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Category: Movies

“I like this one. One dog goes one way and the other goes the other.” : Paintings in the Movies

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Summer is the perfect time to re-watch a classic, here’s a repost to wet your appetite.

I believe Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas may be as close to perfect as a movie gets. It’s got a compelling arc based on a true story, brilliant performances, fantastic soundtrack, style for days, and of course this little piece of outsider art. The painting itself is based on a photo that appeared in a 1978 issue of National Geographic and was painted by the mother of the author of Wise Guy: Nicholas Pileggi. Wise Guy is the story of Henry Hill’s life in the mob and the basis for GoodFellas. The painting itself has no real bearing on the plot of the movie, but rather plays a delightful role in an impromptu meal during the wee hours of the night; between a boy, his friends and his mother.  Scorsese masterfully juxtaposes the sweet tender caring of an elderly mother (played by his own mother) with the ruthless cold-hearted apathy of a group of killers whose next victim is locked in the trunk of their car. Scorsese says the scene was mostly improvised with the only line written in the script being: –mother shows the ‘dog’ painting.

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A painting that had a much more significant role in a film would  have to be the double-sided Kandinsky that appears in Six Degrees of Separation. In real life Kandinsky never painted a double-sided work. The filmmakers combined existing works from two of his radically different styles to illustrate the fine line between chaos and control. The painting symbolizes the fleeting grasp the central characters have on the story of their lives. A young grifter cons his way into the lavish lives of an affluent couple on the Upper East Side.  By the end of the film, it is a blur as to who is using who: the grifter getting a taste of the sweet life or the couple endlessly milking their “near death” anecdote that makes them the life of the  party.

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The Upper East Side is also the location for an art collection of truly epic television proportions. Gossip Girl finally ended its’ six season run last year; closing the elevator door on the lives of some truly two dimensional characters. If you are wondering why Gossip Girl is included here? The answer is that the producers had wonderful taste: in music, ridiculous plot-lines that went nowhere and surprisingly enough -art. Multiple paintings by Richard Phillips could be found along with this little gem. Prada Marfa refers to the small roadside replica  Prada store created by artists Elmgreen and Dragset sixty miles outside of Marfa Texas. Another reason this show should be included in a post with GoodFellas: DorotaWho else could be the maid for both Blair Waldorf and Tony Soprano?

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Badroute is the name of this painting by Miguel Calderon. It is owned by Wes Anderson and appears in his film The Royal Tenenbaums. I am a fan of Anderson and believe this to be his best picture.  It was co-written with Owen Wilson and stars Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston and Bill Murray. The premise: all grown-up child prodigies once again find themselves  under the same roof trying to come to grips with their eccentric family dynamics.

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To say Elwood P Dowd is eccentric would be a little bit of an understatement. Elwood has an unusual friend; a six foot invisible rabbit named Harvey. Jimmy Stewart plays a wonderful drunk who sees the world through rose coloured glasses with the help of his friend. Harvey is meant to be a pooka or a mischievous spirit from Celtic folklore. The only time we get to see what Harvey looks like is when Elwood brings home this painting. The image is fantastic and so is the movie.

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A movie that is a real secret gem is David Salle’s Search and DestroyThe film was produced by Martin Scorsese and stars Christopher Walken, John Turturro, Illena Douglas, Ethan Hawke and Dennis Hopper. A failed businessman has plans for turning a self-help book into a movie. Trying to secure his finances turns into more than he bargains for. David Salle was known predominantly as a painter and his painterly style is reflected throughout the film. A wonderful example of this is the Alex Katz that hangs in Christopher Walken’s office.

I tried to focus on paintings that were unique to these individual films and show. Sorry no Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte from Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.  At the end of the day, this would be a gallery show I’d like to go see.

The Greatness of Gatsby

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Summer for me is the time to sit back with a good book, here’s a repost to wet your appetite.

Every decision that Baz Lurhmann made in turning F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book The Great Gatsby into a motion picture was the right one. Right, but not necessarily good. The problem with making this film is; the source material is a fundamentally flawed piece of writing that has had more greatness foisted upon it than are hidden in its pages. Don’t get me wrong, the first time I read the novel I enjoyed the world of West Egg sure enough, and having just seen the film I still enjoy it but……….. let the spoilers begin.

