And the Nominees Are 2018: Round 1!

Happy Awards Season!

The 2018 Critics Choice nominations have been announced! And I have already seen a bunch of the nominees (this year is already so good you guys, at one point I had 4 movies tied for my favorite film.)

Also, I’ve started a new project, combining two of my great loves, movies and poems. It’s a new site, called Poems from the Pictures. Basically I’m writing a new poem about each movie I see in the theater. I’ll link to poems for movies I review here, but I don’t just write about award nominees over there, so please go check it out! (And share it with your friends.) (The project also has a Twitter account, please follow it!)

OK, enough self-promotion, here’s what I’ve seen so far:

Gifted

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Chris Evans can act. That kid is cute. Jenny Slate is perfect. Watch this on a Saturday afternoon when you feel bad about humanity.

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The Big Sick

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This is the only movie on this list that I’ve seen twice, but I managed to not take any notes on for a post, which I feel really stupid about, because it combines a lot of my favorite things. Zoe Kazan. Indie romantic comedies. The city of Chicago. Comas. OK I don’t love comas, obviously, but I do love real life love stories and charming characters and this one has all that in spades. Sorry I’m giving short shrift in this review. Just watch it, it’ll make you angry and sad and then happy.

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Dunkirk

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I know I overuse the word remarkable, but this is really a remarkable film. It’s a quintessentially Christopher Nolan piece – sweeping, complicated, immersive, with an innovative narrative structure – but also a classic-feeling WWII picture. The casting is impeccable, even the potential stunt of casting a pop star is quickly forgotten, as each of these men inhabit the desperation of their characters so completely.

I’m not breaking any ground by saying I love this. So instead of waxing rhapsodic about Nolan and his collaborators’ expert artistry I will point out my three favorite choices he/they made.

  1. The minimal dialogue. When you are 95% sure you will die but are being told to wait in a line for a ship that even if you get on it will probably sink, what is there to say really? In a more traditional movie about this battle there are so many opportunities for bombastic Oscar reel speeches, but its much more heart-wrenching to see a tear in Kenneth Brannagh‘s eyes or three boys sitting on a beach passing around a can of water.
  2. Which, also, the casting of actors that are actually 19-20 was such a great choice. So often Hollywood shoots these stories with fully grown, “built,” action heroes. But these men were ordinary young people, and that makes the horror that they lived through (and we live a bit of with them) all the more harrowing.
  3. See this on a big screen (it’s being rereleased for a special awards season engagement). It is immersive and it’s meant to be. My mom and I both jumped and gasped our way through this, especially the sequences in the air.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

The Florida Project

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I realized weeks after seeing this that I had forgotten to write notes for a review, which sucks because its one of favorite movies of the year. But I’ll try to reconstruct why I loved it.

Firstly, it’s visually appealing. It makes rundown motels look like confections and made Florida wasteland look like a classical landscape painting. But all the artistry in the world wouldn’t matter much to me without the people at the center of it.

Sean Baker takes a story that could have been melodrama, teen mom living on the margins with her young daughter and gives us a humane, warm but not saccharine portrait of a childhood. A lot of the brilliance here is in the casting of both the little girl (Brooklyn Prince) and her mother (Bria Vinaite) both of whom weren’t actors before this, but radiate a kind of pressure. Baker’s work is remarkably naturalistic and it feels less like watching performers and more like peeking in on a life.

That life is precarious though, and as long time readers know, images of children in peril (even when they don’t seem to realize it) usually stress me our so much I can’t enjoy a film (I call this my Beasts of the Southern Wild/Lion phenomenon.) But Baker solves this problem by including Willem Dafoe as a kind, beleaguered motel manager who keeps a watchful eye out for the kids (and their parents). His empathy and sadness for his tenants’ situations never crosses a line into condescension and this movie completely changed my opinion of Dafoe as a performer. Oh, I could gush forever, just go see it.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Wonderstruck

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I wanted to like this movie. And there were sections in it, particularly the earliest sections with the young deaf actress (and Critics Choice nominee!) Millicent Simmonds journeying to 1920s NYC. I like modern takes on classic film technique, and I think I would have loved to watch just her story as a short film.

Which isn’t to say necessarily that I didn’t like the sections set in the 1970s, because they have their own charm, and I tend to like stories that begin disparate and eventually interweave. But, I think the quiet style of director Todd Haynes (which I’ve liked in the past but never quite understood the critical community’s rapturous ton about) doesn’t lend itself will to a story with this much plot. I but this book is charming, but the film left me confused.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Lady Bird

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I don’t even know how to write about this movie. I just…love it. It’s honest and warm, well crafted and witty, with wonderfully grounded performances from everyone. (Especially my girl Saoirse Ronan and Laurie MetcalfLaurie Metcalf. Oh and Timotheé Chalamet and Lucas Hedges…and Tracy Letts, literally everyone in the movie.)

