Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Come for the Cupcakes, Stay for the Art...

Or come for the cupcakes and stay for the cupcakes - the October flavors sound incredible - but do poke your head around the corner at the Small Hall Gallery and say "Hello." I'll be there from 5:00-7:00, hanging with the beasties.

grizzly

What: First Friday Cupcake Tasting & B is for Beast Art Opening
Where: Magpies Bakery & The Small Hall Gallery
When: October 7, 5:00-7:00 PM

mauve fox

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Shop Update

2011.06.25 (chocolate dala)
A few pieces from my Emporium Show - which closed yesterday - are now available for purchase from my etsy. Kind of a trial run. If there's any interest I'll probably list more.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Game of Thrones

I have never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. To be honest I wasn’t at all familiar with his work until HBO decided to build a series around it so I have no idea how the television counterpart, Game of Thrones, stacks up against the novels. I do know that if you like sword and sorcery stuff Game of Thrones delivers the goods but, having said that, I almost abandoned the series on more than one occasion; now that I'm all caught up and through the first season I can happily report that I’m glad I stuck with the show.

Like all of HBO’s original programming, the production values for this series are impressive. Game of Thrones boasts a terrific cast, wonderful costumes and sets and sumptuous locations and photography. I am particularly fond of the stylish opening credits, which sweep over an animated map of the kingdom and are accompanied by an appropriately sweeping musical score. To me they promise excitement, intrigue and romance, which is just what I want from a show like this.

Coming into the series without any prior knowledge of the world or the people that make it up, though, made it difficult for me to get my footing. It’s not that the story is confusing or hard to follow it's just that there's so much of it. So many characters, so much plotting and scheming, so much talk of cool things like dragons and White Walkers but, for those first few episodes, the series feels like a lot of set-up and preamble and the expectation of cool things to come. Which is all well and good to a degree but there was a same-ness to the first half of the season that, at times, made it tedious for me. I liked it well enough but not as much as I wanted to like it. I just wanted the show to get on with it - whatever “it” might be - already.

This is not unlike the feeling I got when I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring. My only previous exposure to Tolkien’s Middle Earth had been the Rankin & Bass animated feature of The Hobbit, which I really liked (I even had the read along with the record book when I was a kid) so I went into the first part of Peter Jackson's epic trilogy armed only with a faint sense of nostalgia and an odd affection for Gollum (don't ask - I don't really understand it, either). I left underwhelmed but hopeful that the next installment would be a better fit for me. Going back and seeing the movie a second time I found I actually liked it because now I knew the characters and could more readily invest myself in their struggles. This was definitely an instance where I think reading the books and being familiar with the world of the story would have helped in the beginning. I feel pretty much the same way about Game of Thrones.

The biggest problem I have with this sort of front-loaded storytelling is simply that it takes longer for me to get attached to the characters, something I realize I pretty much require out of any program I'm going to commit long-term to watching. Keeping everybody's names and lineages straight in my mind takes time away from me forming those necessary emotional connections. For the most part. There were some characters I attached to pretty quickly and they, along with the aforementioned great production values, were the reason I kept watching. Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion is pretty much irresistible from the word go because, by necessity, he must use his wits rather than his might to get by. Plus he’s snarky and charming and sexy and his bravado masks the pain and disappointment that he has suffered throughout his life and all of that is interesting to me. I was quick to love Arya, too, because what’s not to love about a feisty young lady who rails against the patriarchy? It's been done so many times but it's done well here and is helped in no small part by the considerable charms of young Maisie Williams.

Characters who have the least amount of power at the onset are great because isn’t it fun to see how they might gain power and control over the course of a series like this? They also have more room for personal growth and tend to change and evolve in more pronounced, perhaps even profound, ways. I think that’s certainly the case with the character who held my interest the most over the course of these first ten episodes, the one I kept tuning in for when I really thought the show had little to offer me: my number one crush, Emilia Clarke's Daenerys. Oh, how I love this character. Not just because she looks like a live-action version of the Lady Amalthea (though that certainly works in her favor) but because her character arc plays out so wonderfully. I think of all the characters on the show she evolves and changes and grows the most over the course of the season and it is terrific to watch. Clarke's acting is subtle and convincing. She is capable of projecting vulnerability and naïveté but there is steel at her core. I was amazed by both the depth of her character’s thoughtfulness and by her incredible emotional strength. She feeds off adversity and transcends it to such a degree that her story borders on religious allegory. I found the whole thing riveting (and yes, by extension I loved Drogo and her dynamic with him). This was easily the best, most engaging part of the show for me and, because of that, the final scene of the first series made any earlier misgivings moot and could not have created a better set-up for what's to come. Bring on the fire. I'm ready.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Water for Elephants

I did not expect to like Water For Elephants, Francis Lawrence's cinematic version of Sara Gruen's gritty yet whimsical Depression-era circus romance, as much as I did. While I'm sure my very low expectations going in had something to do with my ultimate enthusiasm for the movie I don't think they were the only contributing factor. Water for Elephants is well made, thoughtfully acted and very true to the novel upon which it's based.