THE GREAT GATSBYThe world that Fitzgerald created is one of longing rather than one of condemnation. Many words have been devoted to the corruption of the American Dream and the marginalization of the valley of ashes all under the guise of an apathetic blind God … yadda yadda yadda. If that was truly Fitzgerald’s intention, than it kind of makes him a hypocrite. Fitzgerald in real life wasn’t adverse to tipping a few back and seeing where the night would take him. He surrounded himself with eccentric and interesting people who came together in one of the most decadent scenes in human history: Paris in the twenties. He didn’t stay at the party for a brief moment but rather checked out seven years later. Fitzgerald drank the Kool-Aid and then handed it to Baz. It’s the spectacle that the movie uses for its armature to hang everything around and I don’t believe this would have offended Fitzgerald in the least.

GG-06742r-1386x693Say what you will about the American Dream; a theme that works for me is that there is nothing more exhilarating than arriving at a good party already at full steam and nothing more depressing than staying a little too long and watching the steam slowly escape. ‘The sweet life’ always ends with the party goers standing on a beach starring at an enormous dead fish. You can never recapture that initial high and if you try you will always be disappointed. Chasing the dragon is a fruitless endeavor and in Gatsby’s case his dragon is Daisy(Carey Mulligan).

careymulligan_2550464bThe movie shifts gears from the book with its portrayal of Daisy and her relationship with Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). The love story never really translates in the book. Everything Gatsby does is for her but you never can reason why. She’s like that girl in those Twilight books: an extremely two dimensional character that the people around her are willing to move mountains for. Why exactly? Well Hollywood tried to answer that question by amping up the love story  and turning Daisy into a more sympathetic character.  This is all about dollars and cents; no one would go see a movie where you don’t care if the guy gets the girl. Baz knows where his bread is buttered. This leaves you with the feeling that The Great Gatsby is no longer a book or even a movie but rather an industry. It is a pop culture artifact engineered to sell fashion, sell a soundtrack, be a star vehicle, sell a technology (the first thing I thought of when I heard Gatsby was 3D!) and most importantly make money. Take that: corruption of the American Dream, pass the Kool-Aid. It feels like a movie made by a committee. You can hear the pitch meeting in every frame. It’s too bad too, I loved the style of Strictly Ballroom and didn’t even mind the Jay-Z soundtrack but I felt like I was constantly being sold something. Sad thing is, I got the same feeling when I read the book; Fitzgerald was trying to sell the idea that he was a more important writer than he was.

CBSs-The-Great-Gatsby-Book-CoverThe book has some wonderful imagery and symbolism but feels a little inconsistent overall. The movie is more consistent but tends to spell everything out and goes a little overboard on the symbolism, especially that of the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. It seems the film can’t go twenty minutes without checking in on how the green light is doing. I predict college kids will eventually turn this into a drinking game. The Great Gatsby is told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator: Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire). He goes along with everything that people put in front of him and then at the last minute is indignant at the results.  The film doesn’t even touch upon his relationship with Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki) with very little consequence. It is theorized that Nick represented one side of Fitzgerald’s personality while Gatsby represented another.

THE GREAT GATSBY“Who is this Gatsby?” This is supposed to be the big mystery that never really is a mystery in neither the book nor the movie. Having said that,I have to admit Leonardo’s reveal would  be my favourite part of the film. Baz nailed it; it was so over the top it was kind of awesome. Close-up, champagne glass, smug expression,  Rhapsody in Blue playing in the background and epic fireworks all added up to one of the most perfect/hilarious entrances for any character anywhere. Gatsby: ‘the poor son of a b*tch’ (a line conspicuously absent from the film) becomes more of a tragic character in Baz’s hands than Fitzgerald’s, along with the rest of Generation Egg. We are intoxicated by their decadence and apathetic to their plight.

Both the book and the movie are unabashed constructions of their times and this is where in their greatness lies, but just like the  green light off in the distance we never quite get there. ‘Pass the Kool-Aid old sport’.

3.5/5

Film Critics: You’re Doing it Wrong

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I wonder how many decisions go into making a movie? A hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand …..more? Casting alone would present a thousand questions with multiple outcomes. Just to make it a little more complicated; let’s introduce a well established canon with a built in fan-base, but at the same time try to branch out and create something altogether new. Oh ya, and there is also potentially billions of dollars riding on the decisions you make. I think those last few factors may have some influence on the way you go about things. So what do you do?

