Friday, July 16, 2010


Overused adjectives that I want to avoid:







And something to be avoided always:

Like (e.g., I was like so happy….)

Photos and Ogres come in various packages

1. I saw “Toy Story III” with friends. It is a movie that I would never choose to see on my own. The animation is skillfully done and the 3-D effects were used with reserve. The film is about the value of family, friends, loyalty, steadfastness, and bravery. It is clearly a fantasy.

2. I saw the latest in the “Shrek” series. This is a movie that I chose to see. It is about the value of family, friends, loyalty, steadfastness, and bravery. It, too, is a fantasy. But I know the characters more so I trust that it’s not just manipulative. I also like Mike Myers.

3. Monday night TV is a wasteland for me, so I grabbing a straws (what does that mean?). This past week “Rizzoli and Isles” debuted and I took a chance on watching it. The lead characters are played by Angie Harmon (Rizzoli) and Sasha Alexander (Isles). R is a cop and I is a medical examiner. The plot was full of holes and the characters were poorly developed. These two women were friends, but apparently had never been to each other’s homes. This is probably attributable to poor writing and an effort to get us familiar with the characters as quickly as possible. Alexander is beautiful and stylish. She is feminine and her character may turn out to be interesting. For me, Harmon is something of a conundrum. She is a former model and has had a series of cancelled TV shows. I think her character is supposed to be plain and not into girly stuff. She put on lipstick to attract an FBI agent, but it was the same color as her skin. Harmon is oddly not feminine. That’s not to say that she is “butch” but she doesn’t have the natural grace that I would expect from a former model. It’s that kind of grace that can’t be taught and thus can’t be unlearned. Sharon Gless also seemed a bit unfeminine in the classic female detective show “Cagney and Lacey”, but make no mistake; Tyne Daly was no Sasha Alexander. I will continue to watch this show, but only because it’s on Monday.

4. HGTV has jumped the shark. The latest “Design Star” contest is a bust. The decorators are given silly tasks, like designing a room inspired by clothing. Each decorator has to have their chosen piece of clothing reflected in the design, and then the judges determine whose clothing is indeed represented. Two of the judges are nearly silent (Candice Olsen and Genevieve Gorder). The third judge, Vern Yip, is a humorless ogre (with all due respect to Shrek). Gorder is not a great decorator; Olsen is, but she seems to have a big budget when designing rooms so they are nice but expensive, and always in the same style. I like Yip- he is known for designing cool modern spaces. But he is just nasty on this show. The judges are seated on chairs without a table. They look so uncomfortable. Olsen looks to be about six feet tall and Yip is about five and a half feet tall. Her legs look like they are everywhere and his don’t seem to reach the floor. Ugh.

HGTV has become a real estate program. It’s all about selling and buying houses. What happened to design? One of its shows deals with selling million dollar condos in New York. If you can afford one of those places, you likely wouldn’t be watching HGTV.

A good movie now and at its inception

According to what I read, “Inception” is the “movie event of the summer.” It’s directed by Christopher Nolan and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Tom Berenger, Dileep Rao and Michael Caine. The plot is summarized at: Suffice it to say it is about a dream, within a dream, within a dream. Or, in Shakespeare’s time, it would have been a play, within a play, within a play. It draws upon various other films, including “Dark City,” “Flatliners,” “Dreamscape,” the james Bond series, and probably others.

I think that it is a very good film- it is engrossing, well-photographed and acted. DiCaprio is a wonderful actor with a great range. I would like to see him in a sophisticated comedy, you know, the kind we don’t have any more, thanks to Judd Apatow. There is one scene where Leo is talking with Cillian Murphy in a bar and he is so strong, so forceful, and commanding that I would have bought a Corvair from him. Cotillard, who plays the wife, is unconvincing and unsympathetic. Maybe it’s her character and her circumstances, but I really think is Cotillard’s limitations as an actor. Joseph Gordon-Levett plays Arthur, the “point man.” He’s good and likely has a good future in action movies. Ellen Page is an architect for the dream world. Her role evolves into being a therapist for the main character. Not sure what resulted in the change of role, but Page keeps up with it. Tom Berenger also has a prominent role. I have not seen him in some time, so I was a bit surprised by his ponderousness. One of his films-“Someone to Watch Over Me” is one of my favorites, in part because he and Mimi Rodgers made a handsome couple. If aged has changed her as much as it has Berenger, I don’t think they should plan a reunion. Cillian Murphy plays a key role as the business man whose mind has to be changed by DiCaprio’s entourage. I have read on the internet that Murphy is referred to as the “prettiest man alive.” He is handsome but has a rather slight presence that made him seem vulnerable and an easy target for manipulation. Wait- -that’s what happens to him in the film, so I guess he played it well.