Staying true to your source is not always a good thing, though, as some novels lend themselves to adaptation better than others. Cram too many characters and too many meandering plot threads into a two hour distillation of a written story and you're just as likely to get a hot mess as a faithful representation of the source material. Luckily, Water for Elephants is a straightforward narrative that centers on a small group of characters. And Gruen's language is very visually descriptive; it was not hard at all for me to imagine the novel as a movie while I was reading it. I was, however, concerned about the filmmakers prettying up the story for the big screen and removing some of the more unsavory details of circus life that made reading Gruen's book such a pleasure for me. In order to garner a PG-13 rating, I’d imagine, Lawrence and his team do downplay some of the more explicit moments from the book and almost everything in Water for Elephants looks a little prettier than I imagined it in my head, including the hero, who is transformed from a gangly carrot-topped young man into the more conventionally dreamy Robert Pattinson. What I found while I watched, though, was that I didn't really mind because Gruen's story is more than just a meticulously detailed and researched examination of circus life during a specific era in American history; it is, primarily, about the romantic notion, so ingrained in our popular culture, of running away with the Greatest Show on Earth. The story of Jacob Jankowski, a veterinary student who runs from an unbearable personal tragedy and, as a result, finds a new life under the big top of the Benzini Brothers Circus, is essentially a fairy tale. Hardships are tempered with magic and wonder and, despite the odds, all ends well.

I can't really fault the movie for playing up the more romantic, whimsical aspects of the story because I feel like they still get it right where it counts - especially in allowing an appropriately dark tone to pervade the interactions between the three principle characters: Jacob, Marlena, the Benzini's star attraction and object of Jacob's infatuation, and August, the circus owner and Marlena's husband. I won't deny that the main reason I was so dubious about this adaptation before I saw it was because of some of the casting choices but I was thrilled when Christoph Waltz was pegged for August, arguably the most complex and interesting character in the book, because I knew from his work in Inglorious Basterds that he could be both charming and terrifying, often in the same moment. That combination is essential for a character like August, a mentally unbalanced man who can draw others in with his charisma one moment only to tear them down with his violent outbursts in the next. I adore Jacob and Marlena. I genuinely do. They are great characters and very easy to root for and to like. I'm fascinated by August, though, because he's not easy to like but he is compelling and Gruen never makes him merely a brute or a one-note baddie; he's more than just an obstacle to the star-crossed love of Jacob and Marlena. If anything, the story feels more like a love triangle. August is genuinely impressed by and fond of Jacob and I believe he loves Marlena. While her marriage to him is often brutal I believe Marlena also loves August. At least the good parts of him, or the way he is in the moments when his illness does not cloud his every thought and he is not acting merely out of blind rage.

So, I never doubted that Waltz could make August as fascinating on the big screen as he'd been on the printed page. And he did not disappoint. Same goes for Hal Holbrook; his small role as present-day Jacob is perfect, like I knew it'd be. I had no faith whatsoever, though, in Pattinson as Jacob and the idea of Reese Witherspoon as Marlena was almost enough to make me physically ill. I really needn't have worried, on either account.

Having only seen Pattinson in the first Twilight movie I found it hard to believe, even when I heard it from reputable sources (like my pal Paige, who has excellent and discerning taste) that he could actually act. I mean, I know he has very little to work with in Twilight but I just couldn't imagine this weirdly pretty, brooding mess of a creature as Jacob. Nerdy, good-natured, brave Jacob. Less the leading man and more the endearing underdog. But somehow, some way, Pattinson convinced me. Yes, his Jacob is more handsome and sure-footed than book-Jacob, but Pattinson brings an appropriate innocence and naivete to the role and a sense of delight at suddenly finding himself in such a strange, bewitching environment. I like that he gets to smile a lot, because he has a wonderful smile, one that he doesn't get to employ enough while he's vamping and sparkling for the tween set in Twilight.

