Thursday, August 16, 2007

Dropping in on the Arts: Recent Films, Music, Art

El Parrotto has been the aesthetic butterfly as usual, dropping in here and there, and as usual, not able to find the time to write about it all. Well, here's a quick roundup, just so no one can say I dropped out of sight:

Films: A couple of weeks ago the Love Doves spent an evening taking in a 1 1/2 feature; the closest thing today to a double feature, since theaters don't exactly time things to encourage you to skip from one film to another. So first we saw Judd Apatow's Knocked Up, on the rationale that any film that gets a 91% positive rating from Rotten Tomatoes (that "e' does go there, doesn't it?) must be pretty good; and that The Forty-Year-Ol Virgin had some funny moments. Knocked Up also has some funny moments. It has some "poignant" moments. It has some overdone characters, the kind we have all met and hoped we'd never have to face in a movie. It has a pretty phony birth scene, with a baby that's way to big for a newborn and a doctor who doesn't bother to hold the baby upside down. It had some cliched scenes, including one in which Paul Rudd, brother-in-law of the "knocked up" Alison, does the "Honey I just needed some time for myself, that's why I lied to you" thing, and she comes back with the "You know what, I need some time to myself too thing, where did you get the right..." etc. (Want to see the real deal, where this kind of scene actually means something more than a replay of that too common marital tension? Then you'll have to find a production of August Wilson's Fences, because that scene is just too searing, and no one who sees it will ever forget the contrast between a motherless child and a "womanless man".) Okay, this flick has its moments, for a bedroom farce it reaches a bit farther than one might expect, dealing with abortion (of course she doesn't have one; you want a serious movie, or a comedy?), male bonding, geek culture (if that's what it's called) and a few other things. Basically, it's entertainment, go for a laugh, don't worry about people crunching on popcorn and guffawing in the wrong places. You want serious fare? Bergman and Antonioni may be dead, but they are more alive than most of what emerges from Hollywood.

After that the sneaky petes wafted into Rescue Dawn, about half way through. Holy Cinema, Batman - half a film by Werner Herzog was enough to redeem the night! I'm not even going to go into depth on this, since I did not see it from the beginning, but it could well be the best film ever made in this genre. Perhaps I should hold my ongue, because since since Stalag 17 and The Great Escpe I haven't seen too many POW films. But this has something of the underlying tension of Apocalypse Now, to which it owes a great deal but also contributes as a kind of brilliant afterthought. There have been a lot of Vietnam films, some by great directors like Kubrick and Coppola, but clearly there was room for at least one more. I need to see the first half, but since this looks to be well worth owning on DVD I might just wait.

Then we played house and had a taste of Ratatouille. I tire of Pixar. Or maybe I just tire of ingeniously animated stories about little animals. I enjoyed The Incredibles; for an animated film about aging superheroes, it had more to say about real people than many Hollywood dramas. But after cute fish, sharks, rats, frogs, penguins, cars, robots, and who knows what other phylogenetic variations, I'm over it. Not to mention that Pixar is starting to look like Dreamworks which is starting to look like everything else. Really, I was out of patience before I saw Ratatouille, but I expected it to redeem the genre after all the glowing reviews. On the contrary, I felt a little like I did when I first saw Disney's Hercules. After a good if not brilliant run with Mulan, The Lion King, and Aladdin, Hercules came off to me as a classic example of a style that is used up and now has nothing left but to imitate itself. I'm afraid Ratatouille, for all its charm, its unlikely and original story line, its attention to detail and other good things, had much the same impact. For one thing, the story itself was both its greatest asset and its great defect. It took real energy to go along with each twist as the little rodent Remy works himself up to be the master behind the boy, Linguini. In the process one lost most of one's sympathy and identification with master Linguini; and, for all its animated vividness, it is beyond the call of duty to identify with a rat. (Maybe a pig; think of Animal Farm.) Maybe, after having seen more kids' movies than adult ones over the last 10 years, I'm just having an attack of adultitis. I even found the portrayal of restaurant critic Anton Ego a bit over the top (wasn't it supposed to be, you say? okay, it succeeded then)... not to mention that this is supposed to be Paris, but Ego's pompous, aristocratic airs are put over with the aid of a distinctly British accent! Well, kids won't know the difference, right?

You want a night's worth of entertainment? I suggest you catch a double bill of Knocked Up and Ratatouille. By the way, I don't usually comment on reviewers of films, but one thing I want to say is: the next time I read that a movie has "a lot of heart" I'm going to throw up directly on the newspaper (so I hope I don't read it next online...) Next, Ratatouille is not the only film that has been called "delicious", a self-negating adjective that is itself in bad taste. Finally, for now, be certain to avoid any movie that has ever been called "hugely entertaining", a nonsensical locution that suggests, if anything, an overweight comedian.

Music: As for other ventures, I lit on a gig by fiddler Jenny Scheinman, who holds forth at Barb├Ęs in Park Slope on Tuesday nights; but in truth, I didn't listen much, but had a rather good time chatting with my friend Jan, a journalist for the German magazine Stern who is on long-term assignment to the U.S. What I did hear was tasteful arrangements of what sounded like classic country songs; but I have to admit I was expecting a bit more fire, at this club that often features accomplishe jazz players. I was also unfairly comparing her to the ingenius violinist Alex DePue whose performance of Owner of a Lonely Heart at a West Coast club bowled me over. So we enjoyed the beer and the background music but the concert pretty much slid by without grabbing us by the collar and saying "Listen".

Art: Most recently - could something have actually happened tonight? - we floated through the window of China Square Gallery in Chelsea, for the opening of of a group exhibition of Chinese artists, many of whom also trained and/or live in the U.S. We loved the black pastel floral designs on black paper by Lin Yan, and Shen Chen's greyscale vertical brushwork that brought to mind bamboo forests, or traditional Chinese paintings of them. And I was greatly taken with a couple of Richard Tsao's pieces, colorful works with 3D elements that at first looked like distressed metal shards, an illusion I could not quite get over after reading that the medium was "water-based materials on canvas". All in all this was a very nice show with great variety and very professional crafsmanship.

So goes the roundup; what's next? Well, what would you say if you found a Parrot in Alaska? Because if I decide to bring my laptop that might be the site of my next post. And if not, then I will resume when I get back, in about three weeks.

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