I put this in the “Movies That I Related To So Strongly I Can’t Explain Why Without Oversharing” category. (This category now has 2 entries, this and last year’s Edge of Seventeen no coincidence that they are both written and directed by women.) And in this case its even more so, because its set in 2003, the year I started high school and this protagonist left it. The cultural references, and high school theater nerd subculture is perfectly captured. Greta Gerwig clearly lived this life, as someone who lived a similar one, she totally nails it.

I will talk your ear off in person about its perfection when it comes to religion, female friendship (both its strength and fragility), mother-daughter relationships (in all their maddening-complexity), and class tensions in a culture that does not want to acknowledge that i has a class system*. But for this post I want to end with the fact that this movie has such affection for its characters, sure there’s the hindsight is 20/20 moments about how much Lady Bird has to learn, and some cringing at how dumb high schools are in general, but it never veers into mocking. It takes the life of a teenage girl seriously without making it a tragedy. It’s fantastic.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

*Seriously seek me out if you want to have these conversations. 

The Square

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I’m not sure I can coherently articulate how much I hate this film. Which was really disappointing because I loved Force Majeure (also written and directed by Ruben Östlund). But this was, to quote my boyfriend “nihilistic trash.” To avoid spiraling into the rant I have by now subjected my friends, family, coworkers, and roommate to I will just say 4 things:

  1. It’s too long. (It have Grand Beauty never ending problems.)
  2. I can’t decide if its making fun of pretentious arty people or is for pretentious arty people, but it’s condescending either way.
  3. It’s borderline exploitative of poor and homeless people.
  4. It portrays casual violence in a way that it doesn’t earn. I understand it’s supposed to be a critique of how bystanders don’t help each other, but then it also ridicules those who try for trying. If I’m going to be subjected to images of women being pulled by their hair onto the ground or children being pushed down staircases you better be making a coherent fucking point.

Or, as I emailed Tim the day after we it: “That piece of trash won the P’alme Dor?!?!? I definitely have an awards season nemesis now.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Wonder

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I had heard people rave about R.J. Palcio’s novel for young people, Wonder, seemingly endlessly since it came out in 2012. But I only got around to reading it when the trailer for this movie was released. I (as so often happens) shouldn’t have held out on the book, but I’m glad this movie exists to introduce the Pullman family to a wider audience.

If you have an issue with earnestness (no judgement a few of my favorite people do) then this tale of children learning to overcome their fear and prejudice of a little boy with a genetically malformed (differently formed? I don’t know what the preferred language is on that. I’m sorry!) face, probably isn’t for you. But if you, like me, sometimes need a well acted tear-jerker on a Friday night, you could do a lot worse than this lovely reminder that we’re all carrying burdens, some of them are just easier to hid. (Plus Broadway nerd bonus points for Mandy Patinkin and Daveed Diggs, shoring up as inspirational educators!)

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You can read my poem about this film here.

 

Thor: Ragnarok

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Not going to lie. I did not think I would have to be writing this for awards time. But it’s fun. And Taika Waititi is a really talented director who brought a unique vision to this silly world.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Mudbound

mudbound-posters-00I’m having trouble putting my feelings about this one down on paper. Director and co-writer Dee Rees has created a layered and visually stunning epic of the mid-century American South that brought to mind early Terrance Malick (in the best way.) And not only because she loves a voice over. The acting is a universally stunning. Mary J. Blige is a particular surprise.

The story itself makes for a rough sit. It’s about the mid-century American South after all, but despite its realism about the violence that hung in the air around these characters, Rees never allows her main characters to be anything less than human. That, of course, doesn’t mean that those who aren’t poisoned to a greater and lesser extents by hatred. I’m not going to write a treatise about the original sin of American racism, others have done that better than I ever could, but I think this film does a remarkable job of showing the brutal ways that power, particularly white supremacist, patriarchal power, reasserts itself. (Often by punishing those white people (or men) who refuse to participate in the status quo. It’s a brutal watch, but a vital and important one. And it’s one Netflix, so you don’t even have to ugly cry in public like I did.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Call Me By Your Name

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Based on the trailer for this I went out and the book to fill the time before I could see the beauty that is Timothée Chalamet pining after Armie Hammer. It’s a great book, but – and I almost never say this, like I think I can think of maybe 3 other times – this movie matches and maybe even surpasses it.

