Wednesday, December 26, 2012

(Another Supersized) Artistic Consumption Log, Dec. 10, 2012 - Dec. 23, 2012

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—I'm not going to bother apologizing for the extreme lateness this time. know. Perhaps needless to say, the log below will be barebones.

Anyway, hope you all had a great holiday yesterday! I, for one, am actually rather dreading having to force myself to get back into the daily grind after two days, more or less, of just sitting around and doing nada. Wish me luck...

The Perks of Being a Wallflower


The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012, Stephen Chbosky), seen on screener at home in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012, David O. Russell), seen at Angelika Film Center in New York

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, Peter Jackson), seen at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 in New York

A Home Far Away (2012, Peter Entell), seen on screener at home in Brooklyn, N.Y.


Before and After Science (1977, Brian Eno)
Music for Films (1978, Brian Eno)
 After the Heat (1978, Brian Eno/Moebius/Hans-Joachim Roedelius)
Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978, Brian Eno)

Les Troyens at the Metropolitan Opera House


Your Day is My Night (2012, Lynne Sachs), seen at University Settlement in New York

Les Troyens (1858, Hector Berlioz), seen at Metropolitan Opera House in New York

Where (we) Live (2012, Sō Percussion), seen at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

(Supersized) Artistic Consumption Log, Nov. 26, 2012 - Dec. 9, 2012

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Well, I'm pretty sure I have published two-week artistic consumption logs before, so it's not like this is without precedent...

Some day, 2012 movie catch-up will end. (Over the past weekend, I turned in one ballot, and I have two more to submit before the year is out—not to mention the year-end wrap-up I'm planning for In Review Online.)

Oh, and if any of you are wondering why I haven't put a recommending star next to Zero Dark Thirty—well, no, I'm not especially enthusiastic about it, in stark contrast to seemingly every critics' group that has bestowed Best Picture honors to Kathryn Bigelow's latest action epic. Are we looking at the next Best Picture Oscar winner? In any case, I'm planning to explain the sources of my resistance over at In Review Online soon.

Until then...well, below is a barebones overview of all the art I've consumed in the past two weeks.

Vamps (2012)


Photographic Memory (2011, Ross McElwee), seen on screener in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Neighboring Sounds (2012, Kleber Medonça Filho), seen on screener in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012, Kathryn Bigelow), seen at Director's Guild Theater in New York
I Wish (2011, Hirokazu Kore-eda), seen on screener in New York
Lincoln (2012, Steven Spielberg), seen at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Vamps (2012, Amy Heckerling), seen on screener in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Let Fury Have the Hour (2012, Antonino D'Ambrosio), seen on screener in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Django Unchained (2012, Quentin Tarantino), seen at Academy Theater at Lighthouse International in New York


Here Come the Warm Jets (1974, Brian Eno)
Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974, Brian Eno)
Another Green World (1975, Brian Eno)
Discreet Music (1976, Brian Eno)

The set of the latest Signature Theatre Co. production of The Piano Lesson


Golden Child (1998, David Henry Hwang), seen live at Pershing Square Signature Center in New York
The Piano Lesson (1990, August Wilson), seen live at Pershing Square Signature Center in New York


the event of a thread (2012, Ann Hamilton), seen at Park Avenue Armory in New York

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Artistic Consumption Log, Nov. 19, 2012 - Nov. 25, 2012

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Sorry for the tardiness with this latest artistic consumption log...and, as you will all see below, sorry in advance for the lack of usual critical commentary. Thanks to a review I had to write for Slant Magazine this week (I'll post a link to it on this blog later on) plus In Review Online-related duties—not to mention, you know, Thanksgiving—I found precious little time to give this log the fuller treatment I usually give these kinds of posts. It's quite possible that you may see more of these barebones logs, too, as end-of-the-year film-roundup responsibilities look to be keeping me busy for the next few weeks, at least.  But I'll make a more concerted effort to post future logs on Monday, as I usually do.

The Man in the White Suit (1951)


The Man in the White Suit (1951, Alexander Mackendrick), seen at Film Forum in New York
A Man Vanishes (1967, Shohei Imamura), seen at Anthology Film Archives in New York
Parked (2010, Darragh Byrne), seen on screener DVD at home in East Brunswick, N.J.
Red Dawn (2011, Dan Bradley), seen at Regal Commerce Center Stadium 18 in North Brunswick, N.J.
Anna Karenina (2012, Joe Wright), seen on screener DVD at home in East Brunswick, N.J.


Substance (1987, New Order)


Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962, Edward Albee), seen live at The Booth Theatre in New York

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Artistic Consumption Log, Nov. 12, 2012 - Nov. 18, 2012: "Dominated By Experimental Theater" Edition

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—This past week was the first one in which I tackled editor-in-chief duties at In Review Online, so much of my time was consumed by that. For that reason, I ended up not seeing too many movies—thus leaving it open for two startling pieces of experimental theater to pick up the artistic-consumption slack.


Samsara (2011, Ron Fricke), seen on DVD at home in Brooklyn, N.Y.
As was the case with Baraka (1992), Ron Fricke's previous globe-trotting documentary epic, Samsara is an often astonishing mix of the profound and the facile. Ultimately, though, I think this follow-up cuts much deeper than its predecessor. It's still "a mile wide," still grounded in travelogue-like glimpses of exotic and modern cultures in its grand 70mm imagery. Instead of cheesy "we are one" sentiments, however, Samsara hones in on more specific, if no less broad, themes: life, death, birth, destruction, the differences between civilizations past and present. (Its opening pre-credits scenes lay out the whole movie, more or less: an exotic dance, an exploding volcano, an embryo, a preserved corpse.) Fricke is still as shallow as ever when it comes to trying to actually tackle human beings, especially in modern society: Its time-lapse footage of humans in assembly lines and wide shots of neon-lit city landscapes inspire a not-especially-revelatory sense of mechanized dread. (You can't get more clichéd, for instance, than that one cheap shot of morbidly obese American fast-food consumers downing their food—as if that was meant to represent the decline of Western civilization or something.) Once again, though, the Eisensteinian montage saves him, situating these momentary failures of taste and empathy in a more resonant wider context, as merely one piece of a larger societal/historical quilt. The sheer amount of food for thought that Samsara inspires in addition to its expected visual wonder is mind-boggling; one viewing is hardly enough to unpack it all.

The Central Park Five (2012, Ken Burns/Sarah Burns/David McMahon), seen at SVA Theater in New York
Here's another documentary I saw this past week, one that's far less aesthetically ambitious than Samsara but no less thought-provoking. I'm reviewing this for In Review Online (and since I'm the new editor-in-chief of that site, this is something I expressly chose to tackle) so you can read more about it when that piece goes up (by Friday, hopefully, when it starts a theatrical run at IFC Center here in New York). In spite of some regrettable pulled punches, it's worth your time, for sure.

