Archive for January, 2009

“I know very well what you represent. You represent the idiocy of today. “

January 28, 2009

It’s getting late, these’ll be quick, so here’s my Weekly Entertainment Roundup for 01-22-2009 through 01-28-2009

These are the things that entertained me:

TV: 

Extras: I suddenly found that I liked Ricky Gervais so I went ahead and got the Extras: Season 1 DVDs from Netflix and loved pretty much every minute of it. Extras is a sitcom about  a couple of film and tv extras and the hilarious hijinks that ensue when they dig themselves into a hole with their (usually) accidentally inappropriate conduct. And nobody digs themselves into a hole better than Andy (Gervais) and Maggie (Ashley Jenson) and when they do manage to pull themselves out of it it’s usually in the most awkward way. It’s so funny it’ll make you cringe. It made Kim cringe so much she had to leave the room. Great stuff. Can’t wait to see season two.

God, The Universe and Everything Else: A made for TV roundtable discussion of exactly what the title says. Want a full on discussion about it, check out my previous blog.

I’ve got a bunch of stuff sitting in my DVR now that I’m looking forward to getting around to watching, including: Fringe, Lost, Numbers, Burn Notice and a few I probably forgot.

Movies

Without a Paddle 2: Nature’s Calling: #1) Aside from the title this has nothing to do with Without a Paddle (which I liked). #2) It sucked. We shut it off halfway through. Boring, unfunny, pointless. Skip it. Rent Without a Paddle

Burn After Reading: Absolutely hilarious. Malkovich stole the show in this Coen brothers movie. Joel and Ethan Coen have a tendency to flip flop good and bad movies. One excellent movie followed up by one that is sub-par. After No Country For Old Men was such a smash with the critics and audience as well as the “Academy” (I was on the edge of my seat until the end left me feeling a bit cold) I was expecting this to be one of their duds. I’m pretty sure it performed poorly at the box office and it certainly didn’t seem to get much love. But I gotta wonder, what were people thinking?? Populated with the kooky characters we’ve come to expect in Joel and Ethan Coen’s movies I think this pic was on-par with some of their best, including Fargo and The Big Lebowski. The dialogue was excellent with memorable 1 liners such as: “I thought you might be worried about the security of your shit” and “Whose ass didn’t I kiss!” also “You’re a Mormon, everyone has a drinking problem next to you.”  frankly, there’s too many to list here. The Coens made sure to get top-notch talent to fill out their characters and cast John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins. I had a good laugh with this movie, especially every time Malkovich opened his mouth.

My Best Friend’s Girl: Undoubtedly Dane Cook’s best movie (aside from Waiting). It’s the first time that I’ve seen the “Dane Cook” from his stand-up act actually come through in a flick. He seems comfortable. The story is what it is, no great shakes there but I enjoyed, worth a rental.

Gran Torino:  Clint Eastwood lives up to his Living Legend status with what will probably be his last starring role. This is the second movie he’s directed this year so there probably won’t be any chance of him slowing down there, thankfully. Gran Torino is the story of a hard-ass, old-school American bigot accepting that the Vietnamese moving into his neighborhood are human beings struggling to survive, just like himself. Must see.

Music

Mold Monkies: Kim and I went to see The Mold Monkies play live at the Spring Glen Church in Hamden on Friday night. It was a great show. I had never seen MM play live and they really did rock. plus Russell Shaddox (who helped out on Hunting Season and Burning Inside) sported a really cool limited edition Burning Inside t-shirt. Good fun, great music, Excellent food (pot-luck!) lotsa friends. And the gig also happened to raise a ton of money for Habitat For Humanity!

 

Well that’s about it for this week. The theme in TV/Movie viewing seems to have shifted from horror to misanthropes making fools of themselves. Anyway, I’m not sure what next week has in store but we shall see. 

p.s. I’ll put some links into this when I get a chance.

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“I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do”

January 25, 2009

This one’s kinda long. Here’s a quick synopsis: Stephen Hawking is a tragic genius. Patti Lupone enforces the Physical Laws of the Universe. Gnaural is worth a shot.

