short stories that were part mystery, part fantasy, part sci-fi. And I had come across several mentions of his novel NIGHT OF THE JABBERWOCK as a kind of shining example of his oeuvre. And being a Lewis Carroll fan myself, I decided to give it a go. But I was unprepared for how rooted in reality the book really is. In a very small town, a newspaper owner (and sole editor/writer) gets embroiled in a single evening of organized crime, small town pettiness, and a murder mystery. Although there were touches of fantasy to it, it sure read like a pulp novel... a hard-boiled mystery/crime story... it felt like "The Big Sleep" meets Gabriel Garcia Marquez... Sam Spade tries to find out who did it and why. It ends up being a clever little story, tightly told without much excess or flourish. It is definitely "hard boiled."

I must also make an amusing observation. I downloaded a copy for my iPad and it came with the very inconspicuous light blue cover you see at the top. Had I seen one of these original charming covers below, I would have been much more in the correct mind set...

Recommend? Sure, it's a quick read, it bounces along and it is worth a laugh...

Just watched...

...the very recent "Silver Linings Playbook" with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

For the SAG awards, since I am a voting SAG member, I received a screener copy of "Silver Linings Playbook" and it turned out to be a peculiar experience. I did not know too much about the film going into it, which is how I usually like to see a film. I want to experience it and have it unfold for me as the screenwriter and director intended. In an effort to give you roughly that same experience (which I generally try to do in any film or book review here on "Oh, By The Way"), Bradley Cooper plays a young man who is bi-polar. It seems like a formula for an Academy Award nomination, or even win. Characters who are mentally unstable or who have handicaps are usually sure-fire Academy fodder. But watching it was another story. It seemed at first like it was going to be a statement or exploration of bi-polarism or mental illness, perhaps commenting on the stigma that is still attached to such issues or how people with such conditions are treated. But then it seemed like it wanted to be a family drama. Well, I guess those two areas often go hand in hand. But then it seemed like it wanted to be a romantic comedy. And then it was a feel-good, can-do movie. And then... well, I don't know, it got a bit muddied by then. Are there good performances? Yes. Bradley Cooper is good and Jennifer Lawrence really stands out. De Niro seems a bit wasted, but whatever... he adds some nice texture. And was it an interesting story? Well, yes. But it just felt, stylistically speaking, disjointed. Still good. Just... peculiarly cobbled together, as though a different writer and director stepped in every 15 minutes...

Recommend? Um... okay, yeah sure.

Just watched...

...Tarsem Singh's dark fairy tale "The Fall."

Tarsem Singh has been on my radar since his first film "The Cell" which was a highly stylized hallucinatory exploration of the psyche of a serial killer. Unfortunately it starred Jennifer Lopez, but she was sufficient and did not detract from the dazzling imagery and the spectacle of the film (and no, she did not play the serial killer--that choice role went to phenomenal actor Vincent D'Onofrio). Singh's follow-up film to "The Cell" was "The Fall," a remake of a Bulgairan film called "Yo Ho Ho" and although I have not seen the original, I can tell that it is nothing at all close to what Tarsem Singh created. Again using grand sets (some built, but most real locations) that are startling and surreal, along with costumes by legendary designer Eiko Ishioka (who passed away just last year) who also created the mind-blowing costumes for "The Cell," Singh made another film that is a glimpse into a world of supreme beauty and imagination. Singh's work tangentially reminds me of Greenaway's films in that they are not so much filmed as much as they are composed, like a great painting... each shot meticulously designed and executed.

The narrative takes place between two levels of reality. The first level is at a hospital in southern California in the 1920s where a young stuntman in silent films who has been injured executing a stunt tells a story to a little girl who is recovering from a broken arm. The second level is the reality of the story itself, as it transpires in the little girl's imagination and heart, and by extension, in the mind and heart of the story teller. The dramatic tension comes from the overlapping and intertwining of these two levels of reality. It is fascinating to see how the events in a made up story can alter the "real world." The result is touching, adventurous, funny, and a little cruel.

Actor Lee Pace is excellent as the troubled stunt man and then-five year old Romanian actress Catinca Utaru is a lovely little miracle to watch. Most of the scenes between her and Pace were improvised; as Pace told the story, Catinca's reactions we see in the film are authentic, and, according to the bonus features and what I have read of the filming process, only marginally shaped and guided by Singh. Many of their scenes were filmed through a slit made in the hospital drapes hanging around the beds, so as not to distract Catinca from her genuine interaction with Pace.

While it is a supremely magical film, I will note that some scenes were lifted, almost identically so, from the great film "Baraka." Singh did a similar thing in "The Cell" with certain scenes modeled after classic or surreal paintings. I can understand that as an homage to a great work of art or artist. To recreate a painting on film seems to be still somehow authentic. But lifting imagery--nearly exactly--from another film (without a reason or some sort of internal logic in the film) seems a bit like cheating. But I will say that while I was struck each time it happened ("My god," I said out loud, "that is a scene right from 'Baraka'!"), it did not derail me out of the film. There is certainly enough original imagery and spell-binding art direction to keep anyone riveted (maybe the fact that the rest of it is so original and interesting makes the lifting of "Baraka" material that much more puzzling).

Recommend? YES!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

BEAUTY: Sculpture--Elyse Graham

When Elyse Graham was a child, she was fascinated with geodes. And now, as an adult and more importantly as an artist, she simply makes her own using plaster, latex, urethane, and sand. She builds them around her exhaled breath, which creates the interior bubbles and cavities. Graham's delightful "man-made" mineral specimens remind me of Paige Smith's work (previously here) in which she installs paper versions of geodes in public spaces such as defunct phone booths.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

BEAUTY: Installation--Luciana Rondolini

Argentinian artist Luciana Rondolini created a thought-provoking installation piece entitled Tiffany which consists of bejeweled rotting fruit, calling into question ideas of beauty, preciousness, and value.

Equally amusing is her freakishly enormous, melting popsicle, entitled "Cosmic Calamity." Yes, it is real.

BEAUTY: Painting--Nicole Katsuras

Using oil paints as if she were frosting a cake, Nicole Katsuras globs, squeezes, lines, swirls, and spreads her way across her canvases. This makes the topographical element as important as the composition and color. Visually delicious.

Seeing them out of context, one might expect these pieces to be smallish, perhaps two or three feet. But her work is quite large. Look at this installation view:

Top to bottom: Accra's Tomorrow; It's Unexpected; Less A Stranger; Queen's Coast; The Royston; Top Bunk

BEAUTY: Art--Justin Mortimer

Dark, dense, mysterious, eerie, perhaps dangerous narratives fill the work of Justin Mortimer. I like how the realist, "snap shot" quality is seamlessly blended with a kind of surreal collage-like space shift.

Top to bottom: Annexe; Bureau; Chamber; Contestant; Perimeter; Resort; Enclave