Jan 152016

Rodin 1

I first saw Rodin’s sculptures as a student when I travelled to Paris for the first time. Country mouse that I was, I was a bit intimidated by the city, by the famous museums, and rather than wander around the the Louvre or the d’Orsay stunned, I went instead to Pompidou (at least there I had some context) and the Rodin museum (because it was small). The Rodin felt like an introduction to what looking at art might be and I remember it as an essential moment in my education. Since then, I’ve seen other Rodin exhibits and have visited museums with large collections of pieces. Each time I do, I always remember (and feel a bit of nostalgia for) that summer in Paris.

Rodin 2So obviously when a large batch of Rodin sculptures came to Montreal as Métamorphoses. Dans le secret de l’atelier de Rodiny, I went to see them. And it proved to be a pretty impressive show. The emphasis was on the ways the artist fragmented forms and gestures in order to be able to use them in multiple works. At times, the curators arranged objects to highlight details, at others to present a project or process. It was all nicely done and I liked it a lot.

That said the crowds were madness. In room after room, I felt like art risked becoming blood sport.

The Age of Bronze

The Age of Bronze

Having survived the arena and now looking back, two works stood out. The first of these, The Age of Bronze, is a favorite of mine. There are copies at the National Gallery in Washington and in the National Gallery in Ottawa. Which means, thankfully, I get to see it more or less whenever I want.

What I like about it is the way it evokes Greek statuary with its graceful celebration of physical beauty but does so with a posture that is erotic enough to feel confrontational. It’s a work I look at and then realize after a few moments that I’m holding my breath. The second thing I like about it is that no matter how crowded the gallery, no one stops to stand in front of it. There is side-eye galore but people mostly rush by looking at the wall as if afraid to be caught staring. It’s great.

The second work that stands out was a sculpture set in front of a contemporary, photographic series that documents its unpacking after being shipped. One of these photographs hangs in the National Gallery in Washington, but seeing it alone is not the same as seeing the full sequence juxtaposed with the statue itself. Together, they suggest the unexpected delicacy and mobility of the bronze.

Rodin 4


Dec 132015

The best show that I saw this past summer was of David Altmejd’s sculptures at the Musée d’art contemporain. Each object felt like a confrontation with a completely new sensibility. The sculptures were complex, mysterious but always beautiful.



As we walked out, I told the Beav I felt like I felt the first time I watched Robert Lepage performed (by Yves Jacques) at the Théâtre du nouveau monde.

Which was my idiosyncratic way of saying “changed.”

Oct 032015

Terminator- GenisysThis is a Terminator movie. So I knew what I was getting into. The story structure is fixed by the original which has enforced a rigid and rarely satisfying repetition in the later sequels. So to watch one is to hope for fresh air and surprises in a story that precludes both. Yet I keep watching them because the first two movies had such a powerful effect on me as a kid. Arnold as cyborg menace and/or guardian is—for good or for ill—part of my psyche.

Genisys finds room to breath by explicitly repeating iconic scenes of those first two films. Bracketing them as quotations and explicitly derailing the narrative goal they establish, this new story marches steadily forward to its own conclusion, all the while stepping to the echoed beats of what has come before. It’s a clever and satisfying achievement.

In fact the only thing I didn’t like about this instalment was the casting. The two leads are completely bland and unappealing. Startlingly so. Yes, Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn left big shoes to fill, but surely there were better options than these two to give it a try?

This is the last (and long forgotten) film from this summer’s blockbuster marathon.

Arnold in genisys

Aug 152015

Mad Max- Fury Road

This was the very best of the movies I saw as part of the blockbuster marathon.

The stakes here are clear and are established without tedious explication. The coherent but enigmatic world is a composite of moods and details built up with small touches across the two hours. Archetypes are evoked to great effect. (A high point are the people on stilts in the fog.)

FuriosaTom Hardy’s and Charlize Theron’s performances are wonderfully physical. Theron’s Furiosa has a psychology as layered as the film’s world. Easily as good a performance as her work in Snow White.

The story itself is straightforward, unapologetic, and without tricks. Characters’ motivations are clear and compelling. Trapped, a group of people try to escape to a better world, but when they get there, that world is no better than where they left. So they go back with the goal of remaking the world they knew. In the process, they bring the narrative full circle, a satisfying conclusion that here, unlike in so many of the other blockbusters (all of which quote early lines late in the film hoping to create the same effect), feels like storytelling rather than gimmickry .

