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.