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.

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.