Doodad Kind of Town

Where I’ve Been, What I’ve Seen
September 23, 2009, 11:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I hate to start yet another post with an explanation for a prolonged absence from the blogosphere, but here goes…

My job continue to entail long hours and high stress, and there is no end in sight. After working a 10 or 11 hour day, I can’t bring myself to come home and get on a computer again, much as I might like to write something. And, you know, every once in a while you have to pay bills or do some laundry.

Even so, I was able to get away to New York for a couple of days last week, and it was a much needed – and truly refreshing – break with the routine. Not only did I have the pleasure of meeting a fellow film blogger face-to-face (the very genial Sam Juliano of Wonders in the Dark), but I also got to see some great stuff, cinematic and otherwise.

If a gal’s gonna go to New York, she’s gotta take in a Broadway show, right? I was fortunate to see the impeccably acted and directed comedy “God of Carnage.” Two couples meet to determine how they’ll handle the aftermath of their respective sons’ playground fight. In just 90 minutes, their strained but cordial evening descends into heavy drinking, hysterics and the kind of unhinged bad behavior that suggests the parents have far worse problems than their squabbling sons. Confessions are made, large quantities of rum are consumed, and – in one particularly shocking moment – copious quantities are vomit are spewed. It’s sort of like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” on laughing gas.

And make no mistake, it is very, very funny.

Which is particularly miraculous, because “God of Carnage” is the kind of over-the-top play that could easily become unbearably goofy and shrill in the wrong hands. Thankfully, the actors (a dream cast consisting of Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis, Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini) and the director (Matthew Warchus, who won the Tony) are all dazzlingly on top of their games. The quartet of performers have been in these roles for a while, and their comfort with their own characters and with one another is apparent; the roles feel lived-in and the comic timing and interactions are dead-on.

I have no formal education in art; everything I’ve learned about painting and sculpture, I’ve gleaned from museum placards and audio tours. I’d be hard pressed to tell you why or how I fell in love with Vasilly Kandinsky’s paintings on a visit to the MoMA three years ago, only that something about the purity and immediacy of his abstract images really spoke to my soul. I purchased a copy of the artist’s treatise “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” at the museum gift store, skimmed it, brought it home and relegated to the growing pile of Books I’m Going to Get Around to Reading Someday.

Yet I was thrilled when I discovered I’d hit town just in time to catch the opening day of a major Kandinsky retrospective at the Guggenheim. And the exhibit did not disappoint me. As I wandered through, reading and listening to the story of the artist’s life, I couldn’t help but think “Someone ought to make a movie about this guy.” He lived through the Russian Revolution and two World Wars, endured long years in exile from his native Russia, worked with and loved his muse/partner for many years (though they ultimately parted), then fell in love with another woman just from hearing her voice on the phone. That’s a lot of drama before you even get around to his paitings and his role in major artistic movements. Who would we trust to make the film of Kandinsky’s life? Julie Taymor did a pretty great job with “Frida,” Julian Schnabel’s film on “Basquiat” was pretty good, Ed Harris directed himself pretty capably playing Jackson Pollock…. Hmmmm.

The opening images of Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” are instructive: close-up shots of a needle making painstakingly even stitches in coarse fabric, a reminder that creating things of beauty – whether they be ruffled collars, poems or deep, loving relationships – takes time and patience.

Such is the leisurely pace of “Bright Star,” a film about the doomed love between the young poet, John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his darling Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). Fanny is the seamstress of the opening shots; she’s also sharp-witted and slow to fall for Keats. She acknowledges the perfection of the opening lines of his “Endymion”(“A thing of beauty is a joy forever…”) but isn’t afraid to tell him that the rest of it isn’t up to snuff. Yet their mutual attraction builds as Keats becomes a friend to Fanny’s family, and ultimately to her.

Campion’s film may be slow, but slow does not equal dull in this case. It’s no surprise to encounter the director’s painstaking attention to period details or her talent for creating charming scenes of early 19th century families at leisure. What is remarkable, however, is how she presents a compelling, tragic love story in a manner that does not play to conventional expectations. Rather she finds and depicts the rhythms of a life too often lived in interminable waiting – for the post to arrive, for a lover to appear. “Bright Star” is the stuff of which tearjerkers are made; I left the theatre dry-eyed, but no less moved for that fact.

Fall marks the start of “serious” movie (i.e. Oscar-bait) season, and with it generally comes at least one corporate malfeasance/whistle-blower drama. I guess we can give Steven Soderbergh points for originality for delivering his true-life film “The Informant!” as a zany comedy, although I’m not sure what the point was. Matt Damon, chunked up and badly toupeed in the title role does a nice job, but the most indelible part of the film is not his performance, but rather Marvin Hamlisch’s annoying, intrusive score – a sixties-style pastiche that sounds like a mash-up of leftover incidental music from “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Mannix,” and “Love American Style.” The point of such a score is also lost on me – as are the retro-groovy titles (reminiscent of that from the egregious Hugo Stiglitz moment in “Inglourious Basterds”) – since “The Informant!” takes place in the 199os.