Now read on if you’re intrigued at how these all fit together:

This week I watched a documentary (not really a documentary but a BBC talk show from 1988 ) called God, The Universe and Everything Else. The commentators on this program, sort of a roundtable discussion about black holes, The Big Bang Theory, God, extraterrestrials etc, were Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Hawking and it was moderated by Magnus Magnusson. All three of the panel members are brilliant in their own right but seeing Stephen Hawking on stage in his electric wheelchair, nearly immobile due to his battle with ALS and “speaking” through the use of a voice synthesizer that is activated with the twitch of his finger is what really began the inspiration for this blog. 

Stephen Hawking is widely considered one of the most brilliant minds in modern history, and almost certainly one of the most influential physicists to have ever lived. When he was 21 he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS is a horrific disorder that progressively paralyzes the body but leaves the brain perfectly in-tact. Paralysis spreads throughout the body usually resulting in death within 3-5 years. It struck me as odd that Dr. Hawking was still alive 40 years after being diagnosed with the disorder. This was certainly a unique situation. I began to wonder if maybe Dr. Hawking’s intellect was keeping him alive. 

Paralysis is usually caused when the communication link between the brain, nerves and muscles is disrupted. In the case of ALS there is usually no physical sign of disconnect, unlike a broken back for example. The brain works by using chemicals and electrical impulses for everything from thoughts, feelings, theories, imagination and muscle movement. Death in ALS patients is usually as a result of the heart becoming paralyzed. Somehow, it seems, Stephen Hawking’s brain is able to continue to make the muscles that operate his heart still work, and why wouldn’t it? I’m sure that he uses more of his available brain power (whether in quantity, quality or efficiency)      than the average human. But what if his brain was actually the reason that he was stricken with ALS?

During the course of the show the issue of religion was raised. Arthur C. Clarke responded by using one of he favorite quotes: “Pandit Nehru said ‘Politics and religion are obsolete; the time has come for science and spirituality.” Almost immediately Dr. Hawking responded by saying that “Science cannot tell us how to treat our neighbors.” This was one of two things that I disagreed with during this show, (the other being his disbelief in extraterrestrial life, simply because there is no evidence that we have been visited. An ant in a remote South American jungle probably doesn’t believe that humans exist because they haven’t been visited, yet we certainly do exist*). I think that science can and does tell us everything that we need to know about how to treat our neighbors. 

The building blocks of life from molecules to atoms to DNA all need to work together in order to be successful and many of the laws of physics seem to translate to the laws of civilized society. Take, for example, the recent audio clip that surfaced of Patti Lupone stopping the Broadway Show “Gypsy” in the middle of a song because some asshole in the audience was taking pictures. She stopped the show and had the disruptive audience member ejected because he was being rude to the cast, rude to the crew, and rude to the rest of the paying audience members. In the recording she states that “we have lost our public manners” and I couldn’t agree with her more. I find it more and more difficult to venture into public because people seem to think that no matter where they go whether it’s the theater, the movie theater or the grocery story, they are still in their living room and they have no respect for other people. But back to physics, the photographer was, essentially, ejected from society. The same way that a “rude” or disruptive sub-atomic (or not so sub-atomic) particle would be ejected. The universe works toward self preservation without religion or politics. Religion and/or politics reinforce or validate these rules and laws but they do not create them. I found it a bit strange that Dr. Hawking didn’t consider that when he made his statement.

Back to my last question, what if Dr. Hawking’s brain is what actually caused his disorder. Or even more mysteriously, what if God is what caused Dr. Hawking’s disorder because of his brain. I’m sure that if all of the data was gathered a numerical “excuse” for Hawking being afflicted with ALS could be determined, but there’s also the possibility that the algorithms would have no end and continue into a Mandelbrot Set. Dr. Hawking has said that just before being diagnosed (or stricken) with ALS he had become bored. After the diagnosis his life (although he thought it would only be for 3-5 more years) seemed to have more meaning and he decided that there were a lot of worthwhile things he could do and he would sacrifice his life to save others. His research began to make progress and his life had meaning. What if Dr. Hawking had never received that diagnosis? Would one of the greatest minds of our time have gone to waste? Was there some sort of “Greater Power” that decided Stephen Hawking wasn’t putting his gifts to use? Or was this a scientifically discernable part of the collective sub-atomic world kicking Dr. Hawking in the ass? Of course the ultimate tragedy is that at some point Dr. Hawking’s mind is going to continue working, thinking and theorizing but his body, no matter the technology applied to it, will no longer be able to communicate his brilliance to us. 