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

You go out and make Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Rogue One a Star Wars story,……. then you market the crap out of all the decisions you made, then collectively hold your breath and see what the fans think, and then check your receipts, and then … maybe see what the critics are saying. So what are the critics saying? In the case of the two movies mentioned above: the consensus for both of them is that ‘they are both at home in the universes they inhabit with a welcome cast of new characters that create an enjoyable chapter to expand their canons but are not without their flaws’. Highly serviceable to borderline satisfactory. Wow brings a tear to the eye!

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As of this moment we have yet to create the perfect blockbuster movie that satisfies everyone. The reason being; there are too many specified factions to appease. How do you cater to the hardcore fans and the uninitiated simultaneously? They both require two different things that often run in direct opposition to one another. Now that we reaffirm all our own beliefs and opinions on social media, we can pick and choose the reviews that suit our experiences. If you want a nostalgia based Easter-egg laced review you’ll get it for the nod and wink crowd. If you’re more into the opportunity missed, what I would have done differently review, they’re multiplying like rabbits. If middle of the road, should I spend my money on this is more to your liking than just glance at the overall percentages or box office receipts.

A few things that need to be considered: what do you want to get out of the movie going experience? We all want to be entertained, ideally through our heads and our hearts but how high are our standards? Is anything short of (insert your favourite movie here) passable. Can a movie even come close to the character development and long range storytelling that we are spoiled with in the Golden Age of television? How much ownership do we have to these worlds and why do we take our entertainment so personally?

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Everyone’s a critic, myself included. I watched both films discussed and was happy with the results. The kid in me was tapping myself on the shoulder exclaiming “did you see what they did there?” more times than my inner critic poking me in the back saying”did you see what they did there?”.  I will probably get the DVD’s when they come out (because I’m a Philistine that loves dated technology) and watch them over and over high-fiving my inner child the whole time. Mission accomplished.

How’s that for a review?

The Revenant Review

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There are parts of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant I like and parts I like less. There are some truly unforgettable sequences in this sprawling tale of a broken Hugh Glass’s will to survive, along with a few elements that detract more than compliment. The Oscar buzz surrounding this one is thick, especially for its star Leonardo Dicaprio. Does his performance deserve it? He physically went through hell for this role; from wading into freezing rivers, crawling and dragging himself across a frozen landscape, eating raw buffalo meat and so on. For his commitment and what he endured I think he earned it. Was it the best piece of acting he’s ever done, hard to say? The academy has a way of awarding people for their past achievements through their current projects and at this point Leo is due. If he doesn’t win, then the ‘what do I have to do to impress these people? I ate raw buffalo meat for god’s sake!’ comments would come fast and furious.

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Why exactly did Leo and the rest of the crew put themselves through such extreme circumstances? For art? Art has a weird way of gaining access to things that other human endeavors seem to be shut out of. A big caveat it seems to hang its hat on is the nobility of suffering. If this is the case, then The Revenant is of the 10 gallon persuasion. The film is based partially on the true life story of Hugh Glass who was a fur-trapper in the early 19th century. The real story goes: that in 1823, deep in the wilderness, while out setting traps he was attacked and mauled badly by a Grizzly bear protecting her cubs. Hugh Glass was severely injured and unable to travel. The rest of his hunting party needed to continue on so they left two men to take care of him and bury him when he passed. The two men left with this task were John Fitzgerald (played by a brilliant Tom Hardy in the movie) and a younger gentleman (Will Poulter). The two men assuming Glass was on death’s door pack up and abandon him but Mr. Glass had other plans. This is enough story, but then Hollywood tries to spin its magic and that’s where things go south. I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t go into details, but all the magic embellishments kind of distract from what could have been a brilliant movie.

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The movie is flawed, but definitely worth seeing, especially on the big screen. There are two reasons to see this film: 1.the landscape captured in natural light is absolutely gorgeous, 2. the bear attack sequence is one of the most visceral terrifying bits of film making in recent memory.

4/5

Films about Art IV: Peggy Guggenheim Art Addict

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Marcel Duchamp was her art adviser, Max Ernst was one of her husbands, she once got drunk with James Joyce, she lived in Paris in the 20’s during the golden age along with the Fitzgeralds and the Josephine Bakers, Man Ray took her picture, Samuel Beckett was one her many lovers, her father went down on the Titanic, she was the first to show: Hoffman, Rothko and Pollock at her New York gallery Art of the Century, she referred to one of the great architectural triumphs of the 20th century as her ‘uncle’s garage’; Peggy Guggenheim’s life reads like a who’s who of artistic spoils and the new documentary Peggy Guggenheim Art Addict   by Lisa Immordino Vreeland gives us a small glimpse into this extraordinary woman’s life.