Argo (2012, Ben Affleck), seen at Director's Guild Theater in New York
This is an entertaining thriller that one could also point to as a classic illustration of "This is why they hate us." It doesn't matter who "they" are in the viewpoint of a certain kind of self-absorbed American mindset; "they" are all just grist for a cinematic adventure of boy's-own derring-do. That's fine in, say, a big-budget Hollywood action blockbuster that doesn't pretend to allude to any recognizable real world. But when "they" are angry Iranians in the midst of a real-life event—the Iran hostage crisis, in this case—then it becomes rather more problematic. Granted, Argo does make brief gestures toward acknowledging U.S. involvement in getting some of its own into this particularly ugly situation, mostly through a few tossed-off lines of Aaron Sorkin-like "witty" dialogue and a half-animated opening sequence giving all of us a speedy overview of the history of U.S. involvement in Iran—all of which suggest a political complexity that is quickly brushed aside to focus on a mere sidebar to the main crisis: the rescue of six Americans from the Canadian embassy through a cock-eyed scheme involving the production of a fake Hollywood science-fiction epic. Though Ben Affleck never quite shamelessly overcooks the suspense like, say, Kevin Macdonald did in the gag-inducing finale of another based-on-true-events thriller The Last King of Scotland, the unexamined racist mechanisms are still basically the same: The Iranians become the implicitly villainous "other" preventing these six Americans, plus dour CIA "exfiltrator" Tony Mendez (Affleck, as stiff as ever), from their heroic escape. And what of those 52 hostages that remained in captivity for 444 days from 1979-'81? Well, you know, recreating a fictionalized version of that story and maybe exploring its political ramifications isn't nearly as "exciting" as being able to throw in tired jabs at the business of Hollywood in the midst of a story with a more uplifting ending.

Get Ready (2001)


Republic (1993, New Order)
Get Ready (2001, New Order)
Waiting for the Sirens' Call  (2005, New Order)
I think there's some fairly underrated music in these three later New Order albums. Republic—the first album released after the demise of their usual label Factory Records—has a certain vague sense of personal reflection underpinning its dance beats. Soon afterward, they would break up—only to reunite five years later, in 1998. With Get Ready, the first album after their reunion and eight years after Republic, Bernard Sumner & co. would go back to their Joy Division roots, deemphasizing electronics in favor of a relatively more stripped-down, lyrics-based aesthetic. Waiting for the Sirens' Call, in the context of New Order's entire career, then, has the feel of a summation, veering from guitar-oriented opening tracks to electronica and then back again, all wrapped up in lyrics that, as was also the case with Bernard Sumner's lyrics in Get Ready, are more direct and earnest than one might expect from this band—for better and for worse.


Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (2012, Dave Malloy), seen at Ars Nova in New York
 Roman Tragedies (2007, Ivo van Hove/William Shakespeare), seen at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, N.Y. 
This past weekend, I took in two pieces of experimental immersive theater, both daring to place spectators within the same space as its performers. The results offered a fascinating study in contrasts.

Imagine an electro-pop opera set in a simulated Russian speakeasy—with free vodka served, no less—that is based on a selection from Leo Tolstoy's epic tome War and Peace? That's composer-lyricist Dave Malloy's new work Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 in a nutshell. It gets off to a bit of a gruesome start with an ebullient opening number setting up the characters and situations in a way that suggests, none too promisingly, that this will just be a self-aware, ironic and hip modern updating of Tolstoy...but such suspicions are immediately, thankfully dashed once the plot gets underway. Turns out, the novelty of its immersive staging is hardly the only notable thing about it; the music and lyrics are constantly keyed into their characters' emotional states, and the staging only helps to bring us closer to these people and their tumultuous inner passions: Natasha's naivete, Pierre's cynicism, Anatole's callowness, and so on. The result is a musical that is as profoundly moving as it is theatrically and musically inventive...and damned if its ending—in which Pierre sees the titular comet and achieves the kind of unspoken epiphany that James Joyce would later make a regular feature of his fiction—not only reaches for transcendence, but actually achieves it.

The masses rushing onto the stage in the early going of Roman Tragedies

Roman Tragedies—a six-hour conceptual theater piece involving consecutive abridged adaptations of three William Shakespeare tragedies, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra—is a much chillier work...but of course it is, considering the dramatic material. Shakespeare depicted the political machinations and tragic flaws of these characters from an omniscient perspective, and so does Dutch theater director Ivo van Hove. One of Van Hove's major innovations with this century-old material, however, is to update it to our media-saturated political landscape while also retaining vestiges of the old Roman-arena theatrical style—politics as a ruthless, "survival of the fittest" Roman circus. To that end, the stage of Roman Tragedies is not only transformed into a kind of modernized Roman amphitheater, complete with huge jumbotron relaying what's happening on the stage; there are also television screens everywhere on set, as well as onstage cameramen filming the actors live. Oh, and did I mention that we spectators are allowed to actually go onstage and watch the action up close, either by watching the actors or by watching one of those many television screens? And that we're also expressly invited to live-tweet during the experience, if we so chose? And that below the jumbotron is a digital news feed of sorts offering headlines, broadcasting tweets and foreshadowing major characters' deaths (example: "395 minutes until Cleopatra's death") much like those bottom-of-the-screen tickers on news networks?  

Roman Tragedies, in short, is filled to the brim with provocative stage gimmicks—but does this all add up to an interesting and resonant vision? I admit, there were large portions of Van Hove's show where I felt disengaged from the drama onstage and wondered whether this show was ultimately all concept and no heart. The more I mull over the whole experience, though, the more intriguing I find elements of that concept—especially regarding its audience-interactive elements. With many audience members taking photos of the actors and/or looking down at their phones during the performance, it lent a purposely vulgar sideshow element to what, in other contexts, are supposed to be serious dramas. How does this necessarily make us any different from, say, those onlookers who gawk and take photos of car crashes without actually, you know, doing anything to help the victims? In this way, Roman Tragedies dares to implicate us as well, forcing us to question our relationship to the action onstage—because, for all that we're allowed to get close to the performers onstage, we don't actually interact with them, and they don't interact with us. That fourth wall remains upright; physically, we're close, sure—but emotionally we remain mere plebeians to the machinations of those of supposedly higher rank.