All of this thinking about using untapped potential, or having gifts that are unrealized reminded me of an audio program that my friend, Bret Logan, developed called Gnaural. Gnaural is a binaural-beat generator. Essentially what happens is that pure, unwavering tones of differing frequencies are presented in each ear an illusory “beat” is created, in your head. If you only listen to one headphone, it’s a steady beat. If you listen to the tone(s) through regular speakers, not headphones, the tones mix acoustically and is a steady tone. When you listen to it with headphones your brain creates the beat. Bret introduced me, and the cast and crew of “Burning Inside” one day when he was on the set. He told us that he uses the Gnaural during stressful times or during the day to get a power-nap style meditation in. He also mentioned that he feels that it has a tendency to improve his creativity (he’s a musician and formerly a painter as well as an actor) and mental energy. The anecdotal evidence seems to suggest to me that maybe by forcing the brain to produce the varying beats internally because it can’t deal with the overall information new and rarely used streets in the brain are opened allowing for a different course of brainwave activity. If you happen to google “gnaural” you’ll find a lot of anecdotal evidence on-line of the “results” that people get from Gnaural. You’ll also find people hawking CDs and making all kinds of promises. Don’t bother paying for it and don’t listen to anyone that makes promises. Go straight to the source at http://gnaural.sourceforge.net/ download it, put it in you ipod and see if you are able to realize some extra brain power.

“Katie heard Heather screaming in the backseat… Then everything went black.

January 23, 2009

I’d like to introduce you to Heidi Adams. We are collaborating together on the “Julian the Vampire” (working title) screenplay that William Beckett referred to in his blog a week or so ago. She’s also an excellent novelist and hopefully soon an agent or publisher will realize that and get her work out there for everyone to enjoy. (I bet that if you pressure her enough she’ll start posting short stories here). Check out her brand new blog at http://hideadams.wordpress.com .

“You shouldn’t forget the importance of entertainment” 01-15-09 to 01-22-09

January 21, 2009

Since starting this blog I’ve wondered what I will do to make sure that it remains a pretty regularly scheduled thing and at the same time, hopefully, remain interesting without becoming a boring log of what I did during the day. So I’ve decided that every Wednesday night I will post what entertained me during the previous week (movies, TV, theater, books (rarely) etc), Thur to Wed, with a bit of commentary and on Sundays I will post something about a topic that I find interesting, such as the Andrew Wyeth bit I posted previously.  And I might post anything exciting that happens in between.

Movies

Eden Lake: On the strong recommendation of a friend (who shall remain nameless because if people knew he liked this movie they might think differently of him) Kim and I went to Best Buy and purchased this “survivalist thriller” outright without seeing it first. It’s worth the money. This movie is so brutal that it is difficult to say I like it for fear that I might think that I am endorsing the actions in it. It’s tough and it brings me back to a time when I was young and seeing copies of copies (on VHS) of movies like I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left  and Cannibal Holocaust and thinking that they were so cult and underground and brutal and unforgiving. That is what I wanted Hunting Season to be like. Eden Lake brutalizes Hunting Season. Be very, very careful who you recommend this movie to. If they don’t know you, they might think something is wrong with you. It is certainly NOT your average “let’s get scared and have fun!” type of fluffy “horror” movie. (See: My Bloody Valentine 3-D below)

