Monday, June 12, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner

Beatriz at Dinner is a dark comedy of manners, but more complex. Beatriz is a Mexican massage therapist and healer whose car breaks down at a wealthy client's house and is invited to stay for a fancy dinner party.

Salma Hayek plays Beatriz as a quiet, intense, solidly grounded woman whose mere presence stands out against the dazzling, fast talking, superficial women around her and whose forthright gaze makes the men uncomfortable. This contrast highlights the others blase social  callousness in ways that are hilarious and intensely cringe-worthy.

But it's more than just hilarious. Beatriz carries and absorbs the pain around her and faced with such an onslaught of unrelenting indifference her anger quietly grows to the point of confrontation. It is mostly directed at John Lithgow's wealthy real estate developer's character, and the tension and crisp dialogue between them is delicious.

It's a great movie. All the acting is spot on, and every scene crackles. Mike White is the writer and I think he's a genius, particularly at writing complex, pained, and alienated women characters.

Before I Go To Sleep

Before I Go To Sleep is a ridiculous movie. Frustrating and strangely predictable. It's a thriller about a woman who wakes up every morning with no memory of who she is or anything from the past. She is living with her husband who must remind her of her life every day. She starts keeping a video diary to help her remember and things become sinister as she questions the identity of her husband and the circumstances of the accident that led to her amnesia.

It's slightly gripping but sort of annoying. You want to figure out what's going on but the twists here and there get in the way a little bit and it's hard to care about any of the characters because the plot and concept dominate.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Meridith McNeal at Figureworks


Meridith McNeal has a new show at Figureworks in Williamsburg. More beautiful work from her Inside/Outside Windowphilia series.

These colorful watercolors have an incredible depth and nuance. As in all her work there is just so much to see, such beautiful attention to detail. These paintings are particularly notable in the way they depict reflections. Instead of being inside looking out, as many of the images at Five Myles are, these are more the outside looking in, and the artist and and the scene behind her are captured in the renderings of the posters and displays in the windows themselves. Amazing work.

The fresh new Figureworks space looks amazing and the intimate setting was perfect for McNeal's bright and complex art. In addition to the art, which is all for sale, the artist created several unique items, each featuring aspects of a different piece of art. Some pillows, phone cases, and water bottles are on sale -- I bought a beautiful pillow myself...

Rauschenberg at MOMA


The Rauschenberg retrospective at MOMA is a wonderful experience. His paintings, sculptures, and assemblages are dramatic and arresting. I was particularly interested in his earlier works, which I had never seen before. His black paintings, burnt and textural, were a particular favorite.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Magnificent Ambersons

I loved Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons.  I gobbled it up in a couple of sittings. It's the story of an old genteel wealthy family in the midwest who see their money, social standing, and way of life fall away after the turn of the century. The narrative focuses on a young, spoiled, clueless, arrogant and proudful young man, and for most of the book this is funny and amusing. Yet as the plot unfolds the story of his mother's love life, entwined with his own prospects, becomes somewhat tragic. The ending, which includes a maudlin death bed scene, is very sentimental. But it totally worked on me and I was crying like a baby.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Meridith McNeal: The View from Here



Yesterday I saw a breathtaking exhibition. Meridith McNeal's solo show at Five Myles Gallery in Brooklyn, The View From Here, displays several works from her ongoing Inside/Outside Windowphilia series.

I had what I can only call a "swooping" feeling when I entered the dark gallery where these large scale watercolors are hung. Although each window depicts a different interior and exterior, being in the middle of the room felt like I was on a special veranda with panoramic views of a magical landscape.

Individually each painting draws you into the scene. The open windows are literally inviting. McNeal's  subtle colors and meticulous attention to visual detail masterly enhance each vision which she generously offers the viewer. This is a beautiful, one of a kind show by a one of a kind artist.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Orange is the New Black S4


Season 4 of Orange is the New Black is intense and disturbing in ways that seem to go beyond the previous seasons. As I've said before, this show gets better and better. Perhaps Season 3 is my favorite, but this one had me sobbing and terrified.