When Reese Witherspoon made her debut at fourteen in The Man in the Moon I was so smitten with her. Her acting was incredibly naturalistic and she imbued her character, lovesick tomboy Dani Trant, with so much pluck and heart. For me everything she’s done since then , with the exception, maybe, of Election, has been a little bit of a let down. I never felt connected to another of her characters as strongly as I did Dani and the more she immersed herself in the land of high-grossing romantic comedies the less genuine and interesting she became to me. The trailers for Water for Elephants played up her Harlow-esque appearance but little else. I was afraid her Marlena would be simpering and insipid but somehow, even in that first moment when she appears on screen, I knew she'd been the right choice for the role. Her Marlena is strong and spunky. A bit flighty at times, just like she was in the book, but resilient and smart. And her chemistry with Waltz is really terrific. The intelligence each actor brings to their role makes the co-dependent relationship between August and Marlena much more interesting and intense than it would have been with lesser actors. They turn something that could have been soapy and overwraught into a taut character study. I found them riveting together.

Of course the heart and soul of the movie, as she was in the book, is Rosie the elephant. As compelling as the interactions between the human characters may be the way each of them relates to Rosie, and the way she regards each of them, is what makes Water for Elephants so special. Tai, the elephant who plays Rosie, has oddly freckled skin and, despite her size, is captivating in a very unassuming way. I think she is especially beautiful and she’s talented, to boot. Elephants are smart, sensitive creatures and maybe acting comes more naturally to them than to some types of animals. I found Tai’s Rosie to be every bit the equal of the other actors in the story. And that's certainly as it should be.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter Roundup: What I Watched Over the Holiday Weekend

Good Friday, April 22, 2011: The Last Temptation of Christ 
I had never seen this but I remember when my mom went to see it on the big screen and all the controversy Scorsese's movie stirred up. I thought it was beautifully made and very powerful. I love that it looks kind of like an old-fashioned, big budget Bible epic; the combination of radical, contemporary story and aesthetic plucked from an earlier era was a good way to go with this subject matter. The lighting and the effects are especially dramatic and terrific, as is the score by Peter Gabriel. I like that Harvey Keitel's Judas could be right at home in Mean Streets or Goodfellas and the John the Baptist scenes are fascinating. They could be outtakes from Hair (I had no idea J the B and his followers partied like that. No wonder Salome wanted in on the action). The crucifixion, temptation and death of Jesus are very moving. Scorsese makes the scenes gruesome and graphic but doesn't focus all the attention on the carnage and physical suffering. The emotional struggle that Dafoe's Jesus undergoes is far more wrenching and, like Nikos Kazantzakis, Scorsese certainly seems to understand that.

Saturday, April 23, 2011: Doctor Who 
This was one of my favorite moments from the Doctor Who S6 opener, The Impossible Astronaut. It's such an arresting image and so foreboding because of the wrongness of the astronaut, in full-on space gear, appearing in a lake on Earth in broad daylight. The beauty and stillness of the scene (filmed on location in Utah) only enhances the sense of dread. Like all episodes penned by showrunner Steven Moffat, The Impossible Astronaut is dark and unsettling. Matt Smith has some especially impressive, rather chilling moments as the Doctor; he knows his companions are keeping something from him and Smith makes the character's frustration, disgust even, at not being the most knowledgeable person in the room (for once) very palpable. Karen Gillan's Amy continues to grow on me and Alex Kingston's River Song continues to be awesome. Rory doesn't have much to do but he gets sidelined a lot. I hope he'll have a chance to be more crucial to the story as the season progresses.

Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011: United
I told my husband we had to watch this one because it'd probably be the only time a single movie would contain something that each of us loves intensely. In his case that something is football and in mine it's David Tennant. Unfortunately the movie, about the Munich air disaster that killed several young players from the much beloved Manchester United football team (nicknamed the "Busy Babes"), was only so-so. It's a well made movie and there are some striking visuals, especially in the aftermath of the accident, but, at just 90 minutes long, it feels like there's barely time for United to break the surface. The tone is somber and respectful and of course I was very sad to see the young, vibrant players cut down in their prime. But it would have meant more to me if the first part of the movie had done more than give us cursory introductions before rushing towards the accident, which serves as the dramatic centerpiece of the movie. The latter half focuses on surviving player Bobby Charlton and his relationship with coach Jimmy Murphy. Tennant, who plays Murphy, and Jack O'Connell, as Charlton, do good work but, again, it all feels a bit slight and rushed. All the pieces were in place, the filmmakers just failed to do more than the bare minimum that was required to tell the tale. I'm not sorry I watched it but I definitely wanted more.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dear Doctor

I fell in love with David Tennant's performance in Hamlet. I adored the enthusiasm, physicality and open-heartedness he brought to the role - the same manic energy, I would come to realize, that he applied to his role as the Doctor - and I adore it still.

It is my sincere hope that David John McDonald, born forty years ago today in Bathgate, West Lothian, Scotland, has had a very happy birthday.

