Month: March, 2015

Every Frame a Painting

Yesterday, in an ill conceived descent into the Netflix rabbit hole I watched the latest Transformers movie. Here’s my review: Engineered to make money, way too long, mind-numbingly dumb. These films are walking contradictions; in some ways they’re the most over produced, unnecessarily complex shot set-ups out there and then the next minute the laziest storytelling and continuity problem-ridden films you’ll ever see. Who knew Beijing was one town over from Hong Kong? I guess if we’ll buy technologically  advanced giant fighting robots with the intellect  of twelve year olds then Geography is just some vague idea for people who don’t know how Google Maps work.

After watching this monstrosity, it got me thinking: how do these movies make so much money, and why is Michael Bay so successful where other directors in the same genre -not so much? This luckily reminded me of this:

Every Frame a Painting is a masterclass in film technique and analysis. Commentator Tony Zhou has really done his homework and every video is a little slice of film school. He discusses directors like Speilberg, Scorsese, Fincher and Kurosawa among others. He is really engaging at exploring the craft of filmmaking and the anatomy of a shot- and on top of that you get Jackie Chan.

If you’re going to get lost down a rabbit hole any time soon let Tony be your guide.


Autunno 2015

Autunno 2015

House of Cards Season 3: Reality Index


I just finished binge watching the 3rd season of House of Cards or as I like to refer to this season: How Stamper Got His Groove Back. This was a pretty Doug heavy season -which produced mixed results. Frank’s the president and Claire’s the first lady struggling to make America and the rest of the world bend to their wills. Another thing that was meant to bend this season:reality.

Again, I’m going to borrow steal the brilliant recap format from the high watermark of all TV recaps: Vulture’s Gossip Girl coverage. (They made watching a bad show fun.) This is how it works: points are awarded when events seem believable and deducted when the events are a little too implausible. At the end, we’ll tally the score and see if our tale of the Underwoods veers into the realms of the unreal, and yes I do know this is a TV show but even TV has its limits. Warning Spoilers

house-of-cards-s03-18.w529.h352As P.M. Dawn so eloquently put it, “reality used to be a friend of mine.” The writers this season played hard and fast with the idea of plausibility, but if you bought into the first two seasons then you knew where you stood. Heavy is the head that wears the crown and this season did a good job of showing the strain and hardships that come with the job.

Secret stash of smokes making their way from bowl on bookshelf to easily accessible top desk drawer. I’ll take presidents who smoke for +10

Frank’s hair turning white quicker than Claire’s going from blonde to brown, back to blonde again +10

The light-headed and the sleep-deprived tend to over-share +10

The reemergence of the eighties’ stereotypical Russian villain +20  WOLVERINES!?!!

….. and speaking of reemergences – Cashew steals the show +50

A cool 100 on the believability scale.


On the side of the over the top happenings of season 3, I would like to start off with this season’s use of bodily fluids as power-play maneuver. Frank doesn’t miss an opportunity to relieve himself (in multiple ways) causing all manner of desecration. While his actions come off as blatant and cartoonish, it is Claire who really steals the cup. In what I can only call ‘the bathroom summit’ Claire Underwood negotiates American foreign policy while sitting on her throne. -20

Claire’s Russian prison scarf fiasco -20

If you’ve lied, cheated and murdered your way to the top; perhaps its not the best idea to hire an ex-junkie street hustler to write the story of your life. I predict this (hopefully in season 4) will not end well for anyone involved, especially the writer. -10

Doug Stamper has still got it with the ladies. Is it that they can’t help but be drawn to his gift for gab, habit of always being on his phone in their presence or those sexy hours he spends watching c-span that drives the ladies wild? -20

Being the chief of staff to the president must offer a few perks that other jobs can’t afford. I guess you can hop on  a plane whenever you like to fly half way around the world to beat a man with your cane to find out where your ex-prostitute girlfriend lives so you can later track her down and kill her and then bury her body in the desert all the while an election campaign is going on. -50

Shovel-check, bleach-check, rope-check, beat-up suspicious van-check “So what brings you to our little town, sight-seeing?” -20


“Reality used to be a friend of mine,
‘Cause complete control, I don’t take too kind.”

Could happen 100  Wait What!??? -140

Another season veers off the rails- “That’s the way it goes, I guess.”

