Saturday, December 9, 2017

Dr. Thorne

Dr Thorne is a totally enjoyable miniseries on Amazon written and produced by Julien Fellowes who did Downtown Abbey (which I wasn't crazy about). This four-part production of a Trollope novel has some cheesy aspects (mainly the music, some of the lighting, directorial things like that; and the acting isn't particularly special with one exception). Some of the plot elements are a little predictable. But really it was just what the doctor ordered (HAHAHA!) for my mood. A perfect distraction. Plus it had my favorite Allison Brie (maybe slightly miscast?). The only performance that stood out was Ian Mcshane as Sir. Roger Scratcherd.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a little ridiculous and schticky, but there is so much I enjoyed by it. I usually don't like movies/tv where the hook is finding the lead charming. Other than Annie Hall that hasn't really worked for me. So Mrs. Maisel grated slightly. But I loved the larger than life story, the exuberance of the series, the bright colors, the caricature of bourgeois Jewish life, the Forrest Gump run-ins with Lenny Bruce and Jane Jacobs. In spite of the corniness it's really something enjoyable and special.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Roaming Eye

The Roaming Eye at the Shirley Fiterman Art Center is an eclectic exhibition of mostly abstract work. There is a dynamic energy in the rooms. The art is so different but they pieces play off each other well. My favorites were the ones that had more texture to them like Kathleen Kucka's "Sun Still Tender" (I posted a detail), nine panels of canvas with cuts and burns in them, and Alison Blickle's painting of women with urns ("Moon Phases", I posted a detail.) The women's clothing looks to made of mosaic tiles, and below the painting are stone objects that are part of the piece and add weight and dimension to it.

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

The documentary on Joan Didion, The Center Will Not Hold, is excellent but not satisfying. She is such an accomplished writer, such an icon of the literary world, with so much glamor and history attached to her. The documentary made me ant to revisit her writing, which I enjoyed in several different stages of my life, though mostly in my 20s.

But The Center Will Not Hold didn't give me enough. I wanted to know more about her writing process and more about how she grew and developed as a writer. I also wanted to know more about her personally. There were interviews with her and her family and old friends and editors. But even as she was speaking I felt that she was remote and enigmatic.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

I had never heard of Hedy Lamarr, so had no expectations going in to the documentary about her life, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.

It was fascinating. An assimilated Austrian Jewish girl becomes a Hollywood starlet. She was known as the most beautiful woman in the world. Disney's Snow White was modeled after her. It seems she was an okay actress, not great but passable. Her passion wasn't movies, though. It was inventing. During WWII she worked on a strategy to create signals that couldn't be intercepted. It's called frequency hopping and she patented it. It couldn't be used during that war, but decades later the patent was discovered and her ideas are the basis of many communications technology we have today including Bluetooth and WiFi! She didn't get credit in her lifetime but is now recognized in the tech world for her significant contributions.

Bombshell featured interviews with her children as well as original footage. Her story gets quite sad at the end as she ages and cannot manage the loss of her beauty. The filmmakers were at our screening and held a Q&A session.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is kind of brilliant. It is a dark story of a woman's deep, unrelenting rage about the murder of her daughter and the effects of her blind determination. The focus of her ire is the police chief who never found the murderer and she puts up stark, menacing billboards on a town road that call him out.

This seems like it's going to go in a creepy direction of searching for serial murderers or something. Instead it draws out many of the characters in this small town in surprising ways. I thought maybe it was going to show the mean small-mindedness of them. But instead it shows a great deal of compassion for everyone. Almost all of them, especially France's McDormand's Mildred, have unattractive harsh sides to them, yet almost all of them are shown as suffering, and pretty much all of them show kindness and sympathy for others. The solid heart of the movie is Woody Harrelson who plays the police chief with humility and dignity.

There is violence. And there is a sense of dread and potential violence in most of the scenes. But the director manages to mix this lurking sadism with humor. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is extremely funny. The awkward dialogue, the little tricks of facial expression, the unexpected edges of the characters are all hysterical. In the end this is a very heartwarming movie.

Christina P: Mother Inferior

I loved Christina P's Netflix special Mother Inferior. She has a unique way of being charming and biting at the same time. Her style is nothing like Sara Silverman's but she plays on being cute in a way that is kind of a nod to her. I loved listening to her and can't wait for her next special.

Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait

Last night I saw an amazing exhibition at MOMA, Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait. It presented a trove of her print work, none of which I was familiar with. I was aware of her only as a sculptor. These ink drawings had such emotional depth. Some were delicate and sparse, with lots of air, but there was still something subtly heavy about them, like they touched on dark edges of the unconscious. They were deeply personal and layered. There were also some sculptures, mainly ones that completed a series of drawings, and these were intense as well. The titles of the works were particularly literary, adding dimension and illumination. The whole show had an unusually powerful intimacy and I loved it.

Marc Maron: Too Real and Thinky Pain

The other month I watched the comedian Marc Maron's new Netflix special, Too Real. It was so good. He has this really accessible conversational style that is thoroughly enjoyable. At the same time his self-deprecating humor has a sharp dark side. I liked it so much the second it was over I watched an early show, Thinky Pain, that was just as good.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Will and Grace

I watched all the episodes of all 8 of the original seasons of Will and Grace. It was so fun. At first I found the constant gay jokes to be homophobic, and it seemed like the gay characters were allowing us to make fun of gay people. But then I just grew accustomed to it and could enjoy the whole thing. The show did a lot to bring queer people into mainstream awareness, and the characters are drawn with nuance so they are not caricatures. Even Jack, the "stock stupid character", has important moments where he speaks about pride and acceptance.  The characters are written and played with great affection and respect.

Mainly I love the chemistry between the four of them. I think they are a blast to hang out with and I'm jealous of the actors. I try to pick a favorite but it always changes, because they are all so great and they work so well together.

The last season gets quite serious as it gears up for the final episode. I cried at the ending and thought it was successful. This fall they started a new season, 11 years later, and they ditched the ending from 2006. They just pretended it didn't happen. Even though I was so moved by the ending, I think it was a good choice to have them start fresh.

Stranger Things

Everybody loved Stranger Things (S1). Except me. First of all, after the first episode I didn't find it scary at all. I found the boys-on-a-caper thing annoying. I was mildly interested in the government conspiracy part of the plot, but that became tiring as well. I thought 11 was a cliche concept. I thought Winona Ryder was grating at best. The teenage romance part seemed like a bad 80s movie. See that's the thing, it didn't feel like a movie that took place in the 80s, it felt like an 80s movie. (very early Spielberg). And most of them I didn't like.

The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America

Earlier this fall I saw The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America, an incredibly powerful exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum. It provided a heart wrenching, gut wrenching look at the violence of lynching, the horror of racism, and the sickening history of this country. The show was put together with the Equal Justice Initiative and includes videos chronicling the stories of several individuals and their descendants that were so powerful and upsetting. It showed the violent resistance to the civil rights movement. There was powerful contemporary art by several amazing artists who tackle race and racism in their work, such as Kara Walker and Glenn Ligon. There were artifacts and newspaper articles, and a shocking interactive map of the US that showed all the lynchings that took place in the country, but state and by county.


Over the summer I watched a horrible Netflix TV show that thankfully was canceled after one season. Gypsy, starring Naomi Watts seems like it is interesting, sexy, complex, and sophisticated. It has all the right production and aesthetic elements. It looks and feels so contemporary. It looks and feels like it should be great. But it sucks. It's about a therapist who starts following her patients and gets involved with people in their ives under an assumed identity. There are double lives, erotic lesbians, classy professionals, downtown artists, infidelities, and a possible transgender child. The scenes are scored, directed, filmed in ways that seem cutting edge. But the plot and dialogue are so ridiculous. The whole thing is a laughable mess. It was impossible to care about the characters. Blech. I'm embarrassed that I watched the entire season.

The Days of Abandonment

I read The Days of Abandonment over the summer. This Elena Ferrante novel is written with a steady intensity that is engaging and somewhat emotionally suffocating. It is about a woman struggling to come to terms with her husband leaving her for another woman. She is left in their houses with their children and day after day she sinks more and more into and emotional abyss, mentally fried and unhinged. Her suffering and obsession are described with minute, almost clinical precision. I couldn't turn away.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Barton Fink

Barton Fink is fantastic. It's the story of a humorless playwright in LA in the early 1940s. He is a fish out of water in Hollywood on contract to write a wrestling movie. He is staying in the second creepiest movie hotel (next to The Shining), and befriends a nervously goodnatured neighbor, which is where things go very wrong. Classic Coen Brothers.

