One paragraph reviews on art, movies, books, and pop culture by a know-nothing who knows it all

Monday, October 31, 2005

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sukkot

"Ushpizin" is a quiet little fable about miracles, tests of faith, and the power of prayer. The film focuses on an ultra-Orthodox couple in Israel during the religious festival of Sukkot. The behind-the-scenes story of this film is far more interesting than the actual movie. The director, Gidi Dar, is a secular Israeli Jew, while the star and writer, Shuli Rand, is ultra Orthodox. Because Mr. Rand is not allowed to look into the eyes of a woman other than his wife, the director had to cast Mr. Rand's wife who had no acting experience. (She can act, by the way.) The finished product, unfortunately, is simply a feel-good, non-threatening flick that doesn't challenge the viewer in any way.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Sneak Peek at "Modern Life"

Mel Leipzig, "Joseph, 2004"

Mel Leipzig is one of my favorite contemporary artists, and Gallery Henoch will be showcasing his latest work in November. The show, called "Paintings of Modern Life," will run from Nov. 10 to Dec. 3. Mr. Leipzig's work depicts people in their self-created environments, with a jaw-dropping attention to detail. If Stanley Kubrick had been a painter, this is what his work might have looked like. An extra bonus: Mr. Leipzig will be painting in the gallery on Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 am to 6 pm through the exhibit. Opening reception is Nov. 10, 6 to 8 pm. Gallery Henoch is located at 555 W. 25th St., NYC.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

New Yorker: Photo Editor Wanted

The New Yorker thought this was the most appropriate photo to accompany an excerpt from Truman Capote's "Summer Crossing." Methinks not. ("Summer Crossing," a novel that Truman wrote in the 1940s and then rejected, even claiming he had destroyed it, has just been published.) I can't fathom why the New Yorker thought this full-page photo was the perfect image to use with the story, which deals with a young socialite. The pic was taken 12 years after the book was written. Although I love Truman's St. Sebastian pose, I would've saved this image for a different article, such as a profile on the author. But this is an excerpt of a novel. Incidentally, this taste of "Summer Crossing" is very bland. Truman didn't think it was good enough to publish, and I agree. (P.S. Everyone seems to be tripping up on presenting/reviewing this book. points out New York Times Michiko Kakutani's embarrassingly bad take on "Summer...")


Monday, October 24, 2005

In the Company of Men

"Good Night, and Good Luck," the George Clooney-directed flick about Edward R. Murrow's war of broadcasts with Eugene McCarthy, harked back to my childhood fantasies of what grown-up men were supposed to be like. The movie takes place in the world of men in the world of work in the '50s. Men debate issues. Men wear suits, grease back their hair, smoke A LOT, drink scotch but never get drunk. Men agonize about doing the right thing. Men have old battle-axes for secretaries. Men stick together. And they do it all in glorious black and white, with visible grain and the whites kind of blown out, just the way I like it.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Zero Degrees From a Poorer Relation

Postscript to my Bradley Walker Tomlin piece.... When Tomlin changed his painting style to pure abstract expressionism, he destroyed (actually burned) all the paintings that reflected his earlier technique (similar to Cezanne). He contacted my grandparents who had some of these paintings, which Tomlin had given to them as a wedding gift, so that he could add these to the bonfire. In exchange, Tomlin bargained, he would give them some new paintings. My grandparents declined because the paintings meant so much to them. Fifty years later, Tomlin's abstract expressionist paintings easily fetch half a million dollars (Number 15, pictured right, sold for $900,000 in 2003), while his earlier work may garner about what I can collect in unemployment checks annually. Oh, well. That's the price you pay when you fall in love with a piece of art.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Supreme "Squid"

There is a reason why "The Squid and The Whale" has gotten so many positive reviews: It's a great movie. This screenplay will definitely be nominated for an Oscar. The film deals with a Brooklyn family as the parents separate. It pokes fun at middle-class intellectual snobs and literary envy, while delving head-first into the realizations that your parents aren't perfect and that you may not be as talented as you fancy yourself. Jeff Daniels, whom I was previously not a fan of, is excellent in the role of the father, and Owen Kline--son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates--at age 13 can really act. And, don't fret: the awful title will make sense by the end of the film.


Monday, October 17, 2005

One Degree From an Irascible

While reading John Updike's review of Jed Perl's "New Art City," I was reminded of my tippy-toed, fingertips' brush with greatness.
The book focuses on Abstract Expressionism and its aftermath. My grandparents, Edward and Margaret Otis, were friends with one of the Irascibles, as the Abstract Expressionists called themselves. Bradley Walker Tomlin, one of the less famous members of the group (pictured above standing, second row, far right), went to art school with my grandparents at Syracuse University. When they married, Tomlin gave them a number of paintings as a gift (pictured right is one of these). Tomlin painted this before he had developed his signature style (pictured below).
Updike writes that the book gives "relatively curt treatment [to the Abstract Expressionists], as if the author doesn't dare look at the sun too long." Frankly, I love looking directly into the sun.