Season 2

Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now is the Time at the AGO


Oh the eighties, what a decade; a decade of excess – “Everything counts in large amounts.” From the hair to the shoulder pads to the laser discs, everything was bigger and bolder in the eighties and the art market was no exception. The stock market was booming, Japanese investors fell in love with everything Impressionism and art became a status symbol along with an appealing place to invest your money. In the seventies the highest price paid for a piece of art at auction was 5.5 million for a Velasquez. The eighties would shatter that record repeatedly with paintings going for 10 times that amount. Van Gogh‘s Irises was the big winner but everyone benefited from the trickle down effect. Contemporary art of the time reaped the most rewards. If you can’t afford a real Van Gogh, how about a Van Gogh in waiting. Nobody wants to be the one who passed on overlooked genius. Collectors and dealers were ravenous for the next big thing and many artists of the eighties both cashed in and were cashed out because of it.

Number 4  1981

Number 4 1981

This was the climate when a 20 year old Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) took the art world by storm, burned bright, started to fade and then was dead only 7 years later. 27 years after his death, The Art Gallery of Ontario is staging the first major retrospective of his work in Canada entitled: Now is the Time. They have assembled an impressive collection of roughly 85 works consisting of both paintings and drawings spanning his entire career. Unfortunately his entire career was a mere 8 years long, cut short by a drug overdose. It begs the question – what could have been? He is now and forever: a young talent never allowed to fully develop as an artist, eternally suspended in a decade of contradictions.

A panel of Experts 1982

A Panel of Experts 1982

The major contradiction that can be observed about the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat is that it can be misconstrued as simplistic, childlike or poorly executed by the casual observer; when in fact he is in complete control, a savvy and clever draftsman who orchestrates what he decides to put down or omit. (He would intentionally cross words out to draw more attention to them.) Basquiat is a self-taught artist whose compositions are constructions comprising of expressionistic flourishes of paint, wordplay, sketchbook drawings and iconography. They are all done with a sense of urgency and an almost disregard for themselves that make them crackle with energy. Now is the Time does a wonderful job of channeling that energy.

Quality 1983

Quality 1983

Part of that crackle I believe comes from Basquiat’s roots as a street artist. He started on the streets of New York as a teenager spray painting social commentary on the sides of buildings under the name SAMO. Graffiti by its nature is a speedy process that translates in his technique and onto his canvases.  The early eighties saw the first big boom for the gallery system to adopt street artists with Jean-Michel and Keith Haring being the standouts. As much as Basquiat was initially brought in as a street artist, his influences also included Picasso, Jean Dubuffet and the Art Brut movement along with mark makers like Cy Twombly. His art is steeped in art history along with what was going on in New York at the time. Throughout his career he employed a cut and paste sampling approach to composition not unlike early hip-hop records of the time.

Horn Players 1983

Horn Players 1983

Basquiat was heavily influenced by music – especially jazz. He embraced it for both its improvisational qualities as well as where it fits into the story of black history. Music and professional sports were two avenues afforded to young black men to improve their stations in the racially biased society of the mid 20th century. These are motifs he returns to again and again throughout his career and Now is the Time (which is a Charlie Parker reference) does a wonderful job of highlighting this through the inclusion of many works and accompanying commentary. Race and racism also factor into the work of Jean-Michel. Being among only a handful of recognized black visual artists at the time, he was in many ways a lone voice using his art to draw attention to the inequalities inherit in the system.

Black Soap 1981

Black Soap 1981

When it comes to assessing the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. No one piece leaves me gob-smacked but seeing so many works together provides the proper breath and scope of what his contribution was. Over the course of his brief career he created 1000 paintings and 2000 drawings, not all with the same results. In some cases his critical filter may have been impaired by the drugs along with the huge market demand that he constantly repeat himself and not allowed to fully develop made the work suffer. One of his dealers at the time notoriously would sell his works as the more desirable “early Basquiats” (1981-1984) as opposed to the “late Basquiats” (1985-) while he was still alive. Some feel that he may have been exploited by an art world that only saw dollar signs.

Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat Win $1 000 000 1984

Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat Win $1000000 1984

An artist that was no stranger to dollar signs was Andy Warhol. In the mid eighties the two artists struck up an unlikely friendship and collaborative practice. Critics accused Andy of using Basquiat by riding on his popularity and getting his name back in the headlines.  Its obvious by looking at their 4 collaborations in the show that the two are having fun and their relationship was based more on friendship than business. Of the many works they did together the juxtapositions are kind of interesting but mostly fail to live up to either of their solo work.

Now is the Time does a nice job of surveying the work of an artist who was gone way too quick. Make sure to make your way to the Art Gallery of Ontario to feel that crackle, if only for a brief moment.

Feb 7- May 10