Litchfield is now run by a private prison company that is even crueler and more callous than previous administrations. The prison is now overcrowded and he guards are more sadistic. The dehumanization of the inmates is a consistent tension throughout the season.

In S3 I got annoyed at the panty ring thing, and it continues here a bit but takes on a much more combative and scary element. As the ring shuts down Piper has inadvertently created a race struggle between a new white power group and the Latinas. The excruciating scene of the Latinas putting Piper in it's place was gut-wrenching and almost impossible to watch. There is a long arc involving a murdered CO that illuminates some of the characters, particularly the sad and lost Healy.

Pentsatucky continues to grow in ways that are surprising considering her character at the beginning of the season. The depth of her performance broke my heart.

Caputo struggles with the impossibility of humanizing the monstrous system, and his conflicts not only gave him more depth but highlighted the ugly, unjust, and crushing nature of our punishment system.

The narrative reaches a crisis in the final two episodes, ending with a tense and dramatic cliff hanger. I'm glad S5 will be released soon.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Everybody Lies

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are is such a lame book. It would work as a New Yorker article, but there is just not enough in there for a book. It is about how big data of our online behavior can reveal things that traditional data used and gathered by social scientists cannot get at. It's interesting, yes. But after a few examples you get the point.

I read this at night before going to bed and it worked for that purpose. There were noteworthy tidbits of facts and insights but unfortunately I have already forgotten them all.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sarah Silverman: A Speck of Dust

Sarah Silverman's A Speck of Dust is great. Her wry and coy sense of humor is engaging. The quirks of her timing marvelous and her perspective clever.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Lots of Netflix Comedy!


This semester I watched a lot of Netflix comedy specials. I can post about each one because I don't really remember them all. The list includes Louis CK, Jim Norton, Katherine Ryan, Kathleen Madigan, Ali Wong, Jim Jefferies, David Cross, and Neal Brennan. As well as others I can't remember.

I was not crazy about Ali Wong, who had an aggressive show off way about her. I thought Katherine Ryan was kind of charming and had a solid comedic presence that I appreciated. David Cross and Louis CK were both funny, but this was not Louis CK's best performance, and David Cross always has something a little unpleasant or arrogant in his demeanor.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed Kathleen Madigan who has an unexpected Mid-Western thing going on that offered a different perspective and was very funny.

Neal Brennan's 3 Mics alternated between segments of one-liners, general stand up, and emotional monologues. I appreciated his honest about depression in the latter, and his stand up was solid. I didn't think the one-liners were good and he delivered them too slowly, letting each mediocre joke hit and rest for too long.

My absolute favorite was Jim Jefferies. I liked him so much I watched two other earlier specials available on YouTube and HBO. His humor is cutting and fierce. As negative and obnoxious as he can be, I found him incredibly likeable and hilarious.


Wizard of Lies

I am never a fan of biopics and have to learn to lower my expectations with them. That said, Wizard of Lies, about Bernie Madoff, was pretty okay.

It didn't cover new ground or offer new insights from all the intense coverage the story got in 2008-2009, but it was interesting to revisit it. I thought the acting was pretty good. Like in all biopics I felt something of substance was missing, some dramatic core.

At the end he asks if he's a sociopath and I couldn't help feeling that his awful nefarious actions are no worse than the legal actions of the Republicans who are currently trying to pass budgets and bills that will have vast and cruel effects. And I think he was right that during the 2008 financial crisis focusing on one evil-doer was more satisfying to the public than trying to grasp the systemic injustices in the system.

Museum of Art and Design: Judith Leiber

There was also a Judith Leiber show at the Museum of Art and Design, Crafting a New York Story. I thought this was kind of boring. Her bags definitely have sculptural and artistic and craft elements that I appreciate as objects. But as bags I think they were tacky. There were many that were dramatic and interesting, but as a show I didn't feel like it it worked. People always think because of my beading that I will like Judith Leiber, but mostly  I think her bags are tacky. Here are two that stood out for me.

Museum of Art and Design: Fashion after Fashion


The Fashion after Fashion exhibition was more interesting than the Counter Couture. This featured deconstructed and reimagined sculptural pieces breaking away from traditional fashion and using fashion as the foundation for art pieces.