Funny Games (US version): Last year we got Michael Haneke’s original decade old German language version through Netflix. Like Eden Lake it’s a pretty relentless, nihilistic, pessimistic, though less gory, pic that leaves you feeling dirty (and not in a good way). Based on a strong recommendation (Yup you guessed it, from the same unnamed friend that recommended Eden Lake. Now do you understand why he shall remain nameless?) we decided to get the Funny Games U.S. version that came out last year. The original was so good that we put off seeing the new one for fear that it might be tainted. Especially since the U.S. version is directed by the same director of the original. So we gave in, got the U.S. version from Netflix and watched it. It’s essentially a shot for shot (one shot in particular seemed different, probably because American audiences in 2008 are too A.D.D. to sit through the same shot for the same length of time as the original) identical, English language version of the original. And it stars Naomi Watts (great job, though not quite as good as the woman in the original), Tim Roth (a fine performance), Michael Pitt (EXCELLENT PERFORMANCE, better than the original I would say) and some other guy who did a really good job too (interesting that I can’t picture the guy that originally played the role). I’d say the remake is a fine substitute for the original. It would be interesting to see them side by side to see how the pacing is different 10 years later.

Ghost Town: A funny enough movie starring Ricky Gervais as a misanthropic (I related to him) dentist that can see ghosts, after dying for a brief time. Greg Kinnear co-stars and Tea Leoni rounds out the cast. Nothing wrong with this movie, Ricky Gervais is usually pretty dependable for a laugh.

Wild at Heart:  I received an Amazon.com gift card for Christmas and put it to good use purchasing Lost Highway, The Prestige and Wild at Heart. Kim and I decided to watch David Lynch’s excellent, violent, bizarre, and undeniably romantic road movie Wild at Heart. The pic stars Nicolas Cage (pre-Oscar) and Laura Dern as star-crossed lovers Sailor and Lula on the run from Lula’s overbearing, on-the-verge mother Marietta (played brilliantly by Laura Dern’s mother-in-real-life Diane Ladd). If you haven’t seen this you must, if for nothing else than for Willem Dafoe’s extraordinary personification of evil, Bobby Peru. If you have seen it, watch it again. And if you happen to get your hands on the Special Edition DVD make sure to watch all the neat little interviews.

Wrestling: This is one of those ultra-unknown super-low budget movies that you can find on Netflix and nowhere else, which is the real benefit of the mail-order service. Written and directed with heart by Jeremy O’Keefe, Wrestling is a watchable little flick about the drama that takes place in a small town during the summer between high school and college. The cast is populated with unknown actors (except Jeff Conaway) who turn in performances that are a bit uneven but acceptable for this level of production. Story wise, everything is pretty middle of the road without any true danger or consequences and life goes on. Biggest drawback, as it usually is on ultra-low budget productions (and I speak from experience), is the audio quality. If you enjoy what are now being called “mumblecore” movies this might be your cup of tea if you’ve already run out of Duplass and Swanberg movies to see. This was produced in 2005 and seems to be self distributed on Netflix so kudos to the filmmakers for getting it out there.

Max Payne: I like Wahlberg. I like noir. I like stylized movies. This entertained me for a night. It was worth $1 at the Redbox.  What more is there to say?

Vacancy 2: Skip it. Rent Vacancy

The Wrestler: Disclamer: I’m a big fan of Darren Aronofsky’s previous work (PI, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) so it would have to be a blunder of The Happening proportions to make me not like this movie. I also happen to be a Mickey Rourke fan from way back (Rumble Fish, Diner, Pope of Greenwich Village) so this was pretty much two great tastes that taste great together. The Wrestler is a super-gritty piece of cinema verite that at times felt like a documentary and, in case you haven’t heard, Rourke turns in the performance of a lifetime. It’s a bit of a departure for Aronofsky because there are no gimmicks (a la Requiem) no pseudo-religio-science (a la PI and Fountain) and this is his first pic he didn’t have a hand in writing. It’s just straight up character. The Wrestler may, and probably should win a ton of awards but it certainly won’t win Feel-Good-Movie of the Year. Check it out if it’s playing near you. I can’t wait to see it on DVD and start dissecting it. What do all those follow shots represent?