Aug 102015

jurassic worldThis movie was terribly enough written that I almost walked out. I didn’t, because blockbuster marathon, but when it was over I was actually angry.

Why is the mother always crying? Why does the opening goodbye scene between the teenagers happen? And if is going to happen, then why have the teenage girl disappear never to return and the teenage boy act like a creep with every girl he sees? Is the point to make his character an asshole? And why does it matter that the parents, who are completely incidental to everything, might be getting a divorce? So we can think “poor, crying kid” at least once before the monsters start chasing them? Do we need that moment to make up for their nastiness toward the aunt who gave them a free, round-trip VIP visit to her park (because she’s not been around, /sadface)? And on and on and on.

That may all sound picky but its just lazy writing. Consider this: there is a helicopter kept on site but no pilot. Why can’t the company guy who is the only person ever to fly it just be a pilot rather than a trainee? I mean you’re making these people up, so just make him a pilot. Yes, you lose the lame joke about the tough female lead being scared when she’s in the air (hahahahahahaha, oh god, that was hilarious right?), but that deletion would probably improve the script by forcing the writers to imagine a legitimate exchange between her and her boss. And get this: nothing says that that exchange couldn’t be (wait for it) … legitimately funny.

My guess is that whoever created this script started from required moments and set pieces and then worked backwards, creating narrative bits that would stitch them together. Same with characters. That’s fine. I have nothing against that process, and when it’s done right, I have huge respect for it. (I love well-done genre pieces.) But in this case everything seems so lazily done that nothing (and no one) can withstand being thought about or considered for even a moment.

Just a terrible movie from start to finish.

Aug 072015

The Beav and I were in Drummondville, he had something to do, suggested I might be interested in the photo museum. I’d had no idea there was one.

Turns out there is. It’s in the basement of the church on the main square, and it was showing a selection of photos from the book Images à la Sauvette by Henri Cartier-Bresson. What they’d done was take apart a first edition of the book and mounted a dozen or so of the prints inside. It was a small, well done show, and I enjoyed it.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen these photos in a museum though. In fact it was the third. The first time was at “Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century” at the MoMa in 2010.

The second was at the Museo Amparo in Puebla, Mexico in 2013 where some prints were shown in connection with the show “Un fotógrafo al acecho Manuel Álvarez Bravo.” (We showed up the afternoon before the show opened and were ushered in for the grip-and-grin on the rooftop for the hoity-toity of Puebla. It was very cool but very odd.)

Aug 062015

Avengers UltronMarvel has been everywhere these past few years (and years and years) and have been hard at work importing a large-scale, intertextual, story world from their comic properties to the movies. In doing so, they’ve gone a long way toward recreating their segment of film production in the image of the comic book market.

I’m no specialist (there are researchers who are), but I see the comic-film market as governed by two narrative impulses. The first is an elaborate cross-film machine that builds toward event movies like the first Avengers, which arrived after years of individual films and post-credit teaser segments. The second is the production of episodic filler pieces that may technically contribute to the build up for the next event but essentially “feed the beast” by offering up the cinematic equivalent of a stand-alone comic story.

Ant-Man, with its stock story, is a product of this second impulse; Avengers: Age of Ultron, the first. Or more precisely, it seems designed to move the machine forward while shutting down the event that was the first film. This means dealign with certain problems I suspect are inherent in Marvel’s model of film production.

Production Problems?

Comics and movies are deeply related in practice. Both present visual interpretations of scripts in media that rely on montage and a careful control of point-of-view. A film’s storyboards capture this relationship perfectly: created as a stage in film production, they look like comic books. Yet the two industries are very different too, and I have questions about how those differences play out in the long term.

Actors: Marvel’s success these past few years has rested upon the work of a few talented actors and/or stars. But this is no longer the Hollywood of the 30s, and these actors are not studio property. They are free to work elsewhere, and many of them clearly define success in ways that require they work outside of the realm of superhero films. How much juice can you squeeze from the Johansson-Ruffalo-Downey Jr. lemon, if someone like Chris Evans—a star whose entire career is based on performances in superhero films—condescends to the genre and is vocal about his intent to complete his contract with Marvel and do other things?