A lot of its brilliance is stylistic, it’s beautifully shot and edited to make everything on screen seem sumptuous, like if you could just reach out and touch the screen then you would be able to feel everything. This sensuality was present in director, Luca Guadagnino‘s previous work, but I always felt a certain distance from his sharacters. Which is where the richness of author André Aciman and screenwriter James Ivory‘s script come in. Every person here, even those we meet only for a scene, is a fully drawn human being. Even Hammer, how I’ve always liked but often found a bit icy, melts into this world.

I won’t get started on how Chalamet’s raw desire is palpable and gorgeous because I don’t want to cry at my desk. But, speaking of crying, Michael Stuhlbarg (as Chalamet’s father) delivers a monologue at the end of this film that should go down in history as one of the great tear jerker moments in acting history. So glad he’s getting recognition for it.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

The Disaster Artist

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I should start with 2 facts:

  1. I’ve seen The Room once, 10ish years ago and I wasn’t sober. I saw that appeal, but re-watching something just because its awful isn’t that interesting to me.
  2. I love James Franco. I hear your reasons that you find him insufferable, and I hear you and love him more because of them. Dude goes for things. I admire that, (Hell, he’s sort of the reason I have a blog.)

OK, not that all of that has been disclosed, I…liked this fine. I appreciated that it didn’t feel like one long joke at Tommy Wiseau, when the first trailed made it seem it might be. But, despite good performances from both Franco brothersbrothers and surrounding cast I couldn’t quite get on the level of love for him (and Greg Sestero) the movie clearly has. Instead of being appreciative of the commitment these two had to their dreams (and the Francoian drive to do the thing you want to do, no matter how unlikely or strange) I came away mostly sad. Not for Wiseau, I’m not convinced that he’s not an alien, at the very least he doesn’t seem to take in others’ criticism of his work. But for Sestero who, as far as I can tell has basically been trapped by Wiseau into a very strange life. I’m overthink this I know, but while parts are very  funny, the movie just left me a bit deflated.

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You can read my poem about this film here.
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Weekly Adventure: Mini-Break to Salem

The idea of witches has always been pretty fascinating to me. I’ve always loved reading Alice Hoffman novels, in high school I wore out my copy of The Probable Future, and I still return to her sprawling tales of New England women with complicated “gifts.” It’s no surprise that this was my favorite sign at the Women’s March in January:

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Because so much of the moral panic of witch trials can be tied back to women who didn’t fit into the idea of what a woman should do. Which is why its surprising that I actually hadn’t been to Salem, MA until this past weekend. Well, this weekend I took the Megabus up to visit Hanna in Cambridge (well actually Somerville…) and we took the train out to see what Salem had to offer.

And…it was awesome! For a few reasons:

1. It’s a super cute little New England harbor town, which is a particular kind of charm I really enjoy.

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2. The history, both of the witch trials and otherwise (it’s also Nathaniel Hawthorne’s hometown)

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3. The witchy wonderfulness. There is so much camp, and so much earnest Wiccan stuff. It was just exactly what I wanted it to be, and it was also incredibly strange once I stopped to think about it. The actual historical trials were about the paranoid superstition of a group of people who were wrongly accused of witchcraft, which is obviously a tragedy. But now the town is forever associated with witchcraft, and is a Mecca of sorts for the Wiccan and neo-Pagan community. Which is cool in that it’s sort of the ultimate fuck you to the Puritan authorities, but it also leads to a strange tension where the town can’t decide if they believe if witches are real or not, which opens the uncomfortable question about the (obvious at least to me) innocence of those executed. This narrative is most confused at the Salem Witch Museum, which I wish I could describe to you but it is beyond my power. Please just go, it costs $12 but you will never experience anything quite like it….

Anyway, it was also just a great first real Spring weekend up here in the Northeast, and Hanna and I had a delightful time being silly through the streets:

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I did not buy any, but I’m really regretting that now…

Best Picture Baking Project: Chariots of Fire

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Happy President’s Day! I don’t think I’ve ever celebrated this particular strange American holiday, and I’m certainly not going to start under the current administration, but I did take the opportunity to head home to New Haven for a bit of rest and relaxation. And for me that means movies and baking (though the baking was not my best effort…more on that later.) First, the film:

Had I seen this one before?