My Bloody Valentine 3-D: See it in 3-D. GREAT FUN! Good times. Better than you think.

Independent Lens: The Atom Smashers: An interesting documentary about Fermilab, home to the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. What’s a particle accelerator? In this case it’s a 4 mile tunnel underground where protons are supercharged and slammed into anti-protons. When they collide the protons smash apart, and the results are recorded. This is all in an effort to find the Higgs Boson which is the particle believed to give everything mass, also known as The God Particle. I found this documentary very interesting. A human face was put on the scientists who spend their lives in this monolithic facility in the middle of America. What’s also interesting about this is that there is a huge race to find the Higgs Boson before the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) comes on-line in Switzerland. Well it turns out that the LHC came on line in September 2008 but quickly had to be shut down (no not because it created a black hole), so the race is still on. There’s also a lot of reference to the dwindling U.S. government science budget of the last administration. Maybe that’ll change now and intellectual curiosity will be rewarded again in America. Check out this documentary. It’ll make your head spin faster than a proton around the Tevatron.

Lynch: A documentary about David Lynch. Basically an agile camera crew followed him around for about a year while he was working on Inland Empire and other projects. Interesting to me. It would probably be interesting to other Lynch fans, even if you already know everything there is to know about the man. But non-fans or people not familiar with his work or history might not “get it”.

 

TV: 

Fringe: Caught up on the last two episodes this week, and watched the newest one tonight. I think this show is finding its stride. I’m enjoying.

Big Bang Theory: I’m not a sitcom fan and I LOVE THIS SHOW. I get my serious fringe-science kick from “Fringe” and I get my funny physics fix from “Big Bang Theory”. This is definitely my season for watching TV. I don’t know if I’ll have room for “Lost”.

Theater

Cats: Kim and I went to the Shubert Theater in New Haven to see the touring production of, what used to be the longest running show on Broadway. I had never seen “Cats” before and, honestly, didn’t know a damn thing about it (pretty shameful for a student of theater, I know) except that it was based on poems by T.S. Eliot. It turns out that all of the songs (Except “Memory”) are T.S. Eliot’s actual poems from his 1939 book “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats ” set to music which makes it a little more interesting. Otherwise it’s pretty thin on plot, the bulk of the show is musical numbers introducing and about the various standout cats in the group. The vocals were very difficult to hear in the first half of the show but overall it was a good, worthwhile time. Didn’t blow me away though. I wonder if “Chicago” is coming back to town anytime soon.   

 

I think that’s about it for this week. Make sure to tune in on Sunday.

The Passing of an American Artist

January 17, 2009

On January 16th 2009 Andrew Wyeth died, at the age of 91, in his sleep. 

Andrew Wyeth is one of the most well-known American artists of all time. His works were both loved and loathed because of their accessibility to the public. He was a realist painter which lead to his popularity in the U.S. (we ‘mericans don’t like things too ‘artsy’ ’round here. see also: Hemingway) but also was the main fuel for his detractors who referred to him simply as an ‘illustrator’

If you’re not familiar with Andrew Wyeth please click here here and here to learn more about him.

I was first introduced to the works of Wyeth a few years ago (don’t ask how long ago, I’m not good with time) when my wife, Kim, and I were flipping through the fine art prints at Michaels Crafts in Milford, CT. We had a newly bare wall and were looking for something to adorn it. As we’re flipping through hundreds of the prints at opposite ends of the bin I paused when I came across a haunting image of a woman lying in the middle of a field, wearing a pink dress, propping herself up with her right arm. Her face is obscured as she is looking away and across the field at a large, dark house on the horizon. Her left arm is extended and her hand is in the grass. Immediately this painting struck me. Who was this woman? Why is she in this field? Did she just wake up? Does she know where she is? Did she take a nap in the field? Is she happy? Sad? Despite the haunting feeling of the painting, the woman in the field seems to belong where she is. There were so many question that this painting raised as I stood there looking at it. It sucked me in. I should have pulled it from the bin at that point, but there were so many other prints to look at I noted the location of this one and continued to flip through. 