Friday, October 14, 2005

"Proof" Goes Poof

This is one of those movies where you enjoy watching it, but about 20 minutes after it ends, you barely remember it. Gwyneth Paltrow pulls off the role of the bereaved, brilliant daughter of a brilliant mathematician, played by Anthony Hopkins (lots of smart people in this movie). The best scenes were those she played with Sir Anthony, who appears in flashback in a small supporting role. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Gwyneth's love interest, but I will always see him as Donnie Darko. Even though the flick is somewhat forgettable, I still recommend it because of the writing and the scenes with Hopkins.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Marriage Iranian-Style

When I'm between books or need to jumpstart my slacking reading habits, I've been reading the books by Iranian writer Nahid Rachlin. Published by City Lights, Rachlin's books are political- and feminist-lite, usually focusing on some romance as it unravels along with the Shah's rule. I cranked through "Married to a Stranger" (yes, a Lifetime Channel-esque title) pretty quickly. What interests me most about Rachlin's books is the local color. I love the details of drinking arak and eating almonds, tucking hair under a chador, secretly reading Gorky, soaking lentils, and publishing political pamphlets.


Monday, October 10, 2005

Late to "Funeral"

Although I downloaded Arcade Fire's album "Funeral" eight months ago, I have finally given it a good listening. [I got sidetracked by "Smile," my jazz CDs (I had four-month listening marathon), and Interpol's "Turn on the Bright Lights" (again, late, released in 2002).] I'm happy to report that the hype about Arcade Fire is true. This Canadian band's debut is one of those albums (like Interpol's "...Bright Lights") where you end up playing it at least once a day because a song gets wedged in your head, and you must simply listen to it only one more time. (Only once, but then you hit Play again when noone's looking.) Most addictive song: cut #9 "Rebellion (Lies)." I would warn that it took a good solid three times of listening to the disc before the music finally clicked with me. On my CD, I accidentally added a Brian Jonestown Massacre song, "The Devil May Care," which is a real bonus and closes out my version of "Funeral."


Friday, October 07, 2005

So Bloody British "Separate Lies"

"Separate Lies" should keep any Anglophile happy. Directed by Julian Fellowes, who also wrote "Gosford Park," the movie intertwines the demise of a marriage and the coverup of a killing. The film reminded me of an episode of PBS's "Mystery" series. Not a great movie, but pretty entertaining. Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson lifted the script above a melodrama, and Rupert Everett's locked-jawed's insouciance gave me a few laughs. As well, there are enough references to cricket, a "solicitor," a country home, and a flat to transport you to London for a wee bit of time.


Thursday, October 06, 2005

God Bless Brian Wilson

I spoke with Brian Wilson yesterday. On Brian's website, he posted a challenge: donate $100 to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort and he will personally call to thank you. As well, the donor was allowed to ask Brian a question. How could I resist? Here is a transcript of our two-minute conversation:

Alicatte: Hello?
Brian: Hello, [my name]?
Alicatte: Yes!
Brian: This is Brian Wilson
Alicatte: Oh, my God, this is fantastic!
Brian: How are you?
Alicatte: Good.
Brian: I'm calling to thank you for your $100 donation.
Alicatte: OK.
Brian: And if you want to ask me a question, you can.

Alicatte: My question is: Can you tell me the role, if any, that God or religion plays when you're composing music?
Brian: Well, God works through me when I'm writing music. God helps me write my music.

Alicatte: Are there some times when you don't feel his presence while you're composing?
Brian: Yes. Sometimes I don't, and sometimes I do. It depends on the day.

Alicatte: If you don't feel that presence, do you stop or do you just try--
Brian: I stop when I don't feel it. And when it comes back into me, I start back up again.

Alicatte: Is that the same when you're performing or is that a different--
Brian: That's a different kind of thing when I'm performing. Yeah, it's a different kind of thing. Anyway, thank you so much for your $100 donation.


I'm sure that I was Number 535 Insane Fan he had chatted with, and he probably had another 500 to go. As Brian mentions on his website, what he really wants is for you to donate, donate, donate. Please donate to your favorite charity to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Here are the sites for Catholic Relief Services and the Red Cross.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Sane "Drinking"

Published at the height of the confessional memoir craze (1996), "Drinking: A Love Story" by Caroline Knapp traces her ascent to heavy drinking and descent into alcoholism. (I'm nine years late because I just bought it for $1 (hard cover) at a library sale.) Knapp characterizes alcohol as a lover, a destructive and obsessive relationship. I've read a lot of these "see how really bad I was" books (I'm thinking of Elizabeth Wurtzel, Kathryn Harrison, and any other writer who couldn't get their fictional works read), and "Drinking" has some sanity and dignity to it. She doesn't blame anyone and takes full responsibility for her actions. You can see perfectly how she fell into the hole she did. Although the book can get a little too academic with facts and figures about alcoholism & A.A., overall, it was a gripping read.


Monday, October 03, 2005

The Chiaroscuro of "Illuminated"

"Everything Is Illuminated" is a dreamy, semi-surreal tale about a young man unlocking the mystery of his grandfather's escape from the Nazis in Ukraine. The film is worth seeing for director Liev Shreiber's supreme confidence in telling a story that is part fable, part vicious reality, part comedy, and part tragedy. In addition, the film seamlessly shifts between the past and present, giving it that ethereal feeling. The story's most poignant parts are conveyed through images, rather than a barrage of exposition. (What a concept!) Even though Elijah Wood is ostensibly the "star," the show really belongs to Eugene Hutz who plays a Ukrainian tour guide. His character, Alex, goes through the most changes, learning about his family's hidden history and Ukraine's ugly past. For this former expat, the film succeeded in capturing the "real" Ukraine, as well.