Nope. Which was surprising to both of my parents. All I knew was the opening sequence with the team running down the beach.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. This movie is so incredibly British. Which means, it’s charming, incredibly well acted, and obsessed with questions of whether it is acceptable to focus on individual excellence over a “feeling of esprit de corps.” Which as an American is hilarious to me.
  2. The depiction of Americans as professional, running machines that are borderline evil or Bible thumpers. It’s always funny to me (especially in later Richard Curtis movies), but here it is particularly pronounced.

    I mean, look at him with his hat on backwards, how gauche.
  3. I love a good sports movie, and this is one of the best. It’s a classic for a reason. And I like that it takes on other issues, anti-Semitism and commitment to faith, without getting too preachy or overreaching for metaphors. These men are more than just runners, but true Olympians, then as now, are a unique breed motivated by physical challenge, which, as I am very much not, will always be fascinating to me. 

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

Atlantic City –  Never heard of it.

On Golden Pond – I really only know of this, because of Jane Fonda accepting her dad‘s Oscar for it, which is a nice awards history moment, but doesn’t really help me judge the film

Raiders of the Lost Ark – I love that this was nominated, but of course it didn’t win.

Reds – Oh, I love this one so so much.

This is tough. Reds is one of my favorite movies of all time, but Chariots is pretty fantastic too. I’m going to go with, I would have voted for Reds but I’m not mad that Chariots of Fire won.

Bechdel Test Pass?

Nope. There are two named women, they are both reluctantly supportive partners to their respective champions. They never meet. (This is one of those cases where this didn’t bother me that much. Cambridge, where most of this narrative takes place, was an overwhelmingly male environment. It would be strange and forced to shoehorn women into this particular narrative.)

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Sybil (Alice Krige) seeing Harold off at port – in a shot later echoed in a future Best Picture, Titanic

OK, dessert time, I wanted to do a flaming dessert for obvious reasons, but…that turns out to be trickier than I thought…

Flaming Baked Alaska Cupcakes

Ingredients for cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 cups of your favorite ice cream, I used strawberry field

Ingredients for meringue and flambe

  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2-2 cups brandy

Directions 

Prepare the cupcakes

  • Heat oven to 350F and line cupcake pan with papers
  • Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt
  • In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  • Add eggs one at a time, mixing well between additions
  • Beat in vanilla extract
  • Add flour mixture and milk alternately, beginning and ending with flour
  • Divide batter evenly into liners, filling them about 2/3 full
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes (*check them at 15, mine took 18 minutes)
  • Remove from oven and let cool
  • Peel away cupcake liners and discard
  • Cut a small divot out of the top of each cupcake, large enough to hold ice cream
  • Fill each divot with ice cream
  • Put filled cupcakes in freezer

Prepare the meringues

  • In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites until foamy
  • Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form
  • Gradually beat in the sugar until the meringue is stiff and glossy
  • Preheat oven to the hottest setting
  • Remove the cupcakes from freezer
  • Set each cupcake on their own small place
  • Place the plates onto a baking sheet
  • Cover each cupcake with meringue using an offset spatula
  • Place the sheet into the oven until lightly browned (*pay close attention and take them out exactly when they are browned) 
  • Remove from oven
  • Pour tablespoons of brandy over each cupcake
  • Ignite the brandy and let burn until the flame subsides
  • When the flame dies down serve immediately

Or…this could happen:

We did try them, they tasted like cheap brandy… But the unlit ones (ie the ones I didn’t put in the oven/douse with brandy tasted good…)

Six Degrees of Cinema: Silence

I’m not sure how to write about SilenceAs a film fan I was struck by the beauty of the cinematography and the ambition of telling a story that in many ways is very internal, in a visual medium. As a person who, while admiring of his obvious genius, has a really complicated relationship with Martin Scorsese, I must say that I appreciate his contemplative side much more than whatever you want to call The Wolf of Wall Street

But, despite fantastic performances all around, not much of this movie stuck with me when I left the theater as I expected it to. Well, nothing artistic at least. As an exploration of religion and the nature of belief, I cannot stop thinking about it. It raised so many deep questions about martyrdom and apostasy and what faith in the face of the actual persecution looks like, and why governments engage in it. (I think it has something to do with fear of a power greater than themselves.) It’s an exploration of evangelism, and when its more dangerous for converts than liberating, what then is asked of a believer?

I don’t have answers, but its been a very long time since a movie made me think this deeply about spiritual things. So, let’s see if 1980s era Scorsese will pull that off as well with the next link, his The Last Temptation of Christ.