The set up for the story is extensive. It’s similar to having characters of a video game discuss the rules for the player so the player can understand the game before it begins. Because the concept is so convoluted, DiCaprio and Page spend about a half hour going over the rules of entering the dreams of others. If the viewer doesn’t remember all of the rules, the movie will become confusing and maybe even boring. The special effects are outstanding, and I think the movie cries out for a 3-D treatment. I understand that James Cameron will be rereleasing “Titanic” in 3-D so I would not be surprised if “Inception” gets a new look.

There are a few things that I did not like about the film:

1. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer was ever-present and too loud. Often I couldn’t understand Page because of the music. While it adds to the overall atmospherics of the film, it could have been toned down a bit.

2. There were continuity problems. There are scenes where rain is an important character, yet in those scenes, the sun is shining. Someone forgot to make the sky cloudy.

3. There are several scenes shot with a high speed camera of a van falling into a river while it is snowing. Unfortunately the digital snow was not filmed in high speed.

4. There is an overly long section of the movie filmed at a mountaintop lodge. It is snowing and it reminded me a bit of the Piz Gloria scenes from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. These scenes plodded and cried out for some editing. I lost interest before the climax was reached.

5. As I already mentioned, the narrative to set the stage for the movie was overly long. Better they handed out a rule book when we first entered the theater. I know- it wouldn’t have worked, but the exposition really added to the two and a half hour length of the movie.

Notwithstanding these quibbles, I like “Inception” a great deal. It is intriguing and thoroughly enjoyable. I saw it at an IMAX theater, which I highly recommend for others. There are some fantastic rumbles that come from the speakers during the movie that were really enjoyable. All in all, it’s a good way to spend a hot afternoon in an air-conditioned theater.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Tribute to Chicago

Chicago is such a beautiful city. I was fortunate to be there three times this year. The architecture in its downtown buildings is second to none. The city has maintained it classically designed buildings, but is certainly in the forefront of modern design. It seems to have avoided the brutalist mistakes of the 1970’s and the post-modern designs of the 1990s, although some postmodern ugliness does exist. But its new buildings are spectacular. The city planners seem to do so much right in the downtown area. They seem to understand that retail is not the salvation of a city, although there is plenty of retail, and that residences alone are not a panacea, although there is much living space in downtown. This city seems to understand that downtowns must be destinations that have attractions that can be found nowhere else in the area. Yes, there are beaches along the lake but Chicago has more than beaches. It has entertainment, e.g., the Navy Pier, the Pritzger amphitheater; it has water features, e.g., the glass blocks that have pictures of Chicagoans as the water-spouting “sculptures”. The city has the Cloud Gate, the ever-fascinating sculpture in Millennium Park. The beautiful Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum and the Aquarium are built on peninsulas that have wonderful views of the skyline. Downtown Chicago is a place where people want to be, just not those who live in the high-rises. Many other cities could learn lessons on design from Chicago. I think of Chattanooga and Pittsburgh that have done a good job of making their riverfronts accessible and pedestrian friendly. But they lack the energy, and yes, fun that Chicago has given its lake front. In Pittsburgh, the river walks are good for bicyclists and runners- not for people seeking a hotdog, a fun time, or even a restroom.

