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Archive for the ‘Arts’ Category

Albert Bierstadt

Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Park, c. 1868, Oakland Museum, Oakland, California

Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Park, c. 1868, Oakland Museum, Oakland, California

 

 

Frederic Edwin Church

A Country Home, 1854, Seattle Art Museum

A Country Home, 1854, Seattle Art Museum

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Guillermo del Toro has great taste in movies.

(So did Akira Kurosawa.)

More fun lists of famous faves here.

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The LEGO Movie

Haven’t seen this one yet?  Definitely should.

The Lego Movie features voice talent from three of the best shows of the last ten years: Arrested Development (Will Arnett), Community (Alison Brie), and Parks and Recreation (Nick Offerman and Chris Pratt). It also stars Liam Neeson. Oh, and Morgan Freeman.

Lots of movies are about the importance of teamwork. Lots of movies are about the importance of individuality. Most of them aren’t even very good. But I don’t think there’s ever been a movie celebrating BOTH teamwork and individuality. And both themes are fully developed! That’s an impressive act of compositional acrobatics right there.

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For all the hyperbolic praise lavished on it and all the interpretive controversy surrounding it, here’s what I took away from finally seeing Disney’s Frozen last week: it’s very good, and decently thought provoking, but it is neither one to the degree that everyone says it is.

The animation and music are excellent, though not unusually so–Frozen is great in those ways, but it is not a masterpiece. For example, the symbolism of Elsa’s power is muted in vagueness–the simplest explanation of Elsa’s power is that she’s merely an introvert.

And this is where the characterization in the film went off track.  (Warning: spoilers ahead; on the off-chance that you’re even more out-of-the-loop than I and still haven’t seen it, the following may not make much sense, anyway.)

The whole concept of the film is that Elsa is different.  Hardly revolutionary stuff in storytelling, but the plot makes it clear that Elsa doesn’t have anything against people, but her nature makes it hard to be around them.  Her sister, on the other hand, is a social butterfly.

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I was interested in the work of Terrence Malick after seeing Tree of Life.  As I started watching his much earlier film Days of Heaven, I was at first reminded of Ron Howard’s Far and Away: young lovers brought together and separated by the the trials of pioneer life in an earlier American era, set against the gorgeous backdrops of that unsullied wilderness.

But where Howard’s movie was a fun bit of pop celluloid, Malick’s is art.

The style is wholly ambitious.  Not unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey in this sense, he uses dialogue sparsely, and constructs a deceptively simple plot.  Much of the film’s meaning is communicated symbolically through the physical environment on which the story is imposed.

Days of Heaven begins in fire: the furnaces of a factory and the violence that attends them.  After this prologue, we enter the paradise promised in the title; indeed, the story’s central act is truly a season of heaven on earth, one of those times in life where everything is perfect and you just lose yourself in the rapture of it all.

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“Beware of the Blob!”

Saw the old, original version of The Blob this weekend.  Three notes:

1. It’s surprisingly mediocre–not bad, but not great.

2. There’s a Criterion Collection edition.

3. The best part is the opening theme song, a catchy ditty by young Burt Bacharach.  It’s a perfect late 50′s tune.  Seriously, try getting this thing out of your head for the rest of the day!

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God’s Art

The word “art” is related to words like “artifice” and “artificial,” which reminds us that art refers to things people create to represent beauty and other ideas.  All human art is, by definition, artificial.

But God’s art is natural.  A great example is below.  This is the photo used for the cover of the Ken Burns documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.  It’s a shot of Yosemite, California.  On our left is El Capitan, a vertical cliff well over half a mile high.  In the central distance is Half Dome rock.  On the left is Bridalveil fall, one of the most beautiful and popular falls in the U.S.

In this photo, mist covers the forest of the valley floor as the dawning sun first touches the highest points around it.

ken_burns_image

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The Art of J.R.R. Tolkien

This link collects some drawings by Tolkien.  They’re quite good.

Reminds me of when we were in Seattle last summer and we visited the EMP museum.  The fantasy wing had an exhibit of Tolkien’s manuscripts and drawings for Lord of the Rings.  Fascinating stuff, but taking pictures wasn’t allowed.

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2013: My Year in Film

I got out of the habit of keeping track of what I watched last year.  I’m back in it, but for now, here are the first 12 movies I can remember seeing for the first time last year, in alphabetical order:

 

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

So much swashbuckling fun!  Actually saw this as a little kid, but couldn’t remember much about it; watched this with the fam now, and everybody loved it.  Errol Flynn is the perfect Robin Hood (“You speak treason!” “…Fluently.”)

Strange to contrast this with 1991′s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, a movie so bad I hadn’t bothered to see it again since then, and when I did this year, I thought it was even worse.  From the constant hero shots of Costner’s mullet, to the weird ways they contort their own screenplay to find excuses to use Morgan Freeman’s character, this is a sad, obvious bunch of clichés.  What a joke.  At least Alan Rickman knew enough to ham it up.

10/10 (the 1938 version!)

 

Babette’s Feast (Danish, 1987)

My main train of thought watching this was how different–and how much worse–this would have been as an American production.  In a Hollywood version, Babette would have been a sexy cougar whose metaphorically erotic orgy of food would have “liberated” all the “narrow-minded prudes” around her, freeing them all to “be who they really are.”

As it is, Babette’s Feast is far more subtle, realistic, and, therefore, moving.

8/10

 

Ikiru (Japanese, 1952)

Honestly, I didn’t see what the big deal about this Kurosawa classic was for most of the film.  Sure, it was poignant and beautiful, but not earth-shatteringly so.  Until the final act.  That daring bit of directorial bravado–where tipsy mourners at the protagonist’s wake review his final days, intercut with scenes of the great living in question–profoundly impressed me.  Genuinely insightful and impressive.

Another contrast with a hypothetical American version: in Hollywood, Watanabe would have had a love affair with Toyo in the second act, finding his passion for life in the arms of a young woman.  How sad that we’re so predictable.

10/10

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The Skeleton Dance

A 1929 Disney short, with music by the great Carl Stalling.  Lots of fun here!

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Recently found this great dramatization of the classic poem, set to Loreena McKennitt’s song.

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Remembering legendary actor Peter O’Toole, everyone calls up his role in Lawrence of Arabia.  Rightfully so, as it may still be the screen’s most breathtaking epic.

But I’d suggest another work to cinephiles who would celebrate his legacy.

1968′s The Lion in Winter is one of my favorite classics.  O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn spend two hours flawlessly firing some of history’s most viciously barbed language at each other.  No movie before or since has had such deliciously venomous dialogue, and these titans of stage and screen relish every line with sadistic aplomb.  Cold blooded fun!

 

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Recently found this stirring group rendition of my favorite song, a folksy bit of homesickness for Scotland:

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One of my favorite R&B songs, from the early 90′s (of course).  Does anybody write stuff like this anymore?

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