The Thin Blue Line

I had seen The Thin Blue Line when it first came out and remember being really affected by it. I rewatched it recently and thought it was just okay. It's about a wrongful conviction, and the case is presented in reenactments mixed with interviews of the key players, including the convicted man and the man who really did it. It's good and it's interesting, but I didn't feel riveted. There are too many of these tragic cases and in the cannon of documentaries about the wrongfully convicted this doesn't stand out to me as much as some others.


More Christopher Nolan! I watched Inception, a complicated film a la The Matrix, where the action takes place in the alternate world of collective dreams. I liked the conceit, the way the dream landscapes were constructed, the logic of the dream "levels". But the key storylines -- helping a rich businessman bring down another business; and one of the dream experts finding a way to resolve his issues with his dead wife -- were not that interesting to me. So I didn't care much how things worked out, in spite of enjoying the world of the movie.

The Prestige

After seeing Dunkirk I was interested in watching more Christopher Nolan movies and started with The Prestige. The premise sounded laughable to me: two rival magicians... But it was tense and kind of fascinating. The obsessive rivalry reminded me a little of Amadeus, and I always like movies set in the 19th century. The acting was good, the narrative layered and chronologically complex, and there was a twist I didn't see coming.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


Dunkirk is so intense. Almost too much so. It's about the evacuation of nearly 400,00 British troupes cornered on a French beach during WWII. It takes place over a couple of days. The movie jumps right in to the action and it is frightening and tense pretty much from beginning to end. I thought it was masterfully done, beautiful at times.

Florine Stettheimer at The Jewish Museum

The other week I went to The Jewish Museum to see the Florine Stettheimer exhibition. It was wonderful! I hadn't heard of her until I took that trip to DC and went to the women's art museum. Her work is joyful and energized. Populated with fashionable women these paintings reveal an appreciation for material beauty. I love her palette, the use of light and pale and pale colors contrasted with bursts of richer hues This picture here, with it's black background, is not characteristic.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Towards Zero

I haven't read Agatha Christie since I was a kid. With Towards Zero I immediately recognized the basic formula but was still amused and engaged by it all. All the characters portrayed as having some kind of secret, the artificially contrived sense of suspense, the ending where everything is explained and things you couldn't possibly have known revealed to tie it together. You can't take it to seriously. Good silly fun. A nice way to kill an afternoon or two.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Cafe Society

Woody Allen's Cafe Society is a breezy fluff piece of nostalgia that has an enjoyable pace and is nice to look at. The characters are not drawn very well and do not really stand out. The story is simple and fairly straight forward -- with a few distracting side plots and irrelevant scenes. I wasn't particularly into it and felt bored by Allen's chronic plays with love triangles, but I thought the ending was very sweet and it kind of made the whole thing come together for me.


Indecent is a unique play that tells the story of a Yiddish play written in Warsaw in 1907 and the troupe that performed it for years. It spans all the way until 1952 and takes place in Europe and America.

The play itself, The God of Vengeance, takes place in a Jewish brothel and has a central love scene between two women, and because of this the Yiddish theater initially rejected it for making Jews look bad. However in spite of this it became a hit in Jewish theater throughout Europe.

Throughout Indecent we see snippets of the play performed and become familiar with the plot. The controversial scene is called the rain scene, where the two women make love. This is not actually shown until the end but is referred to for it's beauty and depiction of pure love (when we do see it, it's kind of ridiculous, but it's okay). In the US the cast is prosecuted on obscenity charges.

Indecent takes place in the context of serious anti-semitism and is about a specific era of Jewish history that came to an end with the Holocaust. The last third of the play is grim yet beautiful. Because of ingenious and beautiful and dark and haunting staging, the final years of the troupe chill the audience with an awed impact. I found this a singularly powerful play (in spite of a few cliches here and there).