Museum of Art and Design: Counter Couture


The Counter Couture show at Museum of Art and Design was just okay. The handmade clothes from the 60s were dramatically lit and the environment was cool but most of the clothes were kind of boring to me. The exception being these crocheted pieces.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mommy Dead and Dearest


Mommy Dead and Dearest is creepy! An awful, awful story.

It's the story of Gypsy Blanchard, a girl who was raised by a mother with Munchauser by Proxy Syndrome. Since she was an infant, Gypsy's mother made her sick and pretended she was seriously ill. All sorts of diseases and ailments. Drugging her. Not allowing her to walk and putting her in a wheelchair. Lying about her age and dressing her up like silly doll. It is such a disturbing story of very serious, very extensive, very prolonged child abuse.

Then, Gypsy begins an online secret love affair with some weirdo and she has him murder her mother!

The documentary includes many photos and videos, both of Gypsy feigning illness and talking like a developmentally disabled pinhead as well as a perfectly fine Gypsy in bed with her boyfriend. Also included are their text exchanges. The most disappointing parts are the interviews with Gypsy, now in prison. She seems naive and sweet but manipulative and creepy at the same time. The horror of what she went through is unfathomable and she came across as so bland and syrup-y. This documentary raised many more questions than it answered.

Girls Season 6

ARGHH. I have been a stalwart fan of Girls. I enjoyed it and defended it when everyone else was criticizing it for various reasons which never felt important to me. I loved Season 5. But damn, the final season sucked. I was not at all into it.

The pregnancy plot line seemed desperate and grasping. Yes, there were scenes and episodes I liked. But the way they tried to wrap Hannah's story up was very unconvincing and unrealistic and they totally lost me. Parts were utterly preposterous. Very disappointed.

Master of None Season 2

I recently watched al of the second season of Master of None, Aziz Ansari's sweet Netflix series.

The strength of this show is Aziz -- his ebullience, his curiosity, his humor, and his wonderful good nature and seemingly genuine kindness. He throws light on various pervasive forms of racism, gives homage and dignity to the myriad people whose lives are ignored in mainstream storytelling, and performs a running commentary on contemporary upper-middle class urban life.

Both season have an off quality to me. Something awkward in the acting or timing that I can't quite adjust to. Season 2 is cinematically (and to a lesser extent thematically) sophisticated, but there is something amateurish in the execution that I can't quite put my finger on.

The narrative arc of Season 2 is Aziz's budding relationship with a charming woman he met in Italy (those episodes shot in black and white and sending shout outs to Italian movie classics). As this developed I felt myself growing a bit distant. The storylines and scenes with his friends and dates were crisp and fresh to me. But with the love interest it felt a little tired. It dragged a little. I think part of the problem for me is that she was SO charming. A caricature of charming. Hi growing fondness and love for her was understandable and relatable, but her her-ness seemed made up to me.

Fargo: TV Series


I watched the first two seasons of Fargo the TV series recently. It is a stunning, breathtaking, punch you in the gut show. Cinematic, violent, strange. The plot is layered and arresting. Tense. Over the top and beautifully balanced.

The first season distracted my by its similarity to the movie, particularly the character Lester's version of William H Macy's performance, as well as the tempo of the speech and accents. But it really drew me in. The plot kept thickening. Billy Bob Thorton was perfectly himself and the perfect villain.

I had trouble getting into the second season, as it takes place in the 70s and for some reason I just felt like ugh, I don't want to watch a 70s mob thing. But again, it drew me right in and the plot moved and twisted in engaging and surprising ways. I actually cried at the two scenes where you see the overlap between both seasons.

Both season 1 and season 2 of Fargo take place in the same vast and bleak winter landscape and play on similar themes: unwitting, naive nice-seeming people doing horrendous things surrounded by and contrasted with the openly evil and sociopathic. Each has solid, unshaken characters who stand at the moral core balancing the dim-witted and narcissistic bad guys, worse guys, and ill-fated dupes.