Jane Eyre

I am not a Jane Eyre expert. I’ve read the novel but not since high school, when it was required reading (required summer reading at that, which meant I put off reading it until the bitter end of vacation, then steamrolled through it as quickly as possible and retained very little of what I’d read). For some reason Jane’s childhood woes, particularly the death of her one beloved friend at school, were the only parts of the book that really stuck with me. I feel like it’s the sort of story I should have liked, just like I feel like I should have enjoyed Wuthering Heights so much more than I did when I first read it for Sophomore English (I have re-read that one, by the way, and have, in fact, come to love it very much), because the Bronte sisters do crazy gothic romance like nobody’s business and I consider myself a fan of highly strung romantic escapades (especially when they involve possible supernatural elements and moors - which all the Bronte output seems to do).

Nonetheless I have never felt compelled to revisit Jane Eyre like I did Wuthering Heights, so I can’t say with any certainty that this version gets it right any more than any of the other film adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s novel (none of which I think I’ve watched all the way through). What I can say is that I enjoyed the movie very much and found it appropriately gothic, romantic, pretty and swoon-worthy. It’s well paced and particularly engaging in the second half, when the love story really gets going, and the performances are outstanding. The secondary characters all fare well thanks to the talent of a strong supporting cast which includes Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins and Tamzin Merchant (who is essentially reprising her Pride and Prejudice role of younger woman who dotes on the heroine, with just as much charm in the latter as she exhibited in the former). Amelia Clarkson deserves a mention as well, for creating, in just a handful of scenes, a young Jane that is both strong and sympathetic. But the movie really belongs, as it should, to Michael Fassbender’s Rochester and Mia Wasikowska’s brilliant Jane. Even though I had only seen each of them in one movie apiece (Inglorious Basterds for him, Alice in Wonderland for her) it was their names that made me want to see the movie in the first place and they certainly do not disappoint. Fassbender plays Rochester as melancholy and ill-tempered but also sly and playful. It’s as if he knows no one else is going to entertain him so he sets out to amuse himself. In certain scenes there’s this wonderful twinkle in his eye, like he’s thinking of some private joke that amuses him to no end. I like that there’s something there to balance out all the angst and brooding that Rochester has to carry around with him. And he is matched by Wasikowska, who is capable of conveying the attraction Jane feels for Rochester, almost the instant she meets him, as well as the practical side of the character who instinctively guards herself against those feelings. I think the movie does a wonderful job of making Wasikowska, a very pretty girl, look plain, insignificant even, but never frumpy or homely. She’s styled and lighted harshly and Wasikowska carries herself in a kind of hunched over, perpetual air of timidity. But her eyes betray the fact that her Jane is strong, smart and fierce. The movie could almost work as a silent film based on the expressiveness of Wasikowska’s eyes. She made me root for Jane from start to finish.

While I appreciate most of director Cary Fukunaga’s choices, the film has an austere elegance that seems appropriate for a story about an intelligent but reserved heroine like Jane, I do think the movie making occasionally feels a little too safe and conservative. In fact there are moments that could probably be used interchangeably with any other stately BBC-produced literary adaptation that’s been made in the last ten years. I sometimes, over the course of the movie, found myself wishing for a director with a slightly stronger visual vocabulary and a more distinctive sense of style. Someone like Jane Campion, perhaps, or even Joe Wright. But I only felt like that part of the time because there are also individual scenes in Jane Eyre that are rich and marvelous – like the one when Jane is reading a picture book with her pupil, Adele, and the illustration on the page is distorted by the lens of a tilted magnifying glass, or the masterfully composed scene nearer the end of the movie when an anxious Jane nervously paces alongside the neatly trimmed hedges – and I find myself thinking about those striking moments, as well as those incredibly effective performances by Fassbender and Wasikowska, several days after having seen the film. I wish Jane Eyre could have had a few more moments like that, if only to help it stand out a bit more from all the other Jane Eyre interpretations. Because I do think that this is a very good movie and that it is definitely worth seeing, even if it feels, at times, like you’ve seen it before.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Like a Phoenix from the Ashes

journal: 2011.04.13-14

I've resurrected my garden blog. At least for the next six weeks or so, until the sticky heat, raging mosquitoes and my lack of a green thumb force me back indoors.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Being Human

You'd have been hard-pressed to find a finer seventy-five minutes of television last night than the season three finale of Being Human, which made its American debut on BBC America. The stirring performances by the cast are matched by the thoughtful writing on a show whose dramatic and emotional impact has only grown stronger each season. I can highly recommend the entire series but I believe the latest one is the show's strongest showing yet.

