29 November 2007

Wednesday Review: Vik Muniz

Today's artist of the day is Vik Muniz. I encountered Vik Muniz's work last week when I was in Montreal with my wife. He had an exhibit at the Musée D'Art Contemporain De Montréal. It was a fascinating exhibit and it was one of the best art exhibits I had seen in quite a while. Quite frankly I had given up on representational artwork sometime ago. I felt that photography could handle that and that other visual artists should focus on other things. Well, Muniz has changed my mind. He does his work with nontraditional media and then takes a photograph, which is his final piece. One of my favorites is this piece made with sugar sprinkled over black construction paper.Most of his portfolio can be seen on his website. I also highly recommend watching the PBS documentary in the video section of his site.

13 November 2007

Architect of the Day: Wallace Harrison

Random Monday on Tuesday presents the Architect of the Day: Wallace Harrison.

Harrison wasn’t the most experimental architect of his time, but he collaborated with some of the most distinguished architects of the 20th century and he designed some of the most famous buildings in the US. His first major project was working on Rockefeller Center while employed by the architectural firm Corbett, Harrison & MacMurray. He was the lead architect and master planner for Lincoln Center including the Metropolitan Opera House. He designed the UN Headquarters with his partner Max Abramovitz, LaGuardia Airport, the Time-Life Building, the Exxon Building at Rockefeller Center, and the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth. Some of his lesser known works are the Rockefeller Apartment across from the MOMA sculpture garden and the “Fish Church” in Stamford, CT. He frequently advised Nelson Rockefeller and the two were known to be good friends. I’ll leave you with some images and this article about the Rockefeller Apartments in the New York.

Lincoln Center Plaza

Metropolitan Opera House

United Nations Headquarters

31 October 2007

Gone Baby Gone

There are no spoilers so feel free to read on. Also, if you're not familiar with my method of critiquing movies check out an explanation here.

In the increasingly twisting folds of film (or digital bits) that make up the film “Gone Baby Gone” lies one of the best films I’ve seen in a long while. Ben Affleck decided to return to what he apparently knows best, and that is writing screenplays. Granted, this is an adaptation and not an original like “Good Will Hunting” but it is haunting nonetheless. What’s truly amazing is that Affleck directed the film as well. I, unlike many, was never one to dismiss him as actor; I just thought he didn’t know how to choose good roles. But after this film I don’t care if I ever see him act again, I just want him to create more films. In his directorial debut he also pulled off a casting coup. Not many people have the clout to cast Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris in a film their first time out, much less in supporting roles. He then placed Michelle Monaghan (who was great, if underused in "Mission: Impossible III" and "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang") and Amy Ryan (whom I’d never heard of, but was apparently on HBO’s "The Wire") in key supporting roles and they sure didn’t let him down. But his main casting coup came in the form of Casey Affleck, Ben’s younger brother. Putting aside the fact that Casey is great in every film he’s been in, the coup is that because he’s Ben’s younger brother, Ben knows him better than most people and thus was able to extract the best performance from Casey yet (I’ve not yet seen "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford", so I reserve the right to declare Casey better in that film if I so desire).

The film opens on the streets of Dorchester, MA, where we discover that Helene’s (Amy Ryan) 4 year old daughter has gone missing, and has most likely been kidnapped. We then find out that Patrick (Casey Affleck) and his girlfriend/business partner Angie (Monaghan) are missing persons detectives. They’re just not the sort of detectives that normally look for missing children, normally they look for people who’ve defaulted on their debts and skipped town etc… When Helene’s brother and sister-in-law show up at their door wanting to hire them they reluctantly take the job. They then meet Chief Doyle (Freeman) who puts them in touch with two police detectives working on the case (Harris and John Ashton). All of this happens in the first 15 minutes. What follows is fascinating and disturbing and magnificent all at once. At least three times Patrick faces some extremely gray moral lines and he makes the best choices he knows how to make, but increasingly he’s confused and bewildered by what’s happening. At one point he says, “My priest says that shame is my conscience telling me I was wrong,” he then goes on to declare that he wouldn’t make that same decision again, even if it was the right one to make. By the end of the film Patrick’s face is worn with weary look of someone who doesn’t know which way is up.

If all this sounds rather intense, well, that’s because it is. However, it’s well worth the effort to make your way through the film. Unfortunately, I doubt many people will. In this article on contemporary war movies at the New York Times, A.O. Scott points out that increasingly the films meant to challenge us are pulling in smaller and smaller audiences while lighter fare holds reign. He says a few things that I think can also be applied to other contemporary movies like "Gone Baby Gone" as well.

