Saturday, February 28, 2009


I saw Milk in the theater last night. The first movie I've been to since last summer!

It was wonderful. I usually don't "do" biopics because they are predictable not just in the obvious way (you know what happens), but in a narrative arc kind of way. You just know how and when they will be tugging at your heartstrings. And the narrative is inherently linear and whatever complexity is in the story somehow, inevitably, ends up flattened.

That said, this was great. The story of Harvey Milk and the gay movement is important and worth being told again. Sean Penn's performance was phenomenal. The depiction of the era was uncanny. The use of actual footage was masterful. They did a very, very good job.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Human Behavior Experiments

I showed the Sundance documentary The Human Behavior Experiments to my students on Tuesday, and we discussed it yesterday. They really got into it, and not just for the shock value (ha ha, no pun intended) but seemed jazzed on all the connections they made to course materials and course goals.

I've now watched this three times, and there is always something new that I want to highlight for students, or some new relevancy that I see.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Running with Scissors

I finished Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors yesterday. At first I enjoyed it tremendously, but eventually it became kind of tedious.

He tells these amazing stories of growing up with a mentally ill mother who abandons him to the care of an equally mentally ill psychiatrist whose home is like a make-shift open ward in a mental hospital. The stories are bizarre, unbelievable and at times rather disturbing.

Only on occasion did I find it funny. I think this was mainly because his prose was so bland and inelegant. He's been compared to David Sedaris, but Sedaris is a far more accomplished wordsmith.

By the end I didn't feel terribly invested in any of the characters and felt a little sheepish about reading such low-brow airport fare.

Vicky Christina Barcelona

Even though everybody and every scene was beautiful, I found Vicky Christina Barcelona barely watchable.

It is about two beautiful young women in Barcelona for the summer trying to figure out what they want in life, or rather, what they want in love.

I could have dealt with it a lot more if the actress who played Vicky (I can't remember her name) wasn't so bland and robotic and pretentious. I really hated her performance. Scarlett Johansen was almost too beautiful. It was just distracting. Then, also as always very beautiful but somehow less distractingly so was Penelope Cruz who gave a great performance and I was very happy to see her win at the Oscars. She was the spark of life in the film.

Also, I didn't find it funny. I don't think I laughed once.

When it comes down to it, even though he's done some movies that I loved (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point, Zelig), I'm honestly not that crazy about Woody Allen. His sensibility grates on my nerves.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Amy Kupferberg at Nurture Art

Last night I went to an opening of a group show at Nurture Art in Williamsburg. My absolute favorite piece -- hands down -- was a dramatic and commanding installation by Amy Kupferberg. A series of beautifully damaged paper hexagons was evocative and surprisingly moving.

I can't say much about the process, but involves welding, among other things. The treatment of the paper brings out the loveliness of the materials. It is at once industrial and virile, at the same time that is almost intimate in its delicacy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Antony and the Johnsons!

I saw Antony and the Johnsons at Town Hall last night! He was AMAZING.

So beautiful. Someone offering up their soul. Such an unusual, unworldly voice that conveys so much anguished compassion.

He is an extraordinary performer, moves easily between casual repartee with the audience and these haunting, emotional, draining pieces.

I most enjoyed hearing the songs I am familiar with from my CDs. I guess that's normal. I forgot the name of the song that was most powerfully rendered. But in addition to it, My Sister, and Cripple and the Starfish were my favorites.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I just finished Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. I very much enjoyed it. I bought it in hardcover because a) I'm really a fan of his work, and b) someone just recommended it to me (my brother had recommended it as well, but the timing wasn't right).

The thing about Gladwell is that he is such a smooth storyteller. He makes complex ideas appear deceptively simple. And, in truth I suppose he does oversimplify. But the ideas are quite elegant and rather important.

They are particularly important in this work, which is more sociological and gets a little bit more at inequality. In explaining all the socio-cultural factors that contribute to individual success, he makes a compelling counter-argument for why our society is stacked against so many people, and why achievement eludes so many marginalized groups.

Even if someone doesn't like the work -- is too aware of things lacking in his argument or see it as too superficial and easy -- I don't see how anyone could resent the read. It's fast, breezy and fun. And, as always, chock full of interesting conversation pieces.