Being Human has a premise that might repel as many viewers as it attracts: a ghost, a werewolf and a vampire share a flat and attempt to be as human as possible. While supernatural storytelling has a built-in audience and vampires in particular have been wildly popular for the last several years, there are still a lot of viewers who will no doubt dismiss a program like Being Human because that kind of fare just isn't their thing. While all the conflict and tension arise from the show's central conceit the focus on the fantastic and the horrific element always takes a backseat to the show's human aspect. At its heart Being Human is about the friendship between the three central characters, their devotion to and love for one another. The show's warmth, sweetness and sincerity have constantly defied my expectations as a viewer and I now rank Annie, George and Mitchell amongst the fictional characters I love the most.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Red Riding Hood

I spent the first fifteen minutes or so of Red Riding Hood trying to determine just how seriously the filmmakers intended the audience to take their movie. I finally concluded that while Catherine Hardwicke's latest offering might court the Twilight crowd Red Riding Hood is in no way meant to be treated with the same kind of heartfelt, angst-ridden devotion. The movie's obvious inspiration is fairy tales and folklore but it also feels, in many ways, like an homage to those overwrought, fantasy-horror movies from the 80s and early 90s - titles like The Lost Boys, Legend, Bram Stoker's Dracula and, of course, The Company of Wolves - as well as earlier cult and B Movie triumphs, like the Hammer Horror classics and the original Wicker Man.

I saw the connection not only in the way certain scenes were shot but in some of the casting choices. While the casting for the young leads is entirely uninspired (I think Amanda Seyfried is great on Big Love but fails miserably when she’s given lesser material that calls for a bit more creativity on her part; and the two male leads are barely worth the effort it takes to mention them in this aside) the casting of the supporting players suggests at least a slight affection for and knowledge of the horror and fantasy genres: Dracula himself, the terrific Gary Oldman, plays the pious werewolf killer. And there’s never a time when I see Virginia Madsen, who had very little to do here, that I’m not reminded of her terrific performance in Candyman, my personal favorite out of all the countless supernatural serial killer slash-fests. And I have to wonder if Julie Christie was cast not just because the filmmakers knew she’d bring beauty and a sense of dignity to the role of the grandmother (which she does) but because she once starred in another supernatural thriller that centered around a red-cloaked girl. Even the digital effects on the wolf, clunky but also endearing, reminded me of the G’mork from The Neverending Story. Perhaps I am relying too heavily on my own film-going history by forming these assumptions. I do, however, know that Leonardo DiCaprio, whose Appian Way is one of the production companies that financed Red Riding Hood, and I are roughly the same age and might, possibly, have similar taste in genre films, or at least be well-versed in some of the same source material. Appian Way also produced the incredibly silly, but well-made and somewhat enjoyable, Orphan, which did very little, I thought, to hide the fact that it drew almost all of its inspiration from the creepy kid horror titles of the seventies, like the Omen series. Maybe DiCaprio is systematically working his way through his movie collection and developing projects as tribute to the stuff he loved as a child. But again, that assumption is not based in fact (it is, however, the kind of thing I'd be tempted to do if I had a production company of my own).

It was that sense of familiarity and nostalgia that made me warm, initially, to Red Riding Hood. Unfortunately, I cannot say that the movie works well even as a derivative of earlier genre flicks (had it done so I might have been more willing to overlook the obvious flaws, the lackluster acting by the younger leads and the mostly uninspired script, maybe even write them off as intentional and meant to be postmodern or ironic or something) because it simply tries too hard to appeal to the aforementioned Twilight set, many of whom think that a shiny vampire struggling with his urge to take a bite out of his sweetheart's throat is the height of courtly love, when it should have focused on the people, like me, who recognize that a premise like that is ridiculous but can happily go along with it if it's presented stylishly enough, or with a real flair for the dramatic, or a wink and a smile. Again I'll bring up Coppola's take on Stoker's Dracula. The writing is every bit as goofy and the acting every bit as silly as it is in Red Riding Hood. The movie works because it’s done with such style and drama. I appreciate the way Coppola pulls out all the stops and revels in the notion that more is sometimes more. I feel like that movie knew its audience and catered to it, mindless of whether everyone else was going to like it or not. Old-fashioned techniques are employed for the special effects, not to create something seamless and believable but to fuel the sense of delirium and wrongness that pervades the picture. Coppola also tempers the carnage with provocation, tossing in several scenes of erotic mayhem. Not because they advance the plot but because, again, they contribute to the slightly off but still seductive mood the movie is creating (and, no, I’m not ashamed to admit that I find the whole thing rather titillating). This may have been a movie kids wanted to see but it was not a movie made primarily with a younger audience in mind (I saw it on the big screen only because I have a cool mom who bought the tickets for my high school pals and me in advance). By comparison Red Riding Hood looks very tame and tepid. And without solid acting or a thoughtful story to back it up the whole thing just seems mild and faintly lazy. I'm disappointed mostly because I saw genuine promise in where the whole thing was going in the first half and then ended up feeling even more disappointed when the movie got dull, soppy and predictable in the final act. Maybe the filmmakers think the big reveal at the end is more rewarding than it is (and it is a horrible choice, I think, done clearly to try and create a surprise ending). They certainly do devote enough time to the whole whodunit element of the story when what they ought to have been figuring out was how to insert more crazy scenes of debaucherous revelry amongst the townspeople into the plot – more crazy animal masks, sexy folk dancing and weird reenactments of bedtime stories, please - since those bits are the most satisfying and generate a fun, heady momentum that the rest of the movie can't come close to conveying. I do think some of the scenery is gorgeous and the soundtrack is quite good. I like the score by Brian Reitzell as well as many of the standalone tracks (especially the one by Fever Ray). If the filmmakers had built around those elements, and focused on creating a disquieting, creepy, erotic atmosphere, rather than a paint-by-numbers mystery and a lukewarm love story, Red Riding Hood might have fared better. At the very least I would have been more satisfied.