I spent several hours in the Chicago Art Institute. I thought I die and went to heaven. Its collection of modern art (post 1990) is extraordinary. It has Picasso, Seurat (the” Grand Jatte” in all of its glory), Magritte, Brancusi, Giacometti, Braque, Bolotowsky, Mondrian, and the list goes on. Its contemporary collection is no less impressive. The Institute’s new Modern wing is a study on how a solid structure can be designed to look light

On my last night, I attended a concert in the Pritzger amphitheater. In the warm Chicago evening, it was a thrill to be seated in an outdoor structure designed by Frank Gehry surrounded by magnificent skyscrapers. This is truly America’s city Beautiful.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fresh Air about Emily Dickinson

I was driving home from Atlanta tonight and caught “Fresh Air” with Terri Gross. She is the best interviewer- she should replace Larry King. She interviewed Billy Collins, for US poet laureate about Emily Dickinson. I admit that I have never liked poetry that much. It always seemed more efficient to simply say what you mean rather than bury the meaning in verse, but I was wrong. Collins talked about the pictures drawn by Dickinson with her words, and he believes that she is the greatest American poet. I found it very interesting that she wrote on in one tempo. In fact, apparently everyone one of her poems can be sung to the tune and rhythm of the song “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Her various word paintings, each addressing a different facet of her life and our lives, are contained in the same literary form. That makes the richness of her words even greater to me. She was not dependent on meter and rhythm to make her music heard- just the lyrics. It was a fascinating discussion and I appreciate Dickinson like I never have before.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Brief Reviews- Kings, Erasers and Lives

Brief reviews:

1. “The Tudors” series ended. Like other movies/series, more time was spent in the early parts of the history and less at the end. So we had a lot of Catharine of Aragon and Anne Bolyn, but little of Kathryn Howard and Katherine Parr. It reminds of the bumper stickers that say “Plan Ahea” while running out of space. Jonathan Rhys Myers did a commendable job of ageing Henry. Rhys-Myers managed to have his lips droop at the ends, as happens with many older folks, me included. He also developed a very gravelly voice, which I assumed resulted from his heavy drinking. He also portrayed the senior Henry as tired, in pain, and troubled by his duties. Sarah Bolger played Henry’s daughter Mary. Bolger was a standout in the entire series. She has a elegance and calm, as well as a beautiful face. She was quite good at giving us hints of the tyrannical zealot that she was to become when she ascended to the throne. Bloody Mary embodied the evil that can arise from fanatical religious beliefs, but I digress. Tamzin Merchant acquitted herself well as Kathryn Howard. She had the right mix of adolescent impetuousness where she was seemingly unable to anticipate the consequences of her actions. Joely Richardson played Katherine Parr. I have not been a fan of Ms. Richardson since her ridiculous role in the TV series “Nip/Tuck”, where she played the dysfunctional wife of a plastic surgeon. In that role, she was a wife and a bad mother. She took a female lover and a little-person lover. Her acting the part of Queen Katherine Parr seemed to suit Ms. Richardson’s reserve and elegance. I enjoyed watching her.

 I will miss the Tudors- they were a fun bunch.

2. I saw “Eraserhead” again. This is the late 70’s masterpiece by David Lynch. I use the word “masterpiece” because others have used it. I like Lynch, but the general weirdness of his movies, grows wearisome. In fact, much of what appears in “Eraserhead” appears in his later movies, e.g, strange furniture, some of the ugliest lighting fixtures I have ever seen, strange music, and certainly odd characters. But, in the context of the late 1970’s, this movie was groundbreaking. The plot is not much (click here for a synopsis: For me, Lynch’s greatest accomplishment in this movie is the persistent feeling of dread, anxiety, over control with the ever-present possibility of losing control, and losing contact with reality. The buzzing drone of the soundtrack heightens the potential fear. If the sign of a good movie is that it makes us feel, then “Eraserhead” did that for me. I just wish it would have been a positive feeling.

3. I have previously reviewed “The Life Before Her Eyes.” I caught it again and still think it is a very good movie. Rachel Evan Wood is fascinating to watch. Uma Therman has always been a favorite of mine. It’s a confusing movie, but it is supposed to be. Some of the discussion on the web is so off-the-mark for me. It usually discusses an abortion the main character had and how that influenced her later life, i.e., lots of guilt. This is only the case if you really didn’t understand the plot. I guess anytime abortion is discussed, it is loaded with excess meaning and plenty of heat, but not much light.