All of that might have come off as impossibly alienating if it weren't for the actors, whose performances in the various roles are often vivid enough to cut through the barriers Van Hove purposefully puts in front of us and move us in individual moments. What stamina it must take these actors to maintain such a level of emotional intensity for the better part of six hours! Roman Tragedies is a deeply impressive feat of theatrical ingenuity and performance, and even if I ultimately found it to be more intellectually than emotionally engaging, I'm certainly glad I saw it. Yay for experimental theater!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Artistic Consumption Log, Nov. 5, 2012 - Nov. 11, 2012: "Consuming Art in Amsterdam" Edition

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Just because I was on vacation in Amsterdam doesn't mean I slowed down my artistic consumption. Heck, if anything, Amsterdam itself could be seen as one giant art museum, with all manner of classic architecture on display!

I'm back in the United States, by the way, as you all could surely tell from the dateline of this blog post. Maybe, sometime this week, I'll get around to doing what I never actually got around to doing on this blog during my trip and posting some impressions, photos and such. Maybe.



Skyfall (2012, Sam Mendes), seen at Pathé De Munt in Amsterdam
A part of me wants to applaud the attempt on the part of director Sam Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan to imbue the iconic British superspy with something approaching genuine emotional depth. But I already think this was successfully accomplished in the series—in Casino Royale, current Bond Daniel Craig's first outing as 007. Part of the stunning impact of Martin Campbell's 2006 entry wasn't just the novelty of seeing a freshly reimagined James Bond, but in witnessing, for all its thrilling action fireworks, a genuinely affecting drama about the death of a hero's soul. Has this brooding, angst-ridden Bond already worn out its welcome? The half-baked previous installment, Quantum of Solace, certainly didn't help matters, though I still kinda/sorta like that entry more than most critics did. Parental issues, literal and figurative, get a work-out in Skyfall, but it's like trying to impose humanity onto a total void; after a while, the banality of its brand of psychoanalysis becomes crushing. That's why I had trouble taking its third act all that seriously as emotional drama, especially when it eventually hinges on a silly Straw Dogs-like scenario of Bond being forced to protect his turf from his nemesis Silva's (Javier Bardem) cronies.

So overall, I can't really work up nearly the same level of enthusiasm that many of my colleagues have expressed regarding this latest Bond film; maybe, the truth is, beyond Casino Royale, I just don't have much of an investment in this character. But the action scenes are generally well-executed, and sure, Roger Deakins's cinematography is worth the singling out it's been getting among critics (although "best-looking Bond movie ever"? People who are making such an extravagant claim ought to give Claude Renoir's work in The Spy Who Loved Me another look; the Cairo sequence in Lewis Gilbert's 1977 Bond film is about as visually seductive as the high-point Shanghai sequence here). Skyfall shows the Bond series as technically adept as ever; it's when it tries to be something more than it falls fatally short. I never thought I'd say this after Casino Royale and even Quantum of Solace, but I'm looking forward to the next Bond film being just another gimmicky action extravaganza, without the increasingly risible attempts at angst-ridden emotional baggage.


Technique (1989, New Order)
This album finds the British synthpop band more inviting than ever before. It's all rather pleasant to listen to, in fact, and the beats are as infectious as ever. I can't say I find much memorable about it beyond that—except that sure, I've finally gotten used to Bernard Albrecht's tuneless singing.

"Royal Concertgebouw and Lorin Maazel Take the Treasure Fleet," performed live by Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel at Het Concertgebouw in Amsterdam 
Let's quickly dispense with the performance itself: a reasonably diverting concert piece entitled "Piet Hein Rhapsody" by a Dutch composer named Peter Van Anrooy (you can listen to it here); a vivid rendition of a suite from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet score; and a workmanlike performance of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra was in pretty good form throughout; if only they had had a more inspiring maestro than the chilly Lorin Maazel at the helm.

But wow, the venue! At the very least, the Concertgebouw easily beats Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in sheer visual grandeur. I mean, look at this...

...and this!

It's enough to make me forget how bland the actual concert was.


My Big Fat American Election (2012, Pep Rosenfeld/Greg Shapiro/Michael Orton-Toliver/Andrew Moskos), performed by members of Boom Chicago at the Chicago Social Club in Amsterdam
Because I was in Amsterdam during Election Day here in the U.S., I decided, on a tip from my Dutch host, to go check out this Amsterdam-based, English-language comedy troupe on Tuesday, Nov. 6, to get my Election-Day fix. I had a good time overall—and while these members of Boom Chicago certainly admit their leftist leanings from the start, some of their best jokes take aim at both candidates as well as at the blatant manipulation that goes into these kinds of political contests in general. That kind of bipartisanship maybe made up about 40% of their shtick, though; much of the rest is mere choir-preaching—but sometimes the choir-preaching was pretty funny as well. I'd recommend checking Boom Chicago out for those of you who venture to Amsterdam in the future; their comedy improvisations are especially worth witnessing.


You can see a bit of Andy Warhol's The Last Supper in the distance of this detail of De Nieuwe Kerk

"The Last Supper by Andy Warhol," seen at De Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam
Amidst the stained-glass windows and lavish architectural marvels of De Nieuwe Kerk, there stood this wholly pink Andy Warhol's canvas from 1986, twice reproducing Leonardo da Vinci's famous late-15th-century depiction of Jesus Christ's final meal with his 12 disciples before his betrayal, turning it all pink and black, and, in Warhol's own inimitable way, daring us to access the spirituality of the original work in a more "commercialized" form. Plus, the dissonance of seeing this very modern work of art in the context of a 15th-century church added an extra frisson to the experience that you might not necessarily get anywhere else (except, I guess, in other churches).

The Potato Eaters (1885), Vincent Van Gogh

"Vincent. The Van Gogh Museum in the Hermitage Amsterdam," seen at Hermitage Amsterdam in Amsterdam
Many of my friends had suggested that I should go check out the Van Gogh Museum while I was in Amsterdam. Alas, the museum itself was closed for renovations last week, and will remain so until next year. Until then, though, part of the Van Gogh Museum collection was up at the Hermitage Amsterdam—so I checked that out instead. The main thing I took away from the exhibit was a refreshed awareness of Van Gogh's seemingly endless curiosity, his willingness to constantly tinker and refine his style and try new subjects and approaches. I had no idea, for instance, that, for a certain spell, he was obsessed with Japanese art, to the point of "copying" some Japanese canvases and filtering it through a style that feels distinctly Van Gogh-ian. I guess I'll just have to make another trip to Amsterdam in the future in order to see the full Van Gogh Museum collection. For now, though, I was mostly pretty satisfied with the selection on offer at the Hermitage Amsterdam. 

