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STREET by James Nares

Rarely am I very interested in video installations at art museum.  A few, here and there, have held my attention for a few moments.  Usually I think that they are strange.

Saturday afternoon I wandered into the new CAP gallery at the Joslyn Art Museum in downtown Omaha and ended up sitting there for more than an hour.

CAP is short for Contemporary Artists Project Gallery, and you can read about the new gallery's goals in today's Omaha World-Herald.  A small space currently set up as a screening room, with Le Corbusier-style black couches.  I nestled into the corner of the front couch, the only one open when I arrived in the room, and was quickly mesmerized.

STREET is only 2 minutes and forty seconds of film slowed down to run just over one hour.  In 2011 the filmmaker drove along the streets of New York City filming the people.  Initially I was enjoying the people watching aspect, when suddenly a face stood out for its emotional tone, and I realized that there were deeper layers of meaning in the art work.

I was struck by how aesthetically satisfying it was.  The colors of people's clothes, on food trucks, and in store windows created beautiful image after beautiful image.

And in scene after scene one sees a full range of human emotion--from a child running with glee to a family hugging and crying.  One is struck by how many different emotions can exist on one street corner at the same time.  I was also reflecting on how none of the people were really seeing each other, and yet we were seeing them together and that together they made a work of art.

I also realized that I can never see New Yorker's looking up again without thinking of September 11, 2001.

Nothing sinister occurs in the film.  I kept wondering if we would see someone fall or trip or some crime occur.  We don't.  

There are also moments of surprising artistry, as when the camera focuses in on a pigeon in slow-motion flight.

I highly recommend this work, which will be at the Joslyn till September 21.  Carve out an hour to go sit and watch and reflect upon our common humanity.



As we drove home from seeing Boyhood I told Michael that there was only one flaw I had noticed while watching the film.  Funny, I can't remember now what that was.  It has been eight days since we saw it, and whatever that particular flaw was, I've since forgotten it.

I was one of those people who fell in love with Before Sunrise because it seemed to authentically express many of my own ideas on life and love, lifting them to the level of generational thoughts, while doing it in an exotic, foreign setting.  It was the romance we all wished to have.  I'm not sure if originally or later I appreciated the craft of the film--the way a shot was held so much longer than most directors hold them now, the slow pacing of the conversation, the walking, the extras who appear (sometimes without dialogue) and add to the visuals, the sense of place.  When Before Sunset was announced, I encouraged younger folk to see the first film and then the second, and some of them became fans.  That film captured where we were in our late twenties, again authentically.  I decided I wanted a film from them every decade because it would be the chronicle of our generation's romantic life.  Then, Before Midnight did it a third time.  I don't know how many times in watching that film that I squirmed because one of the nasty things that Celine or Jesse said was close to something I'd said in an argument with Michael.  And along the way those aspects of Linklater's craft have continued to satisfy me.

And now Boyhood.  I was mesmerized and started regretting that the film was going to come to an end.  Here that craft is put to good use again--long meandering conversations, holding the shot longer, letting time flow, and rooting everything in place.  I've not seen a review that noted the use of place in this film.  We seem to begin somewhere near coastal Texas and move west, through Houston, to San Marcos and Austin, and then to the Big Bend area.  The young man is moving west.  Linklater pays attention to these spaces and lets them shape the shots and the flow of the conversations.

One thing that surprised Michael and I watching the film was how often we were on the edge of our seats expecting something catastrophic to happen.  And then it didn't.  For example, if a camera lingers that long on a family driving in a car, then usually that means there is going to be a car accident.  We've been programed by filmmakers to expect these sorts of things.  Just listening in on an ordinary conversation, then, becomes extraordinary.

I've seen so many cynical films lately.  Snowpiercer, for all its visual flair, was a glorification of violence and, ultimately, a cynical statement that revolution is futile.  Guardians of the Galaxy had its good moments, but could have been so much better than it was.  It largely lacked an human element, with sadly Groot the tree coming closest.  Planet of the Apes surprised me by how well done it was, but even it concludes that the demons of our nature can't be eradicated.