In this chain: Paterson – Silence

Songs That Hit Me Harder Now

I started working on this playlist a couple of days after the election. I was an emotional wreck. Like not sure I was capable of pulling myself out of bed levels of despair. I’m still very sad and angry, but I’ve begun to channel that energy in more productive directions. But certain songs have been making me cry that never did before. Some of their lyrics made a new kind of sense, and some I can’t really explain, but they listening to them and letting myself cry has been cathartic for me so I thought I would share them with you all:

Second Nature – Original Broadway Cast of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson 

I understand why people have issues with this show. It definitely can be read as glorifying Jackson, and parts of it are really just dumb. But I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and how American populism is often such a dangerous, violent thing. I think it’s, unfortunately, worth a revisit in our current climate.

My Shot – Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton 

Just as a corrective.

Truth No. 2– Dixie Chicks

Bread & Roses– Judy Collins
I know I’ve shared the Joan Baez and Mimi Farina version of this before, but literally every version has always made me cry and especially now…

Pompeii – Bastille 

Ghosts That We Knew – Mumford and Sons 

He Thinks He’ll Keep Her – Mary Chapin Carpenter 

OK this one doesn’t make me cry, but I don’t think I had listened to it before this weekend since I was like 10. And I really didn’t understand it before. Also, this video is such a find. Look at all of those powerhouses! (And all that 90s hair..)

If We Make It Through December – Merle Haggard 
Thanks to Stu-Bot on TBTL for this one.

Make Them Hear You – Brian Stokes Mitchell from Ragtime 

Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes

Five Star Book: The First Collection by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper

I know, two 5 Star book posts in as many weeks! But I couldn’t let a book that made me grab a pen and underline things as often as this one did go unrecommended.

I saw Jessica Hopper speak about this book at the Texas Book Festival last year and bought it based on her & (frankly) a sense of feminist obligation. If the title is true, which it seems to be, then we have to buy this one to ensure there will be more.

Reading it didn’t feel at all like a chore though. Hopper is insightful and witty, hard hitting when she needs to be (like in her interview with Jim DeRogatis about R.Kelly’s very disturbing [alleged] obsession with underage girls) and compassionate always (even in the sections titled “Bad Reviews”).

It’s actually sort of intimidating to even write a review of her book, because she has mastered the form. So instead here are 5 of my underlined favorite lines:

“Girls in emo songs today do not have names. We are not identified beyond our absence, our shape drawn by the pain we’ve caused. Out lives, our day-to-day-to-day does not exist, we do not get colored in.”

From “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t” Punk Planet #56, July 2003

“It’s often uncool to be the person who gives a shit.”

This is from her conversation about R. Kelly, but it also speaks to the book as a whole. One of my favorite writers, Rob Sheffield, wrote a blurb for the back of this book that says, “She concedes nothing to the idea that it is dumb to care so much.”

“lord alive, there is not a more earnest and tenderhearted person in rock n’ roll than Eddie Vedder, in case you doubting just how sensitacho he rolls.”

I’ve always suspected this to be true. from “Vedderan: Notes on Pearl Jam’s 20th Anniversary Concert” TinyLuckyGenius, September 2011

“They stand for hope and big ideas as well as simple ones: have fun, include everyone, be positive, do good work. It’s an active rejection of adult cynicism. You could call it anti-capitalist, but there’s no indication anyone involved has given it that much thought.”

From “Will the Stink of Success Ruin the Smell?” LA Weekly, February 2009

“It’s subtler than patriotism; the abstraction is a nostalgic ruing for that old=-fashioned American freedom (not the 2012 GOP’s hijacked late-stage-capitalism-amok-in-you-uterus version), the sort that might entice a young girl to move up from Georgia with just a lamp, a chair and her guitar.”

From “Cat Power: Sun” SPIN magazine, September 2012 

I’ll probably put together a playlist sometime soon of songs this book introduced me to. But though its about music, its really about not being afraid to give a shit, to care too much about something other people call trivial, which i think you can tell from the name of this blog is a sentiment I can get behind.

Weekly Adventure: Art Therapy Edition

I’m not sure how to start this post. I spent a lot of last week in tears and I am still pretty fragile. But, despair is defeat, so I’ve picked myself up and am working on being a proactive helper to those I know the new President and his supporters either don’t care about or actively hate. But in the meantime I have to take care of myself too. And for me that means movies (I saw Loving on Friday), books (I’m reading a great one about Yeats right now), and art. So this Saturday I pulled myself out of bed and used my museum employee free admission to see some art.