The Verdict

I think I saw The Verdict in the 80s when it came out and I remember thinking it was a very good movie. Boy does this shit not hold up. Such a long winded cliche. The legal drama around a medical malpractice suit is tired and unnuanced. The odd romance is sexist and ridiculous. The acting is melodramatic and tiresome.

Shit Town

Shit Town was my first podcast. Through several episodes (7?) the narrator, Brian Reed, recounts the story, using interviews with everyone involved, of an extremely eccentric and unique man in the deep south. He emerges as brilliant. John B was a strange, obsessive, talented and deeply lonely man who lived on many acres and had an intense inexhaustible contempt for the world in general and his town in particular. His rants, in his deep accent, were stupendous screeds against everything that is wrong with this country. Basically everything he said was on target, and it almost makes you wonder how the rest of us are so complacent and unafraid.

Shit Town starts off when Brian Reed is contacted by John B to investigate a murder in his shitty town, but it soon becomes the greatest character study I have ever encountered. We learn about John B's talent as an antique clock restorer, his amazing maze he created on his grounds, his unlikely friendships, particularly one with a disturbing yet engaging young man, the breadth of his knowledge, and the unrelenting psychic demands of his world view. From interviews with family, business associates, old friends, and town officials, and the ever compassionate narration of Brian Reed, a complex, unsettling, and deeply sad portrait of John B is painted. One that broke my heart.

What About Bob?

Another stupid movie. What About Bob? features Bill Murray as an extremely neurotic OCD dysfunctional who goes for one therapy session with a shrink who has a stupid new book out. He immediately thinks the shrink is his savior and proceeds to stalk him on his summer vacation. Maybe a cute moment here or there. You are supposed to dislike the arrogant shrink and enjoy the way Bob inadvertently torments him. But I saw him as a wildly inappropriate stalker who was also very annoying. This may be my least favorite Bill Murray movie.

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion

I've always sort of wanted to watch Romy and Michele's High School Reunion but was embarrassed because it looks so stupid. Well -- it is stupid. But it is also a little bit fun, very good natured, and essentially harmless. So whatever, I enjoyed it. Besides, I always love Lisa Kudrow no matter what she's in.

Homeland

Last month I watched all 6 seasons of Homeland on Hulu (I got a special subscription for it). It was so intense. I just loved it. There were several episodes in a row where I was sitting on the edge of my seat, literally.

The storyline with Brody in the first three seasons began to bore me and I fucking hated him. My favorite seasons were 4, which was set in Pakistan, and 5, in Berlin. So much happens in each episode that it is hard to keep up. I mean I would kind of forget what had happened just an hour previously. But I loved it. All the characters were great, solid performances. The plot is absurd at times, but also incredibly dramatic and entertaining. I was totally sucked in.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Groundhog Day the musical


Last week I saw Groundhog Day, the Broadway musical. It was hard not to compare it to the brilliant movie and accept it on its own terms. They did a good job executing the premise, and it was generally fun. The lead was very good. He didn't imitate Bill Murray, whose arrogant performance was tinged with a sad sense of failure. This actor added the cocky assurance of a self-satisfied handsome man, and seemed a little meaner, which worked very well. The female lead was not so great. She didn't have the charm of Andie McDowell and seemed like a generic girl character. You didn't care if they got together or not.

The music itself was ordinary with no memorable or rousing numbers and the voices were solid but not special. With the exception of the man who played the insurance salesman, when he sang his solo I was moved by the song and the quality of his voice.

I'm glad I saw it though. Like I said, it was fun.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Puzzle from January

I did this very challenging 750-piece puzzle in January. VERY challenging and satisfying.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Amy Schumer, The Leather Special

I didn't think Amy Schumer's The Leather Special was that funny, and at times it was annoying. I totally love her and was excited to watch, but was disappointed. Her perspective is great and this special did not lessen my appreciation of her. Looking forward to the next project.

The Eighties

The multi-episode CNN documentary series The Eighties kind of depressed me. It made me feel so old. The eighties was my coming of age decade, and it was weird to see it presented sort of as a historical relic. The episodes focused on television, Reagan's presidency, AIDS, nuclear disarmament, technology, music, and wall street excesses and deregulation. It was fascinating and I wanted more details on every single segment. Looking back it seemed like a more innocent and homier time, but I guess that is "the ruinous work of nostalgia".