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If you’ve ever been to Venice then chances are you may have visited her wonderful museum there. The walls within house one of the finest collections of Modern Art to be found in any place. She collected Magrittes, Miros, Picassos, Ernsts, and so on and so on. The majority of her collecting took place in an eight year window during and shortly after WWII. She stayed in Paris to last possible minute before the Nazis arrived to ensure her artwork made it out safely along with procuring some last minute deals in the process.

Vreeland’s documentary does a wonderful job showcasing her collection and painting the backdrop of her life but in the end I felt no closer to really understanding the woman. A few talking heads like Marina Abramovic and even Robert DeNiro (she collected his parent’s paintings) weigh in on her, but everything veers towards her reputation rather than her true self. Even an audio interview with Peggy that runs throughout the film doesn’t really give you any insight into her motivations and place in history especially pertaining to some very rich topics.

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Peggy Guggenheim was in the right place at the right time and clever enough to know it. She had very forward attitudes towards art and sex, which I believe can be very threatening to some.  Many tried to marginalize her but she persevered through it all. The film gives us a brief glimpse into what it was like to have been there at the time surrounded by some of the biggest names in history through the eyes of someone who lived it, and that is worth the price of admission.

3.5/5

 

 

Top 3 posts of 2015

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These were the 3 most viewed posts on holditnow in 2015.

Birdman: “a thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.”

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) slowly unravels like a sweater caught on a nail. Birdman unspools relentlessly through a continuous maze of backstage corridors and  claustrophobic dressing rooms of a Broadway theatre that could easily stand in for the mythological labyrinth of Minos. Michael Keaton is Riggan Thomas, who is Birdman; who may have or may not have been Icarus. Birdman reads like a Fable. Birdman felt more like a performance than a movie. While watching Birdman, I didn’t want it to end, right up until it did.

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Pinkie and the Blue Boy

It’s the classic boy meets girl story. Married by a curator/collector in 1927 resulting in a relationship cemented by sentimentalism; Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy 1770 and Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Pinkie 1794 have been eternally entwined in the  collective consciousness of the wigs and keys crowd since the early twentieth century. They are the subjects of endless reproductions, porcelain figurines, commemorative plates and all manner of kitsch. Two youths betrothed to one another by the place they shared on a museum wall. The girl in pink and the boy in blue; how perfect is that?

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Van Gogh vs Picasso

Van Gogh and Picasso are two of the most recognizable names on the planet. Countless books and millions of words have been devoted to their lives and work. Their art changed the way people see the world around them. This fact is no small feet and these men were 2 in 107,602,707,791There weren’t billions of people waiting in line for  Picasso Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris in Toronto or for Van Gogh: Up Close in Ottawa but at times it felt like there was. The big names bring the big crowds. For me this is a mixed blessing. I love the fact that people are going en masse to experience art and taking the time to truly look at things but it can make viewing the art troublesome. This summer has been a spoils of riches for the art going public, with two blockbuster shows just four hours away from one another. So, this past week I made my pilgrimage to spend time with two of the icons of western art.

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Happy New Year and see you in 2016.

 

Star Wars The Force Awakens Review

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*Very Minor Spoilers*

This will be a brief review, with a more in depth one to follow after more people have had a chance to see the film and a real discussion can take place about the story and where our heroes (old and new) have found themselves.

I’ll start by saying; I am a huge fan of the franchise and love it warts and all. It’s partially because of those warts that I have such affection for it. In preparation for tonight’s screening, I went back and watched the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back this week, but ran out of time before I could see Jedi. I have to say nostalgia goggles do play tricks on the mind. In some ways the original movies play like a series of wonderful vignettes sloppily taped together with their slips showing the whole time. The longer you stare the larger the holes are, but the more times you watch, the more inconsequential the gaps become. We don’t care about the gaps because we just want to see Han’s ‘the cat that ate the canary’ grin or Luke whining about not being able ‘to go to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters’.

