Month: August, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Review

Once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is  part Magic realism,  part Neorealism, part folktale and totally astonishing. It tells the story of  a small southern Delta community  called the Bathtub as seen through the eyes of 6 year old Hushpuppy played by Quvenzhané Wallis. A violent storm has unleashed a primal force that threatens to uproot and lay waste to everything in its path, with its sights firmly planted on the Bathtub and its inhabitants. Hushpuppy’s father Wink played by Dwight Henry senses the  impending doom and tries desperately to prepare and teach his daughter about the splendor and cruelty of life.

First time director Ben Zeitlin shot the film over the course of 8 months on location in post-Katrina Louisiana using non actors.  He collaborated closely with the community to help shape the story and the characters. With the obvious  Katrina reference possibly overshadowing the plot, Zeitlin articulated to CBC radio that he ultimately wanted to tell an emotional story rather than a potentially political one.  Zeitlin (who is a native New Yorker) has been criticized for  a cultural appropriation approach to film making. I feel that when critics are on witch hunts they tend to scare up witches but while watching the  film I did not get the impression that the story was either disingenuous or exploitative. Beasts of the Southern Wild is about: the importance of home, what constitutes a life well lived and the resiliency of people rather than some set of finite circumstances.

As I was watching Beasts of the Southern Wild  I also couldn’t help but draw parallels to another film where a father navigates through a cruel world  to provide for his family. I kept thinking of the Italian Neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves ( or The Bicycle Thief as it is known in North America) by Vittorio De Sica. Neorealism was a film movement that originated in Italy in the late 1940’s that dealt with everyday stories – sometimes ripped directly from the headlines of the newspapers of the time. The low budget  films were usually shot on location using non actors. The film  Bicycle Thieves tells the story of a man’s struggles in post WWII Rome. A father gets a job plastering posters all over Rome. In order to fulfill his obligations, the job requires that he has a bicycle. With very little money to their name, the family is forced to sell the sheets from their beds to pay for the bicycle.  On his very first day, while his back is turned for a brief moment the bike is stolen. He turns just in time to watch a man ride off with his future. Devastated by this loss the father accompanied by his young son desperately searches to find the thief. The depiction of a father trying not to unravel in front of his child under dire  circumstances is not dissimilar to the story of Hushpuppy.

Quvenzhané Wallis’ portrayal of Hushpuppy is a wonder to behold. She conveys a child’s perspective of a broken world full of monsters ( giant tusked boars called Aurochs ) with subtly and fire.  If you have an opportunity to walk a mile in her rubber boots, you won’t regret it.


An Object of Beauty: Book Review

Beauty has a way of opening doors, turning heads, commanding a room, reserving a table and creating a blind eye.We are more readily willing to forgive beauty of its misdeeds. Beauty is power. Lacey Yeager is beautiful and she knows it.  People around Lacey are attracted by her beauty and clamor for her attention; but what attracts beauty? More beauty of course. Lacey is drawn to the ultimate world of  beauty , very expensive beauty – Sothebys. An Object of Beauty  tells the story of a girl’s  exploration and rise through the New York  art world (circa 1990- 2010).  The novel deals in commerce, taste, art movements, trends, forgery, sex, attraction, but ultimately is a love story. Contrary to what you may be thinking, the romance in question isn’t focused on Lacey (although she has many suitors). The romance in An Object of Beauty is between its author and his muse -art.

Andy Warhol Flowers 1970

Steve Martin is known for many things: actor, comedian, musician, author and art lover. It is his love and observations about art that make An Object of Beauty a compelling read. Written in 2010, the book explores one of the craziest periods the art market has ever known. Art experienced a growth and a transformation over those two decades which has profoundly affected the way people view it. Martin shows this shift; in the novel Lacey buys a small flowers painting by Andy Warhol not because she finds it beautiful but because she thinks it will make a sound investment.

As the late great Robert Hughes said,

“The new job of art is to sit on the wall and get more expensive.”