Monday, November 05, 2012

Artistic Consumption Log, Oct. 29, 2012 - Nov. 4, 2012

HAARLEM, THE NETHERLANDS—As expected, I didn't find a whole lot of time to annotate this week's artistic-consumption log, so a barebones one this shall be. Not that I ended up consuming whole heck of a lot, thanks to the power I lost as a result of Hurricane Sandy.


The Private Eyes (1976, Michael Hui), seen on DVD at home in East Brunswick, N.J.

True Romance (1993, Tony Scott), seen on DVD in Haarlem, The Netherlands


Brotherhood (1986, New Order)


Women in Love (1920, D. H. Lawrence)


Raphael, seen at Teylers Museum in Haarlem, The Netherlands

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Greetings from the Netherlands!

HAARLEM, THE NETHERLANDS—There's one other thing Hurricane Sandy screwed up, at least temporarily: my trip to Amsterdam!

Amsterdam's flag

Up until now, I had never traveled to any European country—most of my previous international travels had been to either Asian countries or Canada—so one other resolution I made at the beginning of this year was that I would finally take a trip to that continent—and because I know a couple of people in Amsterdam, I figured the Netherlands would be as good a starting point as any. (No, folks, it's not about the pot and the hookers—or, maybe, not entirely about both...)

Through Aer Lingus—which would take me to Dublin Airport before heading over to Amsterdam-Schiphol—I was all set to fly out to Amsterdam from John F. Kennedy International Airport on Monday night. But then, Hurricane Sandy reared her ugly head and, with its damaging winds, essentially crippled all New York/New Jersey air travel until Wednesday, when JFK and Newark Liberty International Airport reopened to limited service. So I was forced to rebook my flights—and by the time I finally decided it would be a good idea to actually rebook, all of the available Wednesday- and Thursday-evening Aer Lingus flights to Dublin filled up, leaving a Friday-night flight as the earliest option. Thankfully, Aer Lingus made the rebooking free of charge—and better yet, the airline even allowed me to rebook my return flights to a later date. So in the end, I'm losing only one of my initial projected seven full days in the Netherlands.

A view of the sun rising out of the window of my flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Dublin Airport

So now I'm here! (Or, at least, I'm near Amsterdam; technically, I'm staying with someone who lives just a bit of outside of Amsterdam, in a quiet little town called Haarlem.) And I look forward to being able to share my experiences here in the Netherlands with you all here at My Life, at 24 Frames Per Second—at least, if I don't get too caught up in activity that I find myself with no time to post! (Hey, I at least found time to post this, right?)

More words and photos to come soon...

Friday, November 02, 2012

Lost in the Hurricane Sandy Shuffle

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Two film criticism-related things on the personal end got lost earlier this week amidst the Hurricane Sandy mess.

First: my review of Girl Walk // All Day, which begins a week-long run Sunday at the newly reopened reRun Gastropub Theater in Brooklyn. For those who don't live in New York or simply don't want to pay to see it, you can technically see the whole 77-minute film here. But Jacob Krupnick's film is great enough that it deserves to be seen on a big screen, if possible.

Second, a bit of personal news: I have agreed to take on editor-in-chief duties of the film- and music-review website In Review Online from its creator/now-former editor-in-chief (and current Brooklyn roommate) Sam C. Mac. I had made a resolution at the beginning of this year that I would somehow shake myself out of the routine I felt I'd been falling into professionally and personally speaking, so when Sam asked me if I would be willing to help keep his site alive as he focused his energies on other projects, I figured this was as good an opportunity as any to make good on that resolution. I've never been in charge of an entire website before—even at Rutgers, during that one year I was film editor for the weekly entertainment section of The Daily Targum, I didn't play the role of the, uh, "head honcho," so to speak. This, then, will be a fresh experience for me, made possibly more challenging by the fact that I'll still be juggling my day job at The Wall Street Journal while doing so. Nevertheless, on the much-bandied-about theory that one needs to push oneself out of one's comfort zone every once in a while if one has any shot of getting anywhere in life, I'm looking forward to taking on these challenges head-on and hopefully elevating Sam's already very fine site to even greater heights...

...or at least, I'm looking forward to it once I come back from my Amsterdam vacation, which is set to commence in a matter of hours! Amsterdam, you say? More on this later...

Hurricane Sandy's Long Lines

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Yesterday was the first day I ventured outside of my parents' home in East Brunswick, N.J., to survey the damage Hurricane Sandy wrought in my town. As expected, there were the usual fallen trees...

...and downed, possibly live wires:

And there was also this:

As a result of Hurricane Sandy, gasoline is running dangerously low at a lot of gas stations in the New York/New Jersey area, leading to long lines of cars waiting to refuel at the precious few gas stations left operating—like the Hess station on Route 18 that I captured during the first part of that video above.

Of course, yesterday I also finally made it back to New York and had to deal with another long line to get back home: a massive line to catch special shuttle buses New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority had set up that would take us past the still-mostly-powerless areas of lower Manhattan and get us into Brooklyn. That's what I captured in the second part of that video.

I figured it would be cool to juxtapose those two lines together: the suburban and urban equivalents of the long lines and general craziness that this superstorm left in its wake. It's both amusing and sad at the same time.

Studies of Candelight (Resulting from Hurricane Sandy)

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—So it turns out that it might not have been such a bright idea to escape to New Jersey during the terrorizing reign of Hurricane Sandy—especially on Monday afternoon, when the strong winds helped knock out our power, which has still yet to be restored.

To look on the bright side, however...well, the lack of electricity meant that we were forced to bring out the candles—and thanks to both iPhone and the Instagram app, on each of the nights I stayed in East Brunswick, N.J., without power, I was able to take a series of photographs of candles and candlelight. Consider this my way of accessing my inner John Alcott (he being the cinematographer who did wonders with candlelight in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon):

For now, I'll let those images stand as my way of commemorating this hard-hitting and in some cases tragic event. Thankfully, I at last had hot water and food to subsist on during the past few days without power; I hear a lot of my friends in lower Manhattan weren't so lucky.

As for ways we all can help the victims of Hurricane Sandy...well, my Wall Street Journal colleague Jonnelle Marte has a few tips for us:

Plus, here's a handy American Red Cross link.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Shelter from the (Franken)storm, with Musical Accompaniment

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—Some of your sharper-eyed readers might have noted the dateline in my last post and wondered, "What is he doing back in New Jersey?"