Being There

I was nervous to watch the beloved Being There which I hadn't seen in decades. I was afraid it wouldn't hold up. It does have a slightly dated feel, but it is lovely and engaging and funny and absolutely does hold up. Peter Sellers as Chance the gardener, or Chauncy Gardener, is painfully endearing. His clueless egolessness... And the running gag about they way others project expectations on his simplicity doesn't get draining. I was kind of uncomfortable with the romantic/sexual relationship in the movie, but tried to just accept it.

Jen Kirkman Just Keep Livin'

I thought Jen Kirkman's special, Just Keep Livin' was mostly annoying. Nothing really made me laugh and her personality grated on me. She seems like someone at a party who thinks they are far more entertaining than they actually are and everyone has to smile and give them the attention they need.

Mike Birbiglia: Thank God for Jokes

Mike Birbiglia's new Netflix special, Thank God for Jokes, is enjoyable. I really loved his earlier special. This one didn't seem quite as tight, but I like his perspective and there is something affable and pleasant about him that I enjoy. Looking forward to more from him.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story

A couple of weeks ago I watched all episodes of The People vs OJ Simpson, and the entire time I was wishing I had just read the book instead. I like Toobin's style and his detail, and the TV version seemed miscast to me. I seriously thought John Travolta was playing for laughs and had to ask my brother if it was supposed to be funny. Cuba Gooding Jr. did not convey the style of arrogance that I remember OJ projecting at the time, and in his strongest emotional moments he seemed merely petulant. David Schwimmer spent the entire series with the same idiotic expression on his face.

Race and racial tension are a crucial part of the story, and the TV show did a good job of centralizing it. But I don't think it contextualized it as well as it could have. Scenes of people arguing on the streets, and newscasters expressing fears about riots helped convey the way this case tapped into so many nerves, but it still seemed TV-movie-ish, and fell flat for me.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Moonlight

It's hard to write about Moonlight. From the very first moment through the last there is a particular tension, the omnipresence of fear. The film style was amazing. Captivating. Suffocating. Beautiful.

Moonllight is the story of a child/teenager/man who is exceptionally quiet, deeply ill at ease, and profoundly lonely. His environment in the projects in Miami is both empty and overflowing. Empty of avenues of escape, of opportunities to explore, of forms of relief. Largely empty of love. But it overflows with a rhythm of community life that unfortunately pulses with suffering and potential violence. Little/Chione/Black experiences a few key moments of connection, that perhaps because of their rarity, seem to accentuate and amplify his isolation. But in these moments you see his character breathe, and it's the most beautiful thing in the world.

Trevor Noah: Afraid of the Dark

I like Trevor Noah. The clips I've seen from The Daily Show are good. But Afraid of the Dark fell a little flat for me. His perspective is wonderful, conveying the insignificance of white American lives and highlighting our arrogance and our reliance on stereotypes. He is brilliant at enacting various racial, ethnic, and national stereotypes in a way that exposes our hypocrisy. He is also a master of accents and a very good impersonator. But his timing is off and some of his bits just took too long to get to the punch line, and once they did you already knew what it would be. I particularly felt this way in the section that imagined a conversation between Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. I knew exactly how it would land. My favorite part was his Russian accent and his jokes about the fear it inspires in others.

Selma

I'm glad I watched Selma, because I was only vaguely aware of this significant march and the events surrounding it. But I didn't think it was that great a movie. I would have preferred a documentary. This had a biopic feel, and I never like biopics (exception: Before Night Falls). There is always something forced about them as they try to dramatize events and relationships to give a movie-like experience. The story itself is incredible, I just would have rather have watched a documentary about it.

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters was terrible. Total schlock. Not one funny moment. I felt stupid for renting it (I might actually have bought it). I thought it would be entertaining because I love the actresses in it and thought there would at least be a couple of hysterical moments that would make it worthwhile. Boy was I wrong.