Avengers Ultron (1)

Directors: All of contemporary film culture lionizes the director as an artist, a creator. Not every director makes art, but today, that means that those who don’t have failed or are hacks. Marvel has, as with actors, benefited from the contributions of some very talented directors, but Marvel’s overall approach harkens back to a pre-Griffin production model in which the studio is the artist and the marketable name. The director is an employee, talented and respected, but taking direction. Which top-notch directors (and I’m not even talking auteurs here) will accept to work like this? Branagh is probably not coming back. Whedon’s clearly done. Directors make movies that pay in order to make the movies they want all the time, but I’m curious who will make Marvel’s movies in the coming years.

Narrative: How many years can a series of films drag out an single explicit story arc? TV and film have been exploring this limit for at least the past few decades. HBO’s programming like Deadwood and now The Game of Thrones are notable examples, but there are others. Film series that adapt books have been doing the same in cinema, although they have until recently been strongly episodic: think Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and The Hunger Games (and its imitators like Divergent and now The Maze Runner.)

Marvel is pushing things further by not directly adapting established books and by replacing a long-running series of films with a large-scale network of films. This is fascinating. Is there any other instance in the history of cinema of an entire studio’s production being devoted to the development of a single story-world?. But it’s also potentially exhausting. Who can (or will) keep up? I’m actually pretty bored with the post-credit teaser of Josh Brolin in purple-face trying to sound ominous and am lost regarding what he’s supposedly plotting. I think it had something to do with the ice-people in the first Thor movie way back in 2011?

The latest Avengers directly addresses the first and last of these concerns. The story both cleans out the stable of actors who are going elsewhere and introduces those who will fill the team in coming instalments. This last bit is, I presume, the first tease in the buildup for the next major event-movie in the cycle. The star power of those leaving and those arriving is shockingly different though. So I’m curious how that plays out.

What’s interesting

All that said, a few things about the movie itself stuck out for me, so I want to note them.

Avengers is a war film. By that I mean, I’m surprised how heavily it draw on the conventions of the war film. How many of the earlier films did the same? They are certainly all obsessed with the military and militarism. (cf. thoughts about epic fantasy while reading Battle Cry of Freedom.)

Ultron is clearly a place-holder villain of the sort you see in one-off instalments in comics. Freed of the burden of surviving and becoming an On-going Threat To Our Very Existence®, he gets to have a wacky plan to kill everybody “wwhahahahahaha!” And I liked that. I also LOVED that when he is finally defeated, he is destroyed off-screen, a nice and oddly respectful touch that avoids glorying in his death.

This movie has so very many parts, all in the air at once, all needing to be juggled, and somehow Whedon holds it all together and it works. It was exhausting, but I’m very impressed by what he pulls off. With smart writing and clever direction.

This was the first film I watched in my blockbuster marathon.

Aug 042015

Ant-manI almost didn’t watch this one because I really wasn’t interested, but I forced myself because it was on my list for the blockbuster marathon, and I was aiming for completion.

Story-wise, a smart-ass in a suit has to deal with an asshole in a suit. In other words, this is a remake of the first Iron Man.

I’d call this factory product, something I wouldn’t have said about many of Marvel’s movies for the past few years (even those I didn’t like). It does the job, but it’s hard to remember details. In that regard (but for very different reasons), it’s a bit like the Avengers.

Aug 032015

The second week of my Montreal vacation, I decided to see all the summer blockbusters I’d never drive into the city to see. My list was:

So how was it? Well, there were thrills, yes, but there was agony too, and at one point, I faced defeat. But I made it, and now the logs are coming.

Apart from the marathon, over the course of the week I also watched A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Madame Bovary, and The New Rijksmuseum with the Beav. So it was a pretty movie intensive visit to the city.)

Jul 282015

A Duck on the Richelieu

Some friends who live in the heart of downtown Montreal went away on vacation and asked the Beav and me to take care of their cats. So we spent the time in their condo having a vacation in Montreal.

It was a nice break and their condo couldn’t be nicer or better situated. We watched and listened to the festival shows from the front room. Museums, cinemas and restaurants were a short walk away. It was the best.

But after two weeks, it’s good to be home.