Well, I am back home with my folks in New Jersey to ride out Hurricane Sandy, the major storm that's about to bear down on the mid- to upper part of the East Coast here in the United States and is predicted to cause some devastating damage. I made the choice to rush back home when New York decided to shut down its public-transportation system in anticipation of this massive weather event at 7 p.m. last night; because I was working until 7:30 p.m. yesterday, and because I'm supposed to be on vacation starting today (my trip to Amsterdam has been postponed until Friday night), I decided I might as well head back home, pay a visit to my folks and stay in their company as the so-called "Frankenstorm" increased in strength.

So, after nearly missing what I discovered only when I boarded a Suburban Coach bus at Port Authority Bus Terminal was the last Line 100 bus of the night before they shut down service completely (nice going in giving all of us advance warning, Suburban Coach!), I am now back in East Brunswick. The electricity here at home is still working...for now.

But boy, Sunday morning was already pretty ominous, as this video I shot with my iPhone attests:

The winds started to pick up last night—to the point where I could hear it howling outside while sitting indoors—and it has only gotten worse, as this other video I shot demonstrates:

And, as of now, Hurricane Sandy hasn't even touched down on land yet! This doesn't appear to be yet another Hurricane Irene situation like last year; this looks to be the real deal. So stay safe, everybody!

In the meantime...well, one ought to have a bit of fun even amidst a potential natural disaster like this one, so I've been thinking of some of the best depictions of storms in music. I came up with this playlist of five on Spotify:

I'd love to add more if anyone has other suggestions to offer!

Artistic Consumption Log, Oct. 22, 2012 - Oct. 28, 2012: Dance Party Edition

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—This may well turn out to be a crucial week for me in artistic consumption in one respect: It's the week where I feel like I at least came close to finally understanding dance.

I've seen my share of dance performances over the past few years—and have even put down some of my impressions on this here blog—but though I've responded to some more enthusiastically than others, I admit that, for the most part, I've always found the form to be somewhat difficult for me to grasp in some way. Maybe I've been approaching dance in too theatrical/cinematic a mindset, expecting thematic and character richness of a literary sort when really dance is all about the beauty of movement, whether purely for its own sake or for a higher purpose.

Anyway, I thought maybe I had reached my limit with dance during Astral Converted, that suffocating 55-minute Trisha Brown/John Cage piece that seemed to just go on forever and at random. But this past week, I saw two dance pieces—one a film, the other an actual theatrical work—in which I felt perhaps I was coming close to finally breaking down my resistance to dance.

Plus, I listened to some dance music of a very high order thanks to, well, New Order.

You can read about all that and more in the log, um, let's dance!

Girl Walk // All Day (2012)


Far Out Isn't Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story (2012, Brad Bernstein), seen at IFC Center in New York
Girl Walk // All Day (2012, Jacob Krupnick), seen online at home in Brooklyn, N.Y.
I'm reviewing both of these films for Slant MagazineFar Out Isn't Far Enough for The House Next Door, Girl Walk // All Day for Slant proper—so I'll link you all to those reviews when they're published. All I'll say for now is, Girl Walk // All Day—which is the dance film I briefly mentioned above—has a secure spot in my Top 10 list this year; it's that good.

The Paperboy (2012, Lee Daniels), seen at Quad Cinema in New York
Despite all the condemnation this film garnered at its world premiere at Cannes earlier this year, Lee Daniels's follow-up to Precious is neither an embarrassment nor an underappreciated trash masterpiece. Actually, my cumulative reaction to the film is more of indifference than anything else—the last thing you expect from a film that features not only Nicole Kidman pissing on Zac Efron, but also a crocodile being cut up with its guts spilling out in loving close-up. Occasionally, through the unapologetic bad taste on display in this late-'60s-set tale of racism and sexual repression in the deep South, The Paperboy evinces a welcome awareness of thorny historical, thematic and character complexities; the film is, in part, a portrait of not only characters in states of transition—most notably, the titular "paperboy," a pubescent young man who gets his first taste of sexuality and the messy realities of adulthood—but an entire nation in transition, uneasily trying to shake off its racist past. (The word "nigger," for instance, is made the focus of perhaps its most emotionally wrenching moment, when Efron's Jack Jansen calls a black male character that racial pejorative in the heat of the presence of the black maid (Macy Gray) for whom he has a lot of friendly affection.) If only Daniels, as a filmmaker, wasn't so promiscuous in sacrificing sense to sensation, its vision might have made more of a lasting impression beyond the lurid surface details. (I mean, as far as I'm concerned, did we really need to see those damn crocodile guts? That's as egregious as the rape-intercut-with-fried-chicken montage in Precious.) But no, The Paperboy doesn't strike me as entirely negligible.

Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)


Movement (1981, New Order)
Power, Corruption & Lies (1983, New Order)
Low-life (1985, New Order)
I'm finally catching up with the British synth-pop band that was once known as Joy Division before Ian Curtis died, and while Power, Corruption & Lies is indeed as great as its reputation...guys, I don't know about this Bernard Sumner dude. I didn't mind his mediocre singing in that album or in their previous album, Movement, because the beats, textures and lyrics were enough to compensate for Sumner's barely-in-tune vocals as the lead singer. But while the beats, textures and lyrics in Low-life are as virtuosic and memorable as ever, overall the songs seem to be trying for a deeper emotional affect than Sumner is even close to capable of delivering. I guess people over the years have given him a pass because the songs themselves are so catchy? Because, I mean, on a dance floor, who cares about great singing, right? Anyway, the best song on Low-life is, naturally, "Elegia," the one instrumental on the album; "Sub-Culture" is also quite good—intoxicating in its ominousness—but again, Sumner's rough singing comes perilously close to completely breaking its distinctive spell. (I guess Ian Curtis was no great shakes as a vocalist, either, but his deep tenor voice had a certain alien allure to it that was fascinating to hear however depressive his lyrics were.) Does Sumner somehow get better as a vocalist in subsequent New Order albums? I'll see. Maybe, in their best albums, it ultimately doesn't matter so much.

Brooklyn Academy of Music's Howard Gilman Opera House stage before "...como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si...." This was, in fact, basically the whole set.


"...como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si..." (2009, Pina Bausch), performed by Tanztheater Wupperthal Pina Bausch at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, N.Y.
So seasoned dance critics aren't considering this one of legendary choreographer Pina Bausch's great works? Well, okay. I'm no seasoned dance critic, but for the most part, this was probably the most sheer fun I've had seeing a dance work maybe ever. Thanks to Wim Wenders's Pina, I went into Friday night's performance of Bausch's final work, "...como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si...," being at least somewhat aware of her innovative blending of dance and theater. But to see it up and close and personal was especially thrilling; for the first time, I felt as if I was actually getting dance in ways I never quite grasped before.