After awhile I met up with Kim at another end of the bins and watched as she flipped through the prints, until she paused. She stopped on an interesting painting of a  dog sleeping on a bed. The room is plain and grey and none too inviting yet the dog looks perfectly comfortable sleeping deeply near the head of the bed. This painting, titled ‘Master Bedroom’ by an artist named Andrew Wyeth, captured the same essence as the woman in the field.

We separated again as we looked through the bins of Van Goghs and Picassos and Munchs, Dalis and Hoppers. After awhile I finished looking through the prints and went to find Kim. There she was standing at the first bin staring at Andrew Wyeth’s ‘Christina’s World’, the painting of the woman in the field. The painting that I had spent minutes staring at and my entire time there thinking about. The painting that chose us.

Later that night I hung ‘Christina’s World’ on the wall above our couch. And have seen it there everyday since. For years I have contemplated the story behind it. To me the woman looks young, her faded lobster-shell dress a striking pink against the grey sky, brown field and black house. What was she doing there? this painting held some sort of mystical power in its perfect proportion, detail and unanswered questions. I knew nothing of the artist until Kim and I vacationed in Port Clyde, Maine years afterward. 

My brother invited us to a long weekend at a cottage in Port Clyde, Maine. We’d spend the holiday gorging on lobster and visiting the lighthouse from ‘Forrest Gump’. During the drive to Port Clyde, as we got closer and closer, to our destination we began to see signs boasting “Andrew Wyeth” prints at many of the roadside country shops. It seemed that Andrew Wyeth was quite popular in this area of the country. I can’t remember exactly how we discovered it, maybe a AAA Travel Guide or maybe a tourist pamphlet from a convenience store but during the drive Kim started reading about the Andrew Wyeth connection to the area. Cushing, Maine, a town neighboring Port Clyde had become his second home when he split time between there and Chadds Ford, PA. We also discovered that the area has an Andrew Wyeth museum, we would definitely make sure to take some time to visit.  

The last day that we were in Port Clyde we went to the Andrew Wyeth museum in Rockland. If I remember correctly there were two separate museums, one dedicated solely to the Wyeth family and one with a Wyeth specific exhibition of early works, primarily water colors, as well as some of his other works displayed among other paintings. The museums are within walking distance of each other and were a wonderful experience. Prints, pictures and on-line images can never capture the true beauty of an actual work of art so seeing some of his paintings in person was really breathtaking. While at the museum we discovered that the very house where ‘Christina’s World’ was painted was nearby, in Cushing, ME. We got directions to the house and drove, drawn by the same energy that originally drew us to the print we hung years before. 

Walking through the rooms where Wyeth had painted while living with Christina Olson and her brother Alvaro was a truly emotional experience. Something about the rooms, being in the actual locations that were the settings for so many of Wyeth’s paintings is very affecting. So much so that the attendants at the house carry boxes of tissues around. It is a common experience for people to spontaneously begin crying.

Unfortunately ‘Christina’s World’ is not hanging in the museums at Rockland but it can be found at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. One of my goals this year is to see it in person. 

Having visited the physical location where ‘Christina’s World’ was painted and where the painting is set, as well as learning the backstory behind the painting hasn’t reduced the mystery of it for me. I know the real world inspiration for it yet the painting stands alone, is a work by itself, full of stories and feelings and energy.

Andrew Wyeth, though he passed on yesterday will live on, immortally, through the energy of his work.

I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future — the timelessness of the rocks and the hills — all the people who have existed there, I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape — the loneliness of it — the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show. 

“I think anything like that — which is contemplative, silent, shows a person alone — people always feel is sad. Is it because we’ve lost the art of being alone?” – Andrew Wyeth

christinas_world.jpg

'Christina's World' by Andrew Wyeth

 

Kim outside of the Olson's house in Cushing, ME where 'Christina's World' was painted.

Kim outside of the Olson's house in Cushing, ME where 'Christina's World' was painted.

 

Me at the Olson's house in Cushing, ME where 'Christina's World' was painted

Me at the Olson's house in Cushing, ME where 'Christina's World' was painted