Here, in Boyhood, was finally a film about humanity.  It largely worked because these characters were not all that interesting.  They were, generally, quite ordinary.  And being ordinary, they were complex.  Watching we also were able to experience some nostalgia.  In that vein, I enjoyed the exploration of Austin as young lovers right before heading off to college.  The sentiments expressed there, more than the place or the actual words, resonated with my own memories of my late teen years.

What troubles me most about the film, is something that also may be authentic.  The dad is a jerk, especially in the early years, yet he ends up with the stable family life (the aging of Ethan Hawke wasn't very effective, but they had to do something because he has aged so little.  And NOW I remember the flaw I had forgotten.  That tie he was wearing at the end.  That character would not have been wearing that tie only a year or so ago).  Mom, who has worked hard, tried and failed at love, ends up alone and thinking her life is less than it should have been.

I left this Linklater film, as I have others, feeling that something of what it means to live in our time has been captured.  I left satisfied and grateful.  

Standing Ovations

Last night the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences acted like the U. S. Congress during a State of the Union address--they kept jumping to their feet.

Remember the days when you could only guarantee two standing ovations during an Oscar telecast?  One for the Lifetime Achievement Award winner and one for some other aged or recently ill star who showed up to present an award.  On the rare occassion that a winner received a standing ovation it really meant something.

Now they stand for almost every performance and almost every winner.

But in this way they are like the general culture.  I remember as a kid that when a play, concert, or recital ended, there was simply applause, not standing.  Occassionally there was a standing ovation, but usually only at the final show in a run or when something especially moving had happened.  Now people stand for every performance.  It may not be a bad development, but it has lost its special meaning.

Oh, and on those Lifetime Achievement Oscars.  I miss the segment of the show where that award and the Jean Hersholt and Irving Thalberg Awards were given.  They've been missing for a few years now, having been moved to another night with their own dinner.  This was the part of the show that real film fans really enjoyed and was the least like the contemporary awards show, which is probably why it got axed.  

On one hand, I don't mind them moving them to a special event on another night, but I have minded that they don't broadcast that ceremony.

On the other hand, I do mind them being eliminated from the Oscar telecast.  As a kid it was during these segments that I first encountered Akira Kurosawa and Satyajit Ray.  It was a time to introduce some in the audience to the film arts that they may have never seen in their small town.

2013 Films

I think 12 Years a Slave was the picture 2013 picture which I have seen, and it will hopefully win the Oscar.  Gravity, the other film which seems in contention, was great, and I'd be happy if it won, though I thought it was only the third best film of the year, following Her.  I do expect Alfonso Cuaron to win Best Director, though I am puzzled by the lack of nomination for Spike Jonze.

I haven't seen Dallas Buyer's Club, Blue Jasmine, Wolf of Wall Street, or Philomena so it is more difficult for me to comment on the acting categories.  I'd be happy with Chiwetel Ejiofor or Bruce Dern for actor and definitely think Lupita Nyong'o should win supporting actress.

American Hustle was enjoyable to watch, but is way overrated.

Captain Phillips I did not care for.  The writing was banal, the camera work was both annoying and enforcing of stereotypes, and I was not impressed by any of the performances.

Nebraska was so funny and so well crafted, that I'm sorry it doesn't seem to be in greater contention.

I have no interest in seeing Wolf of Wall Street.  It doesn't strike me as even remotely of interest.

August: Osage County had its moments, though I prefered the production of the play that I saw.  Meryl Streep was disappointing.  Julia Roberts was very good, maybe her second best film performance ever, after Closer.

I enjoyed and cried at The Butler, but it wasn't a great film, so I'm glad it isn't in the running for Oscars.

Inside Llewyn Davis had some of the most mesmerizing visuals of the year.

I liked Saving Mr. Banks, though it wasn't a great film.  Still surprised the Emma Thompson wasn't nominated.

I also wish that Julie Delpy had been nominated for Before Midnight.

Frozen was an enjoyable delight.

Still on my list to see: Blue is the Warmest Color, Fruitvale Station, All is Lost, Dallas Buyers Club, and Blue Jasmine.

American Hustle & the best films of 2013

An article in the Daily Beast talks about American Hustle not being as good as the buzz surrounding it and that it should not be a leading candidate for Best Picture.  I agree.