Based on Bausch and her Tanztheater Wupperthal's experiences and observations while doing a residency in Chile, "...como el musguito..." is essentially a plotless series of tableaux depicting the battle of the sexes, in interactions that are by turns romantic, creepy and funny. Considering how many of the female dancers proudly flaunt their feminine physicality/wiles to the men they playfully seduce, one can read an idiosyncratic vision of female empowerment into the work—but to my mind, both sexes are given just about equal praise/ridicule in the love games in which they enact. For me, though, much of the excitement in seeing "...como el musguito..." came simply from seeing dancers speaking dialogue, playing with props onstage, wearing extravagant fashions—in short, doing a lot of things I normally don't see in a typical dance piece. Like the best artistic experiences, I never knew what to expect moment to moment, and even as inspiration started to flag towards the end of this 2-hour-and-20-minute work, the sheer exhilaration of seeing what lovely/crazy things Bausch would come up with next for her dancers to do onstage kept me interested. Dammit, why am I only now discovering the work of this genuine visionary years after her death? (Rest in peace, Pina Bausch.)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Artistic Consumption Log, Oct. 15, 2012 - Oct. 21, 2012: Decompressing After NYFF Edition

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—I chalk up the light load of this past week in artistic consumption to my desire to take it easy after New York Film Festival. Good thing I made some worthy discoveries during this most recent seven-day stretch!

Le Grand Amour (1969)


The Sessions (2012, Ben Lewin), seen at Angelika Film Center in New York
I probably would not have even bothered to see this film if some critics I read regularly hadn't voiced enthusiasm for it; also, a friend of mine was interested in seeing it with me. As it turns out, this isn't bad at all. One might not expect much from a based-on-true-story chronicle of a 38-year-old polio-stricken paralyzed poet/journalist trying to lose his virginity; after all, something like this was recently mined for this jokey/mawkish Oscar-nominated fiction short. Writer-director Ben Lewin, however, takes Mark O'Brien's story seriously indeed, and with the help of his game cast, manages to persuade us to take it seriously as well. The result is far less cloying than one might expect—but then, as he is depicted in the film, and as John Hawkes plays him, O'Brien himself is the last person to give into masochistic self-pity, meeting the challenges of his paralysis with good humor and a genuine thirst for life. And as for the sexual aspects of this story, The Sessions treats sex with a maturity and forthrightness that is rare in most American films, mainstream or otherwise. I wouldn't make any grand claims for the film—aesthetically, it's generally pretty unremarkable—but it's sensitively and sincerely done, and the acting is very fine across the board (though Helen Hunt's exaggerated Boston accent may or may not be a distraction for some).

Heureux Anniversaire (1962, Pierre Étaix), seen at Film Forum in New York
Le Grand Amour (1969, Pierre Étaix), seen at Film Forum in New York
"Pierre Étaix?" some of you might be asking. "Who the heck is that?" And hey, before Film Forum programmed a retrospective of his films, I had never heard of the guy either. Born in 1928, he was a comedian who worked extensively with Jacques Tati on his 1958 film Mon Oncle before getting a chance to make his own films—none of which had been available until recently, in newly restored prints, all of which are screening as part of this series.

As an artist, one could describe him as a cross between his mentor Tati and Buster Keaton in his deadpan acting style, brilliance as a physical comedian and marked lack of sentimentality. Le Grand Amour—the 1969 color feature Film Forum is screening throughout the first week of this series—has all of these qualities in abundance, though not even Tati and Keaton were quite as bold in weaving so effortlessly between reality and fantasy as Étaix frequently does. Of course, the back-and-forth is appropriate for a film that depicts main character Pierre's (Étaix himself, as usual in his films) desire to escape the dullness of his current humdrum domestic existence with his plain-Jane wife (played by Étaix's own wife, Annie Fratellini) and continue the skirt-chasing ways he cultivated before settling down (he especially fixates on a barely legal secretary that works at his office). Pierre dreams about "free love"—a mindset very much in vogue at the time, of course—but does he have the actual guts to pull off such a lifestyle? An unsparing excoriation of male folly, a cutting satire of bourgeois manners, a comedy about the ways romantic desires mess with our heads: Le Grand Amour is all that and more, wrapped in a light, playful package that isn't afraid to delve into full-blown surrealism—most memorably, a dream sequence in which beds are turned into traveling vehicles on roads in the French countryside—to get at its greater emotional truths.

It's quite a discovery, Le Grand Amour—and the preceding 12-minute short, Heureux Anniversaire (which actually won a Best Short Subject Oscar in 1963), is even more impressive in its brilliantly escalating comic mayhem as the main character's attempts to get back home in time to celebrate a marriage anniversary with his wife are met with increasingly hilarious obstacles. I hope to be able to see more of Étaix's work before I go on vacation next week, because after these two films, I'm definitely intrigued.

The Loves of Pharaoh (1922, Ernst Lubitsch), seen with live musical accompaniment from Numinous at Brooklyn Academy of Music's BAM Harvey Theater in Brooklyn, New York
Ernst Lubitsch doing a lavish Cecil B. DeMille-style historical spectacle? Well, the filmmaker celebrated for such romantic entertainments such as Trouble in Paradise and The Shop Around the Corner did it in his home turf of Germany in 1922 with his long-lost epic The Loves of Pharaoh, recently restored to something close to its original version by the same company, ALPHA-OMEGA, that handled the recent "complete Metropolis" restoration (there are still bits of footage missing, all of which are indicated either by explanatory intertitles and/or still images). For those viewers weaned on his American films throughout the 1930s and '40s, the darker tone of this much earlier Lubitsch work might come as a shock—which is not to say it's entirely free of that famed "Lubitsch touch." The Loves of Pharaoh is essentially a soap opera, centering around a love triangle that develops between Egyptian King Amenes (Emil Jannings), the Greek slave girl Theonis (Dagny Servaes) and the Egyptian laborer Ramphis (Harry Liedtke). But Lubitsch spreads his usual worldly wisdom all around the film, with the fickleness of crowds coming in for as much scrutiny as the ruthlessness of power-hungry rulers. Ultimately, though, it's amour that brings down King Amenes; by its final moments, rarely has a king's retaking of power felt so hollow, as he has lost the woman he loved to someone willing to throw away power for her sake. And rarely has a Lubitsch film been so devastatingly direct in its psychological insights.