I understand that it's harder these days for studios to justify the less mainstream choices and the projects that might run a bigger risk of underperforming at the box office. Virtually anybody can buy a cheap camera and make a great movie if they have the time and the vision, so the studios opt to play it safe, leave the groundbreaking ideas to the up and comers, and stick to the proven winners that they think will bring them big numbers for the opening weekend. I don’t think they’re necessarily aspiring to mediocrity, which is bound to be the result after you’ve watered something down enough to appeal to the largest cross section of consumers, I just think they’re less concerned with creating art than they are about staying in business. They are, after all, probably on their last legs. So I'm not surprised that Red Riding Hood is kind of a dud (in much the same way that I’m not surprised that recent Best Picture winner The King’s Speech has been edited and re-released with a PG-13 rating, in order to make it accessible to younger ticket-buyers. But that’s another blog entry); what surprised me were the things it got right, which gave me just enough hope in that first half that I might see something that would exceed my meager expectations. Instead it just made me want to watch Dracula again.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Vulpes! Vulpes! Vulpes!

a couple of foxes

fox pair

New pieces listed on my etsy. I swear I've been making non-fox related work as well recently but nothing that's available for purchase yet.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Star-Bellied Burro

star-bellied burro (detail)

New print in my etsy.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Personal Space

For Christmas my husband surprised me with a YMCA membership because he knows how much I love to swim. I am not now and never have been a particularly athletic person. When I was younger I took lessons in Modern Dance, which I loved, but I stopped when I got older because I became too self-conscious about my abilities to participate within a classroom setting. If there were an affordable way to take private lessons, like you might take when you learn to play a musical instrument, I would consider that. I can't be in a class with other dancers, though. It's just too daunting. While I have always liked being in the water one of the great pleasures, for me, of swimming, is that it can be a solitary activity. If I swim long enough and get tired enough my brain quiets down so that it can focus on keeping me afloat in the water; I love it when that happens.

Three mornings ago I had my second swim at the Y and I enjoyed it, for the most part. The water, at 85 degrees, was warm and lovely right from the start. The lifeguard was friendly. She greeted me when I got there and she smiled and asked me if I enjoyed my swim when I got out of the pool. I don't need the lifeguard to acknowledge me in order to have a good swim but I do like it when people are genuinely sweet when they aren't required to be. I am not yet used to swimming with a lifeguard on duty and I'm somewhat embarrassed by my technique, which I usually describe as frog-like (I am, however, sort of pleased by how I barely break the surface of the water when I swim. If I ever need to sneak up on or flee from an enemy via water I'm fairly confident that I will excel at the task). I was the first one in the pool Saturday morning and the only swimmer for several minutes. If there were no lifeguard present I would want the pool all to myself but since there is a lifeguard, and swimming in absolute solitude is, regrettably, not an option, I actually prefer it when there's someone else in the pool besides me (I feel slightly less self-conscious when the lifeguard's keen eye must be fixed, at least some of the time, on something other than my self-taught swim style). So I was happy when, not long after I'd started with my laps, another swimmer showed up. That is until she proceeded to do something that ruined, in part, what would have otherwise been an altogether enjoyable swim: she sat her towel down next to mine.