Kerry James Marshall – “Mastry” at the Met Breuer 

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Still Life with Wedding Portrait, 2015

What sadly serendipitous timing for this large exhibition of work by this African American political artist. A little boy in the elevator with me told his mom that he found the paintings on the exhibition’s first floor “scary,” I had accidentally walked through the show backwards (a mistake I make a lot somehow) but was surprised. The work on the second floor was powerful & (especially given our current political moment) sad at times, but not graphically violent. (Even his portrait of Nat Turner with his master’s head was remarkably restrained in my mind.) I’m not a child obviously, but I think we all need to be willing to be scared and disturbed by the injustices that work like Marshall’s depicts.

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Our Town, 1995

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Art of Hanging Pictures, 2002

This is part of a 2002 installation depicting life where Marshall lived on the South Side of Chicago. The depictions hit me hard as a proud Chicagoan in exile. I’ve been grappling with what it means that the places I love are so segregated and only safe for some people. Just like this piece. I don’t have answers for this, but the representation helped me to articulate it.

Agnes Martin at The Guggenheim 

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I struggle a lot with minimalism, especially in contrast to the vibrancy and emotion of the Marshall show. (Yes, I know the irony of working in the Noguchi archive and having a hard time connecting to minimalism.) But I always want to support institutions that give single artist exhibitions to female artists. So, Agnes Martin. Her work is technically astounding – all those tiny straight lines! – but most of it did strike me personally as cold.

It fit really well with the Guggenheim’s architecture though! And I very much enjoyed reading about Martin’s life. A Canadian immigrant who traveled between NYC & Taos, NM she worked to create and maintain a style separate form, as one wall panel put it, “the visual and rhetorical bravado” of the Abstract Expressionists. She endeavored to create “innocent” and “happy” work that she felt was life affirming, which is an inspiring project on its own. Especially given her place as a female artist who suffered from schizophrenia in a male dominated, abelist art world.

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Friendship, 1963

Vigil for Hope & Human Kindness – Not art I know, but certainly therapeutic

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I haven’t taken to the streets since the election, I have so much love and respect for my friends & family members who have and I’m sure I will join the soon. But I, as a person, don’t do rage well. (I think most people are anger-leading people or sadness-leading people and I am the latter.) But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been craving collective action and catharsis. So I was really glad to see this event in Brooklyn pop up on my Facebook.

I didn’t know just how much needed to cry and sing and plan with other people until I got there. On my way home I kept thinking about how we make fun of 60s activists for “singing Kumbuya” in the face of oppression. And sure, that song is silly, but the need to be quiet and still and take solace together is just as real as the need to yell and stomp. (And I really mean that, we need both.)

So, here’s the way we closed the vigil (well this followed by hugs from strangers, because cliche hippie stuff actually feels really good in the darkness.):

And now that I trust we are all going to try to take to care of each other – I’ll see you at the barricades.
 

 

Weekly Adventures: First Week in NYC

I meant to write like 3 separate posts this week, but it’s been 2 years since I’ve worked 9-5 and remembered to blog. Most nights by the time I’m home I have the energy to lie down in front of my fan and watch clips of John Oliver (and The Bachelorette – and my British soaps). But that’s because I’ve been having so much fun exploring the city. I’ve been visiting New York since I was in middle school, but in the past few years I haven’t been here as much and I’ve never been here for longer than a couple of days at a time before. So, I took advantage of that full force in my first week. (And caught up with a couple of my favorite people who are here now too!)

Highlights include:

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Catching the final day of the Poetry Project’s Beats and Beyond poetry festival, including a reading from Michael McClure, who was one of the other poets to read the night that Allen Ginsberg first read Howl.

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It was pretty awesome.

On Friday my fellow Tenement Museum summer interns used our free entry to museums to visit the Whitney. Their new building is beautiful, and right now they have a great exhibit of portraits from their permanent collection spanning two floors. It includes traditional painted portraits and street photography (my favorite), and more experimental pieces, like this one:

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Called Standing Julian, by Urs Fischer, this piece is actually a gigantic candle, that burns all day (it’s extinguished at night), and allowed to melt down.

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There was also a exhibit dedicated to Stuart Davis , whom I had never heard of before (because my art history knowledge is completely selective), but I really loved. Especially his use of color.

 

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Super Table – Stuart Davis (1924)

Afterwards we got tacos at Chelsea Market and walked the Highline, which was both super touristy and very pretty.