I assume The Loves of Pharaoh will show up again—maybe with Eduard Künneke's original musical accompaniment? Not to take anything away from Joseph C. Phillips Jr.'s Alban Berg-like atonal score, a fascinating accompaniment performed live at the BAM Harvey Theater screening by Phillips's 18-piece orchestra, Numinous—but this seems like the kind of grand historical spectacle that lends itself to something more traditional than the disturbed, intimately scaled dissonances of Phillips's score. (Phillips might be the perfect man for coming up with a brand new Metropolis score—though the Alloy Orchestra score I heard when I watched the film most recently at Ebertfest last year was a stunning achievement.) But I do admit that the dissonances, at the very least, sounded quite pleasing to my ears in addition to getting at the more ironic, inward-looking undercurrents of the film.

My crappy iPhone photo of Fiona Apple onstage with her backing band at Terminal 5


Fiona Apple, seen live at Terminal 5 in New York
You all thought her songs were full of angst? Wait until you see her perform those songs live in concert to get a fuller measure of said angst! Onstage, Fiona Apple cuts a fascinatingly jittery profile, seemingly unable to stand still even in front of a microphone stand. The experience of seeing her live was akin to witnessing an artist expressing her own private emotions, with all of us in the audience as mere spectators to the display. "I just want to feel everything," she sings in "Every Single Night" (the first cut from her most recent album, The Idler Wheel...); perhaps that one poignant lyric is a key not to just this compellingly mercurial artist as a singer/songwriter, but as a stage performer as well, with every gesture nothing if not deeply felt in the moment—even the couple of moments where she stood next to a grand piano and, with her back toward it, gyrated like a pole dancer while one of the guitarists did an improvisation. In such a context, perhaps it makes sense that she barely seemed to acknowledge the audience except to say "thank you; I love you all" at the end of her 90-minute set; in fact, she never came back out for any encores. But the sheer spectacle of seeing an artist perform her music in ways you wouldn't get just from her record was enough; that's part of the exciting frisson of the live-concert experience in general.

因為愛你 (1987, 葉歡)
放我的真心在你的手心 (1988, 葉歡)
記得我們有約 (1988, 葉歡)
For now, at least, I'm back in a Chinese-pop phase...and I suspect Ye Huan will probably interest most of you even less than, say, 蔡琴 (Tsai Chin—remember, filmmaking giant Edward Yang's first wife?) or 蘇芮 (Su Rui—one of living Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke's favorites, as Platform and Still Life attest). As far as I know, Ye Huan didn't have connections to Taiwanese cinema or television...and yet, Warner Music Taiwan apparently saw it fit to re-release some of her late '80s albums on compact disc this year, so I guess she must be popular in some circles. Anyway, she has a beautifully lyrical voice—somewhat in between Tsai Chin's imperial richness and Su Rui's gritty directness—and most of the songs on her first three albums are solid-to-great (with the exception of one embarrassingly earnest plea for kindness throughout the world right smack dab in the middle of hte second album). (Plus, she's easy on the eyes.) Her debut album is the most consistent of the ones I've heard so far; if any of you are curious at all, feel free to sample it here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Closing the Book on The 50th New York Film Festival

NEW YORK—Since I'm not on Criticwire, I wasn't asked to participate in this poll rounding up critics' favorite, and not-so-favorite, films and performances in this year's New York Film Festival. So I figured, by way of a sum-up, I'd offer some of my picks in the various categories.

This year's festival was such an embarrassment of riches, for the most part, that naturally there were plenty of titles and performances that I regret leaving off because of the limit of five in each category, especially in the acting categories. Plus, in the "Best Nonfiction Film" category, I cheated and threw in the wondrous avant-garde shorts by Nathaniel Dorsky and Jerome Hiler, seen during the Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar two weekends ago. Hey, it's my blog and my list, so I can break the rules if I want!

Anyway, by way of closing the book on the 50th New York Film Festival, here you go:

Like Someone in Love

Best Fiction Film
1. Like Someone in Love
2. Holy Motors
3. Barbara
4. Mekong Hotel
5. Passion


Best Nonfiction Film
1. Leviathan
2. August and After/April
3. In the Stone House/New Shores
4. First Cousin Once Removed

Beyond the Hills

Most Disappointing Film
1. Beyond the Hills
2. Something in the Air
3. The Last Time I Saw Macao

Best Lead Performance
1. Denis Lavant, Holy Motors
2. Nina Hoss, Barbara
3. Denzel Washington, Flight
4. Tadashi Okuno, Like Someone in Love
5. Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi

Best Supporting Performance
1. John Goodman, Flight
2. Isabelle Huppert, Amour
3. Kylie Minogue, Holy Motors
4. Alessandro Nivola, Ginger & Rosa
5. Ronald Zehrfeld, Barbara

Notably missed: You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, Night Across the Street, Berberian Sound Studio, and so on

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Artistic Consumption Log, Oct. 8, 2012 - Oct. 14, 2012: "End of New York Film Festival and Beyond" Edition

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—I may have just set a record for tardiness with an artistic consumption log by posting this today, Wednesday, two days later than usual. For the handful of you who have been waiting for this with baited breath, my apologies.


Holy Motors

The 50th New York Film Festival, all films seen at Walter Reade Theater in New York
Ginger & Rosa (2012, Sally Potter)
Holy Motors (2012, Léos Carax)
 No (2012, Pablo Larraín)

Flight (2012, Robert Zemeckis)
This last week of New York Film Festival screenings was full of surprises. I mean, I expected great things from Léos Carax's Holy Motors and, as I expressed in this House Next Door review, found my expectations generally met.

The three other films, though, blindsided me. Ginger & Rosa, for instance, seemed to garner a fairly respectful but not ecstatic response at Toronto last month, so I didn't expect a whole lot going in; Sally Potter's latest film turned out to be arguably the best of NYFF's Main Slate trio of '60s period pieces (the others being Olivier Assayas's Something in the Air and David Chase's Not Fade Away): a film of intelligent nuances, subtle visual beauties and a welcome lack of nostalgia. As for No: I wasn't a big fan of either of Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín's previous two films, Tony Manero (2008) and Post Mortem (2010), but in his new film he drops the facile metaphors of its predecessors and goes directly for the jugular when it comes to depicting the process of, essentially, adopting the language of advertising to sell a revolution. It's less successful at human interest: Larraín's interest in René's (Gael García Bernal) home life mostly feels obligatory at best (though the warmth, however ironic, in those domestic scenes a relief after the perversities in Tony Manero and Post Mortem), but as a chronicle of process, it's engrossing. And yes, I would defend Larraín's visual perversity in shooting his new film on a Sony U-matic VHS tape, which matches the format in which the various political television commercials were shot, and which, though not always easy on the eyes, does have the effect of blurring (literally, in a sense) the line between TV and "reality" in a way that I find genuinely provocative in this context.

