Tag Archives: art

The Goldfinch

14 Sep

‘The Goldfinch’: Tartt adaptation never soars, but tale’s also not as bad as it’s been painted


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With waves of discontent rolling out of the Toronto Film Festival, John Crowley’s adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Goldfinch” seems poised to join “The Bonfire of the Vanities” as one of the great miscues of transposing popular contemporary literature to the big screen. Having seen it for myself, I’m not so sure that’s the case; it’s got its share of flaws, but that’s mostly because it tries to pack in too much (the 800-page novel is a lot to bite off) and Tartt’s central theme about the lingering burn of grief gets lost, as does a sense of character and character motivation.

The most rocked in Crowley’s sea of emotional turbulence is its dour anti-hero, Theo Decker (Ansel Elgort, “Baby Driver”), who gets hit with a lot of bad shit but mostly caroms passively from one frying pan to the next, his fate and actions shaped by that of others. The film moves in a series of times shifts that transition seamlessly and are most effective in their early stagings around the young Theo (Oakes Fegley, of “Pete’s Dragon,” excellent here) seeking security and a sense of home after his mother is killed in a terrorist bombing at The Met. Dad (Luke Wilson) happens to be missing (abandoned the family, whereabouts unknown) so Theo moves in with the family of a fellow New York City prep school friend (Ryan Foust), where the family matriarch (a staid and elegant Nicole Kidman) comes regularly to Theo offering kind and compassionate coos.

Given the heft and span of Tartt’s work, there’s a lot of moving pieces – perhaps too many. Theo’s stay in the in Barbours’ flush Manhattan doesn’t last long; dad reappears; and then there’s Carel Fabritius’ painting of the title that looms over every frame and drives the plot with celerity as it nears conclusion.

Fans of the novel may have greater cause for disappointment, but the film’s never boring. Though long, it’s also riddled with enough bad-situation-gone-worse scenarios and compelling, human-touch moments to hold the audience’s attention, not to mention that it’s shot by Roger Deakins, a 13-time Academy Award nominee and once winner (“Blade Runner 2049”); to say it looks good would be an understatement. The acting also really anchors Crowley’s uneven interpretation. Elgort, given the least to work with, has enough natural charisma – like Kidman – to push the role further than the script by Peter Straughan (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) dares, and one’s coming-of-age heartstrings get tugged by the chemistry Fegley’s young Theo has with Foust’s chum, as well as a feral young Russian immigrant (Finn Wolfhard, alluring with a moppish head of hair and porcelain skin) whom Theo meets in the Vegas desert. The whole New York side of the story (then and now) get a warm avuncular embrace by the presence of Jeffrey Wright as an antiques dealer who mentors Theo. His reflective compassion and Kidman’s grace against indignity buoy each scene they’re in. Like the chained bird in Fabritius’ painting, Crowley’s screen adaptation is hindered from taking flight – by its ambition, scope and eddies of emotional indifference. The pieces are there, but they don’t cohere, resulting in more of a warble than a melodious song of grief.


5 Nov

‘Museo’: Robbing the museum is one thing, getting rid of the haul afterward is impossible


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The title in English means “museum,” where one of art pair of thirtysomething slackers works. Hard up for cash and a new lease on life, the burgling duo pull off a heist of Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology on Christmas Eve, absconding with priceless artifacts that include a beloved Mayan mask. Based on true events from 1985, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ “Museo” cuts an eerie parallel to the Isabella Gardner Museum heist here about five years after. As in our infamous crime, the rub becomes what to do with the booty – it’s impossible to unload due to its indelible notoriety and the efforts to secure its return.

When we meet Juan (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Benjamin (Leonardo Ortizgris), it seems highly improbable they could pull off the lifting of a 10-cent candy bar, let along priceless art under heavy security. These guys are so tethered to their boyhood base that they have to borrow Benjamin’s father’s car for the caper; afterward, sitting around with him watching the breaking news, he berates the culprits not knowing it was his son and friend.

That’s largely how Ruizpalacios’ film unfurls – in surreal wisps of comedy, gonzo happenstance and meandering circumspect. Shot in lush, wide frames by Damián García (who also shot Ruizpalacios’ debut feature,“Güeros” in 2014), “Museo” has a wide-eyed feel. These lads are in over their head and, to complicate matters, are arrogant – well, Juan is, and Benjamin would follow him off the edge of a cliff without even looking down. The best evidence is the relentless negotiation with an uninterested art dealer (Simon Russell Beale) in the middle of entertaining mucky-mucks on a posh veranda overlooking the sea.

Everything becomes a near fiasco, but the pair seem to be imbued with near unlimited luck as they head on to the next new means to pawn the art. Their relationship becomes frayed along the way, and as they fall apart so do their prospects. The two actors sell it, too, forging a chemistry that spans the gamut from mutually shared hope and camaraderie to jealousy, blame and contempt. Bernal, best known for “Y Tu Mamá También” (2001) and other crossover works, anchors the film with his commanding charisma as a man on edge who wants so desperately to be in control, while Ortizgris, who starred in Ruizpalacios’ earlier effort, serves up the vulnerable offset. They nail a character study that rewards, even if the characters don’t necessarily.

One of the beauties of “Museo” is its rambling nature. It might not fit into any traditional classification, but it is a wondrous work of art, from frame one to finish.