There are two metal benches against the wall, at one side of the pool, for personal belongings. When I walked through the double doors and into the pool area on Saturday morning I sat my towel at the very end of the bench closest to the lifeguard, at the shallow end of the pool. Had I been the second, rather than the first, person to arrive at the pool that morning, I would have looked to see where the other person had sat her belongings and then sat my stuff as far away from hers as possible. Because when it comes to people I don't know I have a thing about personal space. I like to give myself a wide berth and I like to give my belongings a wide berth as well (since, I suppose, because they are mine, I'm prone to assign them the same personality traits that I possess. Or maybe I just think of them as extensions of myself). I accept that in some instances it's unavoidable to bump up against other people. I don't mind being close to strangers when I ride the subway in New York, for example, because that's the way it's got to be (in fact I love riding the subway, though I can't explain why that is. Probably something to do with the complete and utter feeling of anonymity it gives me when I'm adrift in the big city). My neighborhood branch of the YMCA, however, is hardly the New York Subway System so why, with two long benches to choose from, empty but for my humble aqua-striped towel, did this woman decide to sit her own towel - and her grubby gym bag -down right next to where I'd sat mine? Practically on top of it. And then park herself on the bench as well so that she could leisurely enjoy a hot beverage? She wasn’t in any hurry at all to get into the water. Not only had the safe, invisible little bubble that I assumed would surround my towel (because I put it right at the end of the bench, leaving plenty of room for other people's belongings, on purpose) been compromised but now there were twice as many people possibly watching, and secretly judging, my poor swimming technique.

I got anxious and weighed my options. I thought about getting out of the water, grabbing my towel and making an elaborate show of moving it to the far end of the unoccupied bench, all the while casting disapproving looks at the offending party, so she’d know I was really put out and it was all her fault. I also considered climbing out of the pool, drying myself off a bit and pretending to need something from the changing room. I could have disappeared for a moment or two and then returned, placed my towel as far away from the other woman’s towel as possible, and resumed my swim like nothing was the matter.

I could have confronted the woman and demanded an explanation for why she had done what she'd done. Did she think my towel looked lonely, there on the edge of the bench all by itself? Did she sit her own towel next to it as some sort of friendly gesture? Maybe, out of all the available bench space, the spot I’d placed my towel upon, nearest to the lifeguard, at the shallow end, was considered the best spot. Maybe everyone who came to the pool would want to put their belongings right there. Perhaps I had inadvertently grabbed this woman’s “usual” spot, where she’d become so accustomed to leaving her own stuff that she didn’t even notice my towel. Or what if she noticed it, minded that it was there, and placed her belongings more or less on top of mine in a passive-aggressive show of ownership, in which case I guess I should have been grateful she didn't just kick my towel off the bench and grind it into the concrete floor with her flip-flop clad heel.

In the end I didn’t do any of the things I thought about doing (and I only seriously considered the faux-excuse/changing room idea, because I always pick the option that’s most inconvenient for me and least likely to be construed by anyone else as confrontational). I seethed in silence for a quarter of an hour or so and then I kind of got over it. In any event moving the towel wouldn’t have made a difference, since the offending action had occurred and could not be undone. I tried my best to just accept this and move on.

In all likelihood this woman was not trying to be either overly friendly or territorial and possessive. She's probably just a touch absent-minded and unobservant, which makes her thoughtless (because it's really not too much to expect, is it, that she leave a little bit of room between her belongings and those of other swimmers, when there is so much free space readily available?) but not unlike any number of people I might encounter in any given public place. Like those people at the movies who have, on occasion, sat down right next to me even though there are only three of us in the theater and there are, quite literally, hundreds of other seats readily available. This sort of behavior, while not uncommon - or even inconsiderate, depending on who you ask - is something I personally cannot understand. Probably because I’m so painfully aware of my physical presence in the outside world and how it relates to those of other people. I go out of my way to avoid stepping on anyone's toes, out of a combination of empathy, respect and fear of embarrassment. Though, mostly it’s out of a fear of embarrassment.

So I can’t know for certain if it’s selfishness and indifference that makes people so oblivious to those around them, or if they’re just outright clueless. Perhaps some of them are driven by loneliness and a desire to involve as many participants, willing or unwilling, as possible in any public activities that they perform

I do know that it's not enough to keep me from going back to the Y. At least not yet.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Somewhere

Sofia Coppola has mastered the art of quietly cool filmmaking. Her movies are full of tiny, seemingly ordinary moments that become emotionally satisfying and memorable not just because they are so keenly observed but because they are presented in a manner that is at once beautiful and unassuming.

Her latest offering, Somewhere, is, I think, the quietest, coolest movie she’s made to date.