But Robert Zemeckis's Flight offered perhaps the biggest surprise of them all. I walked into it with no expectations whatsoever, and it didn't seem, among many colleagues I've spoken to, that there was necessarily a whole lot of excitement about Zemeckis's return to live-action filmmaking after a few years spent in a motion-capture wilderness with his last three films (The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol). All I knew was that it had something to do with a drunk pilot who somehow managed to land a plane. I thought that was the whole movie; I didn't think that that would only be, maybe, a third of the film and that the rest would focus on an alcholic's bumpy road to—well, some kind of recovery, at least. Flight turned out to be a surprisingly powerful experience, and it has one of Denzel Washington's finest performances, a terribly watchable spectacle of raw nerves and volatile self-loathing. This is the kind of film in which its character study is as tense as its obviously showstopping airplane-crash setpiece early on in the film—a Bruised Forearm movie of a far more inward, character-based sort. It ended this year's New York Film Festival on a strong note, as far as I'm concerned.

A fuller NYFF round-up is forthcoming...I think.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977, Lewis Gilbert), seen at Museum of Modern Art in New York [second viewing]
I suspect many of you are asking the following two questions as to what this title is doing in this log: 1) Why is a James Bond film playing at the Museum of Modern Art, of all places?; and 2) Why did I decide to see this one again, out of all the Bond films I haven't even seen (and my Bond blind spots are legion, starting with the Connerys—yes, all of them)? The answer to the first question is easy enough, answerable by this link. As for Question No. 2...well..."curiosity" is my only answer, really: to see how a film I had seen on television as a teenager held up for this older and supposedly wiser cinephile now.

I had forgotten how much The Spy Who Loved Me plays as romantic comedy, especially in its first hour, with Barbara Bach's rival Russian female secret agent offering genuine competition to 007. And only now was I able to fully appreciate the visual pleasures offered by Claude Renoir's cinematography—never more impressive as in the Egypt sequences early on in the film—and Ken Adam's production design. Overall, it's still pretty enjoyable, and Richard Kiel's silver-toothed henchman Jaws remains as memorably goofy a villain as ever. I have to admit, though, that, in light of the throwaway manner in which Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum's screenplay ultimately resolves the emotional thread regarding Agent XXX's vow to avenge her former lover's death by killing 007, the whole thing does seem a bit...well, inconsequential in ways that led me to find the movie more or less dissolving from my memory the instant I left the theater. This is considered one of the best Bond films ever, huh? Well, okay, sure, it's entertaining...but it's sure no Casino Royale (the Martin Campbell one with Daniel Craig, natch).

Looper (2012, Rian Johnson), seen at Regal Union Square Stadium 14 in New York
Maybe, in the end, it doesn't necessarily matter that the futuristic world Rian Johnson creates for this new film of his is basically little more than an amalgamation of off-the-shelf parts from renowned sci-fi predecessors (Blade Runner and RoboCop came immediately to my mind). The time-travel aspects are merely a framework for him on which to hang his more character-based, dramatic concerns—and it is on that level that Looper intrigues the most. This is basically a noir with sci-fi trappings: a narrative of a self-absorbed protagonist—or rather, in this case, two self-absorbed protagonists who are actually the same character, one 30 years older than the other—who gradually gains an awareness of a world outside his own immediate, narrow-minded purview. (This, by the way, was also a thematic thread running through another Joseph Gordon-Levitt-led film a couple of months ago, Premium Rush. Come to think of it, Wilee the delivery biker isn't all that different from Joe the looper: both extremely focused and fairly unreflective until they find themselves forced to actually consider and possibly act on behalf of others. It's almost Casablanca-like in that way, really.) When you have one of the main characters killing kids and staging a whole massacre just for the sake of keeping his own (future) wife alive despite the much larger threat of an imminent apocalypse...well, that's pretty risky material right there, offering a challenging critique of self-interest and indifference to the wider world around them. If none of this ever really transcends intellectual intrigue to my mind...well hey, intellectual engagement is certainly better than nothing, right?


Lola (1961, Jacques Demy), seen at Museum of Modern Art in New York
Brief Encounter (1945, David Lean), seen at Film Forum in New York
This past weekend in moviegoing turned out to have something of a romantic tinge to it thanks to these two classics, both of which I encountered for the first time.

After seeing Brief Encounter, I couldn't help but wonder if Jacques Demy didn't have David Lean's film partly in mind when conceiving Lola (his debut feature)? On the level of plot, granted, these are two fairly different films, Lola's multi-character mosaic contrasting with the two-character simplicity of Brief Encounter. But the two adulterous lovers in Brief Encounter find their dreams of happiness together dashed by the mores of bourgeois society, while many of Demy's characters find their own personal dreams of happiness hindered by the quotidian difficulties of their own daily lives. Spiritually, at least, these two films could not be closer together. And on a more detail-oriented note: In Lean's film, Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) ends up walking away from his affair to travel to Johannesburg for an indefinitely period of time, while in Demy's film, Roland (Marc Michel) ends up walking away from his great love Lola/Cécile (Anouk Aimée) to travel to Johannesburg as well. Surely, that isn't just coincidence!

I loved both of these films, by the way—especially Lola in the magical way Demy fuses his love of Hollywood fantasy with a sober awareness of the real world to produce a vibrant vision of life that refuses to deny his dreamers their dreams while recognizing the painful nuances underneath them. And...Anouk Aimée! I had no idea how disarming she could be based on , in which she played an angrier character constantly at odds with Marcello Mastroianni's philandering Guido—but, seeing her talk enthusiastically about keeping her hopes of seeing her former lover alive even with the odds overwhelmingly against her, you can see why Roland would keep his own flame of love for her alive in his heart. I mean, who wouldn't?

Oh, and wait...could it be...Anouk Aimée herself at MoMA? Why, yes, it is!


Diluvia (2012, Freelance Whales)
Once again, full disclosure: I'm kinda/sorta friends with the drummer of this band, and I'm happy for the success he's experiencing with this hot indie band. If I'm a bit less enthusiastic about their second album as I was about their first, Weathervanes, it's this sense that, as their sound gets bigger and more ambitious, it becomes even more evident than before just how derivative they always were. And, for me, their marked shift in emphasis on evocative soundscapes rather than hook-driven songwriting makes Diluvia, as a whole, sound as pretty as ever but also shapelessly amorphous and verging on whimsy overload, to my ears. Maybe it's fitting that its one immediately memorable cut, the quick-tempo rocker "Spitting Image," is the one that most recalls their debut (the "oh oh oh oh"'s recalling their opening salvo in Weathervanes's "Generator ^ First Floor"). Still, hats off to them for trying something new in their sophomore effort; I look forward to hearing what they do in their next album.