For my other main adventure of the week, I went with Hanna and a few of her Princeton friends to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, which was the best. Although, we missed the peak flowering season for a lot of the sections, the Rockefeller Rose Garden was spectacular:

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You can see a lot more pictures I took at my flower-centric Instagram @Itaketoomanypicsofflowers

Then on the way home, I happened upon the Hare Krishna Festival in Washington Square Park, which was so vibrant it was overwhelming.

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Also, I’ve lost the Hamilton lottery a bunch of times.

Weekly Adventure: Spring Break Getaway Edition

It’s South by Southwest time here in Austin, and like a true local, I spent most of it out of town. (This isn’t a slam on SXSW, I find people that complain about it more insufferable than festival goers, I just had other places to be.) Mainly, one of my dear friends was getting married in Chicago last weekend and because plane tickets into Austin spike in price for the festival I chose to take a detour through Dallas. And just in case you were ever in doubt about whether or not I’m a huge nerd, I spent my time there visiting a couple of presidential history museums (oh, and taking advantage of my hotel’s cable to watch Shadowhunters in real time…).

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I seemed to have brought the gray weather north with me, but nothing can ruin this view for me. It gets me every time I come around the curve on LSD.

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As previously stated, this is not a wedding blog, but I’m just so incredibly proud of Julia and my gift to the happy couple. It seems Pinterest worthy, so I’m uploading here so we can make that happen. (Basically it’s a basket full of booze for them to mark milestones in their marriage. And Jules did the bow, I have no crafting talent.)

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The happy couple at their wedding brunch at Farmhouse

 

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Jules expertly Vanna White-ing the delicious pastries

The next day, I went for a good old fashioned urban hike through a long stretch of Lincoln Park, and stumbled upon the Lincoln Park Conservatory, which is currently hosting the Chicago Spring Flower Show. I didn’t know that was a thing, but it’s right up  my alley.

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I took a million pictures, many of which you can see on my new all-flowers Instagram account.

It was one of those Chicago spring days where it can not decide if it’s gray or bright or cold or warm. But Grant looked pretty good in the afternoon light:

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My destination on the walk was the Chicago History Museum, which I had somehow never been to before. (I know, it makes no sense.) But I’m glad I went, it was a lovely mix of traditional and socially conscious, and I nerded out a lot.

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The 1893 Columbian Exposition as depicted in the diorama room. These have been on display since the 1930s.

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A suffragist in the exhibit on social protest

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They have a temporary exhibit right now called “The Secret Lives of Objects,” which is essentially a hodgepodge of intriguing things curators found in storage. Some fun and some ssurprisingly poignant. Like this lamp, it started the Iroqouis Theater Fire (which is the reason we have doors that open out in public spaces.) A really cool exhibit if you’re in Chicago.

The old part of the CHM building is gorgeous:

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In the permanent exhibit, I learned that the Harlem Globetrotters were founded in Chicago (and remained headquartered there until the 1970s but have been named after the NYC neighborhood since the 1920s, which doesn’t make sense), and saw these important historical artifacts:

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They also have a really well designed, small exhibit of some of Vivian Maier‘s street photography, which I really loved:

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What I loved about the exhibit was the way I felt surrounded by the faces of the people Maier captured. It felt like being on the street with her. Very transporting.

That night I got some post-work Bourgeois Pig with Jules and then enjoyed The Bachelor finale with the girls I started the season with. (Such a treat to see them all again so soon!) And then the next morning it was off to Dallas.

Despite the swing in temperature & humidity, it turned out to be another lovely day for a walk, and I was surprised by how pretty the part of downtown I was staying in was. And they had cool, historical photo based, public art:

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I was walking to Dealey Plaza.To pay my respects as a longtime Kennedy fanatic (I won’t go into that now, this post is long enough) and to visit the Sixth Floor Museum (which is a great mix of tribute to Kennedy’s legacy and examination of what happened on 11/22/63).

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The Plaza itself was a WPA project, and is really pretty. But it’s sort of surreal to walk around it. I’ve seen footage and photos of it so many times, and other than the models of the cars and the heights of the trees not much looks that different. It was very surreal.

Also strange, the amount of men walking around carrying strange homemade signs trying to convince you to pay them for their tour of “what really happened”

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Very high tech conspiracy HQ

They don’t let you take pictures inside the museum, but it was a moving and thought provoking experience for me. (For the record, I think Oswald did it. I’m not completely sure how to explain Jack Ruby, maybe the mob was involved, maybe not. Oliver Stone is full of shit.)

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I took the DART light-rail to get around. I found it clean and easy to navigate. I also could have rode for free the whole time, but chose to pay, because I believe in supporting public transportation.