Somewhere is about a burnt out movie star named Johnny Marco. Johnny is never shown acting, as the movie prefers to focus on the more tedious aspects of his job, like promotion and publicity, and the mess that is his personal life. In one scene Johnny attends an awkward press junket for his latest movie (it looks like a big budget thriller) and tries to make nice with a co-star who also happens to be a jilted ex-lover. When he travels to Italy to receive some sort of honorary statuette, shaped like a cat (it's adorable), at some big flashy awards show, he is, again, confronted by an angry former flame (and they briefly rekindle). An anonymous sender (or maybe it's more than one) shoots him text messages now and again reminding him that he is an asshole while new women approach him constantly, coming onto him at parties or crossing hotel lobbies in vain attempts to chat him up. Johnny’s reaction to it all, the work and the women, is one of bemused disinterest. There is something genuinely sweet and touching about him buried under all the ennui but it takes a visit from his charming daughter Cleo to truly bring it to the surface.

Cleo is eleven. She lives, primarily, with her mother but spends the occasional weekend with her dad. They hang out in his room at the Chateau Marmont a lot, playing Guitar Hero and goofing off with Johnny’s friend Sammy. Cleo is young but presents as remarkably mature. She’s quiet, cool and self-possessed, a perfect Coppola heroine. She appears to be capable of more or less looking after and entertaining herself and she has an easy rapport with her dad. In many ways they are more like good pals than father and daughter. Towards the movie's end, however, Cleo’s loneliness, uncertainty and isolation become more apparent and it becomes obvious that she’s had no choice but to learn to do for herself because she cannot always count on the adults in her life to be there for her. There is no resentment directed at her father, even though she clearly needs more from him than he’s been giving her for the better part of her life. As Somewhere concludes Johnny’s future remains uncertain. Will he make a change, become more involved in his beloved daughter’s life? If he does, will that bring some kind of purpose to what has become a rather apathetic existence? Has Coppola provided a glimpse at a turning point in the life of this man, or will it be business as usual once the guilt wears off and the moment of clarity passes?

Like 2003’s Lost in Translation, Somewhere isn’t so much concerned with what happens as it is with creating a specific mood and inviting the audience into the headspace of its characters. But while Lost in Translation gets to take the audience on a romantic adventure, set in a candy-colored city that never goes to sleep (and made all the more wondrous because of insomnia and culture shock), Somewhere is assigned the far less glamorous task, at least in the first half-hour or so, until Cleo shows up, of making the audience feel bored and disinterested, just like Johnny feels. While I applaud Coppola’s minimalist approach and deliberately-paced storytelling, I can’t deny that there were moments in that first half hour where she did her job too well and I was genuinely bored. I don’t, however, think the slow start undermines Somewhere as a whole. In the end the movie may even be stronger for having had that rather dull beginning; what better way to recognize and understand what is at stake for Johnny?

I appreciate the intimacy of Coppola’s storytelling in Somewhere and I love the acting by the two leads. Stephen Dorff’s Johnny is appealing and endearing. I know I’ve seen him in other movies but he’s never made much of an impression on me. I thought he was superb in this. Very natural and sweet and sad. And Elle Fanning, as Cleo, is marvelous. She carries herself so beautifully and she’s so understated and graceful. I hope Coppola will use her again; her acting style seems so suited to what the director is aiming for with her heroines. I like that I remember the feel of the movie even though I can barely recall a word of dialogue. I like to imagine that, at some point in the future, Coppola may make a movie that’s entirely free of spoken moments, relying on nothing more than pretty pictures and a quietly throbbing techno soundtrack to tell her tale.

Up until this point, Coppola has done a good job of creating a fairly cohesive body of work. She’s explored similar themes without making the same movie over and over again. With Marie Antoinette she took some terrific risks and I admired her choices and her apparent desire not to repeat herself. If I have one complaint about Somewhere it’s that it seems, at times, like Coppola is channeling Lost in Translation a bit too much, particularly in the latter movie’s lighter scenes. The Italian journalist Johnny is accosted by bears more than a passing resemblance to Bob’s interpreter in Tokyo. And the awards ceremony that Johnny attends, where he’s presented with the afore-mentioned adorable cat statuette before being engulfed onstage by an army of Solid Gold-style dancers, is far too reminiscent of Bob’s talk show appearance with the “Johnny Carson of Japan.” It’s as if culture clash played for laughs is the only kind of joke Coppola knows how to tell; it seemed relevant to the story in Lost in Translation, less so in Somewhere.

What Coppola does well she does extremely well. If she wants to add levity to her movies she should maybe consider bringing in a collaborator but, other than that wee niggle, I think she’s doing interesting work. I’m curious and cautiously optimistic about where she’s going to go from here.