Art on the Square

27 Oct


David Buckley Borden’s “Warning Warming,” on Harvard’s Science Center Plaza. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Harvard Square is home to two new large art installations, strikingly placed at the Charles Hotel and as a centerpiece at Harvard’s Science Center Plaza: One’s a multilayer interactive experience meant to absorb and regurgitate our urban surroundings; the other is an ominous summation of our ever-changing climate. Both have strong Harvard roots.

In the Science Center Plaza is David Buckley Borden’s “Warning Warming,” a striking, multi-hued A-frame structure, informing us of unhappy environmental prospects. The white, then sunny tint transmutes into a fiery orange-red, representing rising temperatures, while the other side of the segmented 3D exhibit forecasts a concerning map of CO2 levels. Borden is a fellow at the Harvard Forest – a research department and actual forest on Route 2, managed and cultivated by the university – and a self-proclaimed “recovering landscape architect” who says the project is a something of a spinoff from the “Hemlock Hospice” project out at the Harvard Forest, where the titular trees will become “functionally extinct by 2025” due to an invasive, aphid-like insect from Japan. 

“Warning Warning,” like “Hemlock Hospice,” was collaborative. “These are science communications,” he said in conversation, “and I’m like the creative director.” According to Borden, who studied at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, it took a team of about 10 to design and assemble the 25-foot structure. It will remain on the plaza until early December. (“Hemlock Hospice” comes down Nov. 18, and Borden a side project called “Triple Decker Ecology” is on display at the Somerville Museum until Dec. 9.)

Allen Sayegh’s “Pulsus” has been installed at The Charles Hotel. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Over at the Charles Hotel is “Pulsus,” a 30-foot casting extending into the hotel’s lower courtyard by GSD associate professor in practice Allen Sayegh and Invivia Design, where Sayegh is a partner. Invivia and the school’s Responsive Environments and Artifacts Lab, which Sayegh oversees, focus on the intersection of technology, human environmental factors and architecture. 

Most folk who see “Pulsus” wonder if Han Solo might not be frozen in there. Indeed, it is made up of seven “negative and positive” human body imprints and designed to be reflective of human activity by absorbing the cityscape sounds and reverberating them in a “pulsating, communicative” fashion. As Sayegh describes it, the work “gathers data from different sources – real-time police conversations, tweets from around the community, among others – and then translates these into different types of tonal sounds, producing the buzzing that you can hear and feel when you’re close to it.” The installation at Charles Square is currently inert, but a video about the structure shows “Pulsus” in its full interactive glory at its inaugural installation in New York City in 2017, when it cooled and misted (commissioned by the New York City Department of Transportation) and just outside the school’s Gund Hall on Quincy Street. Construction at Gund meant Pulsus had to move. It’s new location is in part because of Sayegh’s relationship with Michael Pagliarini, the chef and owner of Benedetto at The Charles Hotel; Invivia’s office abuts Pagliarini‘s other revered eatery, Giulia. Sayegh said he hoped to have “Pulsus” fully interactive again and plans some type of reintroductory event in the spring. According to The Charles, the installation will remain for the foreseeable future. 

When fully interactive, “Pulsus” should again collect the “anxiety and vibrancy” of the city through publicly available data sources and code written for the project that converts it into harmonious sounds. Some of the information is preserved – you can actually make out police transmissions, Sayegh said.

Reactions to the current installation vary, but mostly reflect awe. “Han, are you in there?” one observer jokes as he knocks on one of the body bubbles. “More like something from ‘Alien,’” his friend adds, “but I really dig it.” One woman first thought the undulating construct might be some form of industrial wrap left over from the Head of the Charles, but was motivated to learn more even though she found placement of the work – at the bottom of the stairs connecting the hotel’s upper and lower courtyards – “odd.” Another observer wondered if it could be a hazard for the elderly who rely on the center railing ending at the structure’s base.

Other recent design projects by Invivia include “Ora” (2016), an enormous, pulsating orb that occupied Harvard Yard and “The Draem”(2015), a Copenhagen installation marking the the Armenian Genocide in Denmark.


Tim’s Vermeer

3 Feb
<i>Tim's Vermeer</i>

During a casual conversation with pals Penn and Teller (yes, the performance comedy team that performs droll acts of sleight-of-hand), Tim Jenison tossed out the idea that the great 17th century painter, Johannes Vermeer, might have generated his masterworks via a controlled methodology—which could conceivably be replicated—and not sheer artistic eye and a deft free hand. Given the movie’s being, that conversation obviously budded into a dare and/or a personal obsession.

Jenison, a quiet, pontificating soul and inventor by trade who made his nut in video software, possesses a bulldog tenacity and keen acumen. He’s the kind of guy who sees a problem and goes off and tinkers until he can remedy it with a working solution. His theory, that Vermeer used a process called “camera obscura” (the projection of a lighted image through a hole in a box or a room to create a smaller inverted rendering on the opposing surface outside the container) as an on canvas guide (think of tracing in its most complex form) for his creations is piquant and intriguing in its infantile illumination. The centuries old technique, now largely a schoolroom experiment, became the foundation for the modern camera and moving pictures. Vermeer, if he employed it, didn’t have any well-oiled machinery or electricity, just light and a hole.  Continue reading