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There are a few moments in The Force Awakens that make you cringe slightly on your first watch, but that you know after repeated viewings will be little pieces of anticipated dialogue. An example that comes to mind is when Finn (Jon Boyega)  looks up at the sky and sees an X-Wing flown by Poe (Oscar Isaac) and says something like ‘That pilot sure can fly!’ Only in a Star Wars movie could a character say something so awkwardly obvious and some how come off kind of endearing. Daisy Ridly (Rey) and Harrison Ford (Han Solo) steal the show and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren delivers a villain with a back story worth watching.  This chapter is definitely a return to form warts and all, that will make you want to see it again and again.

You had me at “in a galaxy far far away…” .

Related: Star Wars in the Age of Social Media

 

Leo, Marty and The Devil in the White City

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Resurrected from development limbo; it was just announced that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio were teaming up again to bring Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City to the big screen. So on this occasion, I thought I’d revisit 3 posts that feature our 3 main players.

A must read for anyone interested in everything Chicago, Architecture, History or Serial Killers. The true life events will fascinate and repulse you in equal measures. My full review here. The Devil in the White City Book Review

THE GREAT GATSBY

Before Leo will sink his teeth into the monster that is HH Holmes, he wore the suit of Fitzgerald’s consummate chameleon playboy. Baz Luhrmann turns up the Jay-Z and inspires prom themes for the next 3 years. My review here.

The Greatness of Gatsby 

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Last but not least,the best way to describe this next post about paintings found in movies is all in its title:

I like this one: One dog goes one way and the other goes the other.”

Amy : Movie Review

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Asif Kapadia’s moving documentary Amyabout the short tragic life and career of Amy Winehouse will surely break your heart. On the eve of the 4th anniversary of her death (July 23rd 2011) we can only stop and think what could have been, how could have it all gone differently? Amy does a great job of introducing us to the person behind the persona. She felt like someone you grew up with, “a sweet girl who could tell a blue joke.” The film shows that she was driven on a path to succeed and self-destruct. In the end, she was the architect of her own life and death.

amy-winehouse-documentary-trailer-1By using archival footage, personal correspondence and interviews with the people that were closest to her; Kapadia’s film shows a portrait of an artist that comes from humble beginnings and then is devoured by the gears of fame. The sense you get is Amy never sought stardom, she only wanted to make music. She would have been happier singing to a few hundred people in a smokey jazz bar than headlining the Glastonbury Festival. Her gift for lyrics and her charisma, along with her voice (oh that voice) made her remaining relatively obscure an impossibility. Her fate was sealed the minute she stepped up to the mike and the world heard her sing. The incomparable Tony Bennett (who makes an appearance in the film) compares her voice to that of Ella or Billie. Amy Winehouse was just getting started when the booze, drugs and a toxic marriage steered her off course. The success of Rehab skyrocketed her to the unbelievable scrutiny of the press. Everywhere she went she was greeted with a blitzkrieg of flashbulbs and every miss-step became tabloid fodder. The film puts you into claustrophobic situations where the press feel so oppressive and alienating. Unfortunately this resulted in Amy retreating into more and more substances which ultimately took her life.

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But before our hearts are broken, they are filled with some pretty sweet music. Many songs get their proper due along with their lyrics. Back in 2007, I had the privilege to see Amy Winehouse live. She performed in a small club with The Dap Kings. She was at that moment in a good place and delivered on the promise of being the next Ella or Billie.

We can still ask,What could have been?” Amy was always going to be Amy, and the world both benefited by this and was devastated by it.

4/5

Intelligent Humor

ih_010 Last night while flipping through the channels I stumbled upon the Disney movie Big Hero 6 . I quickly got sucked in and before I knew it the story of Hiro and his friends whizzed by in a dazzling array of visuals and set pieces -and then the credits were rolling. As I was about to flip the channel a name on the screen unlocked a rumbling of a memory from a lifetime ago. The name was that of the director: Chris WilliamsWhy was that name so familiar to me? Was the Big Hero 6 Chris Williams the same Chris Williams who is the creator of one of my all time favourite comic strips: Intelligent Humor? Turns out he is, and now the universe makes a little more sense. ih_054 If you haven’t heard of Intelligent Humor, don’t worry it’s kind of obscure. The strip ran in the early nineties in the University of Waterloo’s student run newspaper. I was an art student there at the time and from the first read you could tell something extraordinary was at work. The strip combined absurdest humour with an underlying pop culture surrealism. Intelligent Humor is to Big Hero 6 what Life in Hell is to The Simpsons. It is an early look into the work of an artist that will go on to do big things.

You can check out the Intelligent Humor archive HERE with over 60 strips.