I enjoyed seeing the film, but was myself surprised when it won so many awards, got so many nominations, and then was talked about as a challenger to 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture.  I think that most of the comments and criticisms in the article are accurate.

I have a couple more films I want to see before I release my Best Of 2013 list.  I've missed most of the foreign films this year and may not get a chance to see them before I make my list.  That's not so unusual, though some years in the past, particularly when I was single and living in Dallas, I was better about that.

Good article on Inside Llewyn Davis

The Daily Beast has a good article on Inside Llewyn Davis, which I saw on Friday, and why it was generally snubbed by the Motion Picture Academy.  An excerpt:

Throughout, you feel the bone-chilling cold of the streets and Davis's loss. This isn't a film about conquering demons or surmounting impossible odds, it is a film about losing and losing more, the chipping away of character and of hope. It is about losing your dreams, not achieving them, life shrinking, hope diminishing, aspiration dissolving. 

The Spectacular Now


This well-reviewed film captures the angst and awkwardness of adolescence without some of cliches that these films often succumb to.  The leads, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, deliver strong, compelling performances.  Shailene's innocence and earnestness infect you, while also inciting your pity -- she is too vulnerable.

I knew the film would be dramatic, but I expected a little more humour.  I wonder if it will enter the pantheon of teen films for this current generation of teens, or if it is too heavy to do so?

3 1/2 film reels
3 1/2 popcorn kernels 

Before Midnight

Last weekend Michael and I finally saw Before Midnight.  First, some background.
Before Sunrise, the original film in this series, resonated with all the romance of our early twenties (I'm just a little younger than the characters).  We all wanted to have an experience like Jesse and Celine.  When I rewatch that film, at different points in my life, my experience of it is both nostalgic and new, as the older me reacts to it in different ways.
Before Sunset was beautiful and lyrical and filled with the cynicism we had developed by our thirties, skeptical of romance, but still longing for it.  It articulated realities.
I long for Linklater to make another every decade or so, as this really is the Gen X love story.
***Spoiler Alert***
Halfway through the film, I did not like it.  I was not connecting to it as I have the others.  Maybe the big difference is that I have yet started my family, so I am behind my age cohort and my experiences are different.  I enjoyed the nervousness of the airport departure scene of Henry at the beginning and the awkwardness and casual dialogue of the return drive in the car.  But the scenes at the home of the author Patrick did nothing for me.  Yes, they established how pretentious Jesse can be, but the dinner conversations about love and penises was vapid.
In truth, though, the film does not begin until Jesse and Celine begin walking and talking, again.  That's what we really want.  And it burns intensely once they arrive at a hotel for a romantic night and have an explosive fight.  It was so tightly wound, I was afraid there would be violence.
And, yes, the film was authentic.  It sounded, often, similar to the fights we have.  The accuracy of it was shocking and convicting.  It cut me to the bone, leaving me somewhat numb at the conclusion, but also longing for Michael.  We held hands through some of the worst of the fighting, both startled to see ourselves.  I, who had felt very connected with Celine in the past, found myself so very like Jesse and angry at Celine.
In ten years, or so, maybe we will be at Henry's wedding, somewhere in the States.  And we'll meet Jesse's ex.  If so, then she must be played by Winona Ryder.  
4 film reels
3 popcorn kernels

The Great Gatsby

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On a short trip to Minneapolis this week, I took The Great Gatsby along and read it for the third time -- once in high school (when I did not like it) and again in 2000 (when some youth of mine were reading it in high school, and I liked it, but didn't love it). I was reading it again because I'd just seen the movie, and it seemed like a good thing to do -- to reacquaint myself with the details.

I liked it more this time, though still don't love it. This time I caught all the gay content which I wasn't paying attention for or taught to pay attention for the previous times I read it.

I enjoyed the recent film, though I had critical things to say about it. And now re-reading the novel, I realize how much more the film misunderstood or misrepresented. I was particularly struck by Nick Carraway's comment in the penultimate chapter "because I disapproved of him from beginning to end." The movie gave the complete contrary impression.

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