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Across from my hotel there was a place called Thanksgiving Square, it had murals and interfaith scriptures, and this ring you were meant to pause under and give thanks. It felt sort of stuck in where it was, but I said a little prayer under the ring. (I didn’t go into the chapel, but I sort of wish I had, it looks really cool.)

On my second day in Dallas I took the train out to SMU to visit George W. Bush’s Presidential Library and Museum. I did this, because of my life goal to visit all of the President’s landmarks (see LBJ and Lincoln).

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Although, I was not and am not W’s biggest fan, I’m not going to go into a political rant here. Mostly, because most of my experience at this museum was apolitical and nice. The staff were all really lovely. They had a temporary exhibit about how campaigning has changed that included this carpet that showed all the results of every presidential election:

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On loan from his library in Little Rock

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And this awesome looking board game that I am not allowing myself to look up on eBay, because I will buy it

The building itself is really beautiful:

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And, while I found myself disagreeing with the emphasis of the permanent exhibit there were some pieces that were done unquestionably well.

For instance, the 9/11 memorial, which includes a part of one of the Towers and a lot of very moving archival news footage:

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And the recreated Oval Office (one step up from LBJs because you can step in, walk around, and even take pictures at the desk!):

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There were also some nice lighter moments featuring the First Family. Hilariously, when I went searching for a statue to take a selfie with, I couldn’t find one, but these were prominently displayed:

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The only part of the whole thing that made me truly angry was the “Situation Room” simulation.

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Basically, you sit down in rows with a bunch of strangers, and vote on a screen in front of you on which “crisis” you want to tackle. (My group chose Hurricane Katrina. Other options include Saddam Hussein and The Financial Crisis). They then give you a briefing and 3 options to choose from. You can track what others in the room are thinking with a CNN-like approval line on the big screen. Then you vote on what you would do. Then they tell you what Bush did. As I was walking out of the room it felt like a cool multimedia experience, and I was surprised that I had chosen the same response that Bush did to the crisis. (I do not generally think I agree with how he handled Katrina.) And then I started to feel queasy. The flashiness and official look of the presentation makes it seem like in each of these situations, Bush had exactly 3 options, none of which were all that good and that’s why he made some of his least popular choices. Now, I do agree that being the President is an impossible job, and perfection is not an attainable goal, but I think this presentation simplifies the most important failures of my government during my lifetime to “well things are complicated, you couldn’t do any better.”

What sucks, is that this was right at the end of the exhibits, so I left with the bad taste in my mouth. As you can see from the newest addition to my Presidential Photo Collage:

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Now that I’m back in town, I’ve mostly been lying around exhausted. Though I did go see Midnight Special yesterday. It’s amazing. I want to go see it again. Like I want to go pay full ticket price a second time. That’s an extremely rare feeling for me. But like, I may go see Midnight Special again tomorrow if anyone wants to join me.

Five Star Book: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

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I really thought that I knew what this book was. I thought it was a personal account of Vietnam, a memoir, a gritty rough, “you’ll feel like you were there,” aggressively macho read. And for the reason, I never read it. There’s nothing wrong with a book like that (well yes there are, but what I mean is books like that have every right to exist), but I wasn’t going to spend my time reading one. But then my anthropology professor assigned us the titular story from this collection, and by the time I was 5 pages in I was teary eyed and e-mailing my dad to request his copy.

It’s hard to classify, it’s stories, they’re fiction. But it’s also pretty clearly rooted in Tim O’Brien’s lived experience (both of Vietnam and life after), and it can be hard to tell where the blurry edge of fact and creation is. That’s by design, there are whole chapters in here that are just extended authorial tangents on the notion of truth and the importance of stories. How Truth, particularly about traumas like wars, is often untellable, but stories can help us understand. He’s able to say it much more eloquently than I can. You should just read the book. (Which apparently, most of you already have. I feel like the only American my age who wasn’t assigned it in high school. But I’m glad I read it now, being older than most of the boys actually made me feel more deeply the loss not just of the ones who died but also of the non-soldier lives of the others. Because as O’Brien’s career attests, that shit sticks with you.)

What I really loved was the emotional frankness. He doesn’t seem to give a shit anymore about maintaining the bravado that being a soldier required of him. He was scared and sad and also exhilarated and he lets us all know that. He sees the flaws in his actions, but he maintains an amazing level of compassion for why his younger self did what he did. It’s emotional and filled with sentiment, but somehow never succumbs to sentimentality. I’ll be thinking about it for a very long time.