Harlots is a ridiculous show that recently aired on Hulu. It's just one season and in spite of how dumb it is I watched the whole thing. It is basically a soap opera taking place in 18th century London brothels and focuses on a silly rivalry between two madames. The trials and tribulations of different prostitutes are part of the drama, particularly the family of the madame played by Samantha Morton (who I love). There is tons of sex, and gorgeous costumes, but it isn't sexy at all. It isn't funny even though the drama is laughable. Still, I bet if they make a second season I will watch it.

More Veep!

After binge watching the first two seasons of Veep in 2013, I began watching it as it aired, episode by episode. I love this show so much that when this season ended I went back and watched them all from the beginning. It's so good. Watching them back to back you have a clearer sense of some of the plot twists. The humor is so biting. Selina is so mean that after a while it became a little difficult to watch, but I still loved it. The performances all amazing and Julia Louis Dreyfus does an incredible job.

The Financier

I didn't like Theodore Dreiser's The Financier. I've liked other books by him. This is about a young man (Frank) with a gift of understanding finances and an intense focus on making money. He is extremely rational and pragmatic. The problem with the book is that it focuses on so much on his financial dealings, especially two specifically shady transactions. The details of these are told over and over and over, often in the exact same words, so it becomes tedious and redundant and too much of the core of the book. There is also a love affair that is interesting but not compelling. There are a number of characters in the financial and political world but all of them are two dimensional and forgetable (except perhaps Butler, the father of the young woman Frank falls in love with).

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Garth Fagan Dance

Last night I saw Garth Fagan Dance at Celebrate Brooklyn. It was amazing. I loved every minute of it. The program was six dances and the company was fantastic and charismatic. The choreography blended modern with Afro-Carribean and classical technique. I think my favorites were the lovely, slow, evocative "No Evidence of Failure" and the rousing and fun "Geoffrey Holder Life Fete... Bacchanal". I'm going to keep an eye out for more of their performances.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Lila Downs at Celebrate Brooklyn

Last night I saw the amazing Mexican singer Lila Downs at Celebrate Brooklyn. I have been listening to a beautiful album of hers for years and it was wonderful to see her live. She is a great, soulful performer. The audience loved her and even though I didn't understand any of the lyrics I felt the rich emotions and was glad to be part of such joyous heartfelt experience. I usually don't care for the visuals at concerts, but these were amazing.

House of Cards S5

Season 5 of House of Cards is not that compelling. The narrative arc surrounds the Underwood's struggle to remain in power and it becomes rather convoluted. Because there is no ideology and no motivation other than power for power's sake there isn't any real meat there. It's stylized and moves in a way that kept me watching, but I'm sort of over it and don't know if I'll even bother with the next season.

The Exception

The Exception is not an exceptional film but it's solid. Interesting, well-acted, focused. It concerns events that take place in Holland where Kaiser Wilhelm is in exile during World War II. It's a spy story where a german officer (there to guard Wilhelm), a Jewish servant (they don't know she is Jewish), and the Kaiser himself become entwined. I liked it and am curious if it's based on true events. Some of the plot points were predictable, but the tight plot and relatively restrained acting made this okay.


I was disappointed with Boyhood. I had heard so many good things about it. I think what people like is the gentle touch of watching the boy grow up year by year, and the simplicity of the scenes, the ordinariness of life. But I felt it was too ordinary. I wanted more emotional conflict, more drama. That's not what Boyhood is about so it's kind of an unfair expectation. I could appreciate the loveliness of it, and thought every scene on it's own terms was very good. I just wasn't that connected or invested or riveted.

Alice Adams

Because I loved The Magnificent Ambersons so much I immediately downloaded another of Booth Tarkington's Pulitzer Prize winning novels, Alice Adams. I did not like this one nearly so much. It was very simple and straight forward. A decent story, well drawn characters, but there wasn't much nuance to them and the relationships were kind of one dimensional. And I could easily see where the plot was going. It was a good fast read, though. I guess it felt more like a short story than a full novel.

Orange is the New Black S5

Orange is the New Black S5 was HORRIBLE. I really hated it. It all takes place moments after the intense cliffhanger ending of S4, and the 13 episodes span a three day riot.

This season was so sloppy, out of control, unrealistic, ridiculous, and tone deaf. I can't go into all the sprawling absurdities because of spoilers, but I will mention that the women had officers hostage and made  them do a talent show! So stupid. It was like that constantly.

I'm really disappointed. I had loved this show so much.

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.