Martin addresses this but doesn’t dwell on it. Martin still views art as an object of beauty divorced from the concept of money. Later on in the book, Lacey’s observation about a Matisse illustrates this nicely:

 “The Matisse seemed to respond to the decreasing light by increasing its own wattage. Every object in the room was drained of color, but the Matisse stood firm in the de-escalating illumination, its beauty turning functionality inside out, making itself a more practical and useful presence than anything else in sight.”

This is written from the perspective of someone who obviously appreciates and lives with art. Steve Martin is well known for his art collection. His tastes and even artists from his own collection find their way into An Object of Beauty.  Along with the titans of the art world like Warhol and Matisse he introduces the reader to lesser know names like:

the amazing still-life painter William Michael Harnett

William Michael Harnett Mr. Hulting’s Rack 1888

The sublime abstract painter Milton Avery

Milton Avery Autumn 1944

and one of Italy’s greatest still life painters Giorgio-Morandi.

Giorgio-Morandi  still life  circa 1950s

The story of Lacey Yeager is the loose framework for the author to hang his affection for the art world.  He has keen eye and a quick wit. Although the story is not without its charm and humour, don’t expect a laugh out loud comedy most associated with the author. Martin has written a subtle meditation on the allure of art and the world it inhabits. If you enjoyed 7 days in the Art World or The $12 million Stuffed Shark this book would be a beautiful companion.


Urban Suburban

Where the city meets the country. Here’s a few of the painted muskoka chairs from last year’s Meeting Ground.

Robert Hughes


“One gets tired of the role critics are supposed to have in this culture: it’s like being the piano player in a whorehouse; you don’t have any control over the action going on upstairs.” – Robert Hughes

Delicatessen: Review


What’s an out of work clown to do? Louison (played by Dominique Pinon) didn’t lose his job due to a lack of charm, he has that in abundance. Unfortunately his life took an unexpected turn with the death of his performing partner. The truth to be told, his partner didn’t simply die, he was eaten by an irritable audience. A little more truth to be told, his partner was a chimpanzee. This of course begs the question: who eats a monkey ape? In a post-apocalyptic world with very little food strange things happen and even stranger things are about to.

This is the dark and funny world of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen. The film tells the story of an unassuming little boarding house and the interweaving lives of its occupants. The landlord is a ruthless butcher who holds his tenants in a state of perpetual fear and hunger. In a future with no livestock, he always seems to have meat on the menu. The only one immune to his tyranny is his naive and innocent daughter Julie (played by Marie-Laure Dougnac). Louison is hired as the maintenance man for the building and slowly falls for Julie to the chagrin of her father. Along the way we are introduced to the other tenants in the building, among others they include: a lonely wife who’s unsuccessful suicide attempts become more and more elaborate, the two sheep sound box manufacturers, the butcher’s girlfriend and a man who has a no-small thing for snails.

From a technical stand point Delicatessen is an artistic tour de force that sometimes suffers under its own weight. The visual sequences are stunning, clever and amusing; many working as well choreographed jokes. The opening credits are a feast for the eye. The soundtrack is a haunting mix of odd sound effects and quirky little instrumentals with a borderline carnival feeling to them. The film itself is shot with a sun-baked orange filter that gives everything a sweaty hot glow. On the downside, with all its panache and ingenuity Delicatessen can feel like a series of vignettes strung together rather than a cohesive film. To be fair, this was the first feature film the two directors had collaborated on. The film was released in  1991. They later went on to do The City of Lost Children and the critically embraced Amelie.

By the time they made Amelie ten years later, the film-makers had figured out how to incorporate their unique visual sequences into the story-line consequently adding to the narrative rather than distracting from it. Where Amelie is light, Delicatessen is dark . Both are funny, poignant and well crafted.  If  Moonrise Kingdom has wet your appetite for quirky little films with french soundtracks, then save room for these two rich morsels.


Nice Weather For Ducks

nice weather for ducks 2012

Latest tablet painting. Its name was inspired by this.

Hippolyta: Mix

sparklers on the beach

Some music for the weekend.

Tablet Painting; Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas 2012

Here’s the latest IPad painting, created using procreate.