It may be that this opposition [to the war] finds its truest expression in the wish that the whole thing would just go away, rather than in an appetite for critical films.… When filmmakers leave such touchy, serious political issues alone they tend to be scolded for complacency or cowardice. But …[w]hat is notable about this new crop of war movies is not their earnestness or their didacticism — traits many of them undoubtedly display — but rather their determination to embrace confusion, complexity and ambiguity.


…the final image of “In the Valley of Elah”[I'll try to get up a review about this one as well, I saw it a few weeks ago] — an American flag flying upside down — is, similarly, both disturbing and vague. It is a sign of danger and distress, and it brings home the grief and confusion that have haunted the film’s main character, a retired army officer played by Tommy Lee Jones whose son has gone AWOL shortly after returning from Iraq.

The grief and confusion are left hanging like that flag, and like the feelings of sorrow, anger and impatience that linger at the end of “Lions for Lambs,” “Redacted” and the others ["Gone Baby Gone"]. What is missing in nearly every case is a sense of catharsis or illumination. This is hardly the fault of the filmmakers. Disorientation, ambivalence, a lack of clarity — these are surely part of the collective experience they are trying to examine. How can you bring an individual story to a satisfying conclusion when nobody has any idea what the end of the larger story will look like?


This film has been rated 'R' for language, violence, and a few disturbing images.

Film Review Criteria

My next post will be a film review, and (since I’m not sure who reads this blog) I thought it might be useful to post a few thoughts about what I look for in a film. But before I do that I have a few disclaimers. First, just because I review a film on this blog does not mean I recommend it for everyone. I watch a lot of movies and some of them contain things that are probably offensive to some of my readers. Second, just because I give a movie a good review doesn’t mean I like the film, or even that I enjoyed watching the film. It means that there was something about the film that I believe made the viewing experience valuable. Third, if I give a film a poor review that doesn’t mean I don’t like it, it just means that I think it wasn’t well made. I could, however, like the movie quite a bit. Sometimes I’ll think a movie is valuable and I’ll also think it’s great and I’ll also want to watch it several times. Those kinds of movies are my favorite. Finally, I tend to gravitate towards what are often referred to as “art films”, it’s not that I don’t love a big blockbuster, (Live Free or Die Hard was super!) it’s just that generally I prefer films that are going to challenge while entertaining me rather than films that are for pure entertainment.

When I am watching a film with my “critic’s eye” there are several things I keep in mind. Is the film arresting? Does it engross me, or am I looking at my watch after ten minutes wondering when it’s going to end? Once I’m into the film I concentrate on the story, letting it wash over me and giving all my thought to understanding what’s happening. I’ll sometimes think, “I wouldn’t have done that,” or “What was the director thinking?”, but I generally try to save those questions until the movie is over and the credits have rolled. After the film I think about the actors’ (or actresses’) performances, and I pick them apart in my mind. Were they convincing? What did they bring to the character that another actor might not have been able to do? I then consider the director. What was he trying to say? Was it a critique of something, if so what? Was he just telling a story with no ulterior motives (is that even possible)? Was he able to pull the best performances possible from his actors? I then consider the cinematography. Did it fit with the over all feel of the movie? Was it single camera, multiple camera, hand held, or steady? Did it focus on landscapes, people, or a mixture? Did it go for the hard to nail close-ups of the actors’ faces or was it standoffish and perhaps impersonal? I wonder how much independence the cinematographer had, and how much of it is his (or her) eye and how much is the director’s. I then consider the music. Was it appropriate for the film or did it bog the film down? How much say did the director have? If the music doesn’t fit I wonder if it was the director’s fault or the fault of the composer or music supervisor. Finally, I also ponder the themes and ideas explored by the film. Are they relevant? What do they reveal about society at large? Did they challenge me in any way? All of these things add up to make what I like to think of as the composition of the film. I then take the composition as a whole and explore my own personal feelings and reactions to the film. After I’ve done all these things I am then able to talk to someone or write about the film.

27 October 2007


The weekends here a coffee talk will normally be reserved for current events or thoughts on theological or religous issues. Today, however will be a little different. Just under one month ago, on September 29th, I married the love of my life. We had a small ceremony in Texas with family and close friends. However, since we live in New Jersey, most of our friends from the surrounding area weren't able to make the trip down south. So today we are throwing our first party as a married couple! We're expecting between 20 and 30 people. I don't know how we're going to fit everyone in our one bedroom apartment, but we've cleaned the place and rearranged the furniture and I think it's going to work. Hopefully it will stop raining before this afternoon so we can utilize our balcony. The rest of my day is going to be spent doing some cooking and other miscellaneous prep so I'll get back to writing on Monday. I'll leave you with a picture of my wife and I. Have a great weekend!