I wanted to like this, but it mostly just annoyed and confused me. Was the agri-business firm of Archer Daniels Midland seriously corrupt – or just Damon’s character? Was Damon meant to be a sociopath or a goofball or a little of both? And why is he shown walking into ADM headquarters in Decatur, Illinois on March 17, 1993 wearing no topcoat or gloves and walking past trees that are abundantly full of green leaves? (Note to Mr. Soderbergh – you might catch a balmy St. Patrick’s Day once every few years in Illinois, but you’ll NEVER see leaves on the trees in March! )

And seeing Melanie Lynskey as Damon’s prim, sprayed-and-coiffed wifey made me wonder again: Why can’t someone give this woman a role worthy of her talents? Despite some mildly interesting but disappointingly brief turns in “Shattered Glass” and this year’s “Away We Go,” the ferociously talented Lynskey seems doomed to an endless procession of baby-voiced dingbat roles. Does anyone else remember her stunning debut in”Heavenly Creatures” – frizzy-haired, baby-fatted, husky-voiced and almost demonically sulky, she unabashedly embraced her character’s awkwardness and darkness. Her performance blew me away, and was at least the equal of her co-star, Kate Winslet. Where’s that Melanie now? There’s got to be a whole lot more to her than what she’s showing us on “Two and Half Men.” Or here.

10 Comments so far
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Can I say how much I'm feeling you on the whole "too busy to blog" thing? I feel like every time I come back, I'm apologizing for being away.That said, I'm massively envious of your New York trip. Sounds like it was a blast.

Comment by Nayana Anthony

Nayana!!!So great to hear from you! (Talk about "where have you been?")The trip to NYC was great, but it's great to be home, too.Hope all is well with you.

Comment by Pat

I've never heard of that play but I'd like to see it. And it's funny, but everyone seems to be blogging less these days. Facebook takes care of 80 percent of the short posts we all used to do and now our blogs are there for the long posts, something we all take more time with. So the output has split between facebook and blogging. I just never realized how many short posts I did.

Comment by Greg

Greg -The play is by Yasmina Reza, who wrote "Art" – which I haven't seen.And I know what you mean, I think Iinteract with you, Bill, Ryan and Marilyn more often on Facebook these day than on our blogs.

Comment by Pat

Well, Pat, you're just going to have to add me on Facebook too! Email me and I'll tell you how to find me. šŸ™‚

Comment by Nayana Anthony

Hey Pat! Right back at ya! Lucille and I (and three of the kids) had a great time meetin' up with ya, and the talk was wonderful. You certainly made the most of your trip here, and your enthusiasm has resulted in a post that takes in so much, in obviously versatile persuits. I never took in "The Gods of Carnage" to this point, but what I have heard of it is in line with what you observed–it could have easily gone over the top, and the material shouldn't work–but it does! It's really great that you made the right decision for such a trip, and that you were treated to such a cemedic experience. I plan to see "Bright Star" tomorrow, but I'm expecting to agree with your position, especially that I do revere Jane campion (and especially John Keats.) As I've stated "The Informant" was an excrutiating bore, and I agree with you when you say that Soderbergh didn't even know what he wanted to do here. He's had three misfire in a row in fact! And it's fabulous you got to take in that Kandinsky retro at MOMA! That may have been your highlight in fact, or at least to match THE GODS. Again, we were all delighted to meet you Pat!

Comment by Sam Juliano

Sounds like you had a real blast! It's been ages since I've seen a Broadway show. Though I've made a firm pact to stick away from modern B-way musicals; it's either a revival, or based on a movie. No creativity. Lately, I'd rather spend the money I would spent on a show to go see a ball game instead. The best play I've ever seen on Broadway was a revival of Glengarry Glenn Ross, with Alan Alda and Liev Schreiber (who, I believe, won the Tony that year for his performance). And, musical wise, I'll never forget seeing Lane and Broderick in The Producers!

Comment by Ryan Kelly

Sam -The pleasure was mine. And, yes,it was a very busy but richly enjoyable few days in the Big Apple. I was thrilled at the happy accident of being in town for the Kandinsky retrospective;I hadn't known about that ahead of time.Ryan -I am soooo envious that you saw Lane and Broderick. I missed my opportunity to get a a ticket for their out-of-town tryout in Chicago, and by the time I saw it on Broadway, they were long gone (I saw Brad Oscar and Hunter Foster in the lead roles, though I did get to see Gary Beach, the original Roger DeVrie.)

Comment by Pat

Now I'm jealous. New York and Broadway and all that jazz. I want to like the "The Informant" as well … sorry you didn't.

Comment by Rick Olson

Rick – I'll be interested to see what you have to say about "The Informant!" when you see it.Oh, and guess what – I finally saw "Ordet"!

Comment by Pat

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