“SaltWorks” –Return to the Sea


Last Sunday, August 25, the Monterey Museum of Art was filled to capacity.  See the YouTube video clips to get a feel for the community response , both here and in an older YouTube video of Charleston, North Carolina where Yamamoto teaches , if you didn’t get a chance to be there yourself! The line went out the door to see the the closing of the Motoi Yamamoto exhibit SaltWorks”  (see my earlier post dated July 3 for the review of the exhibit).  The participatory experience for those of us who had the opportunity to disassemble the artwork was popular, especially with young children.  Beginning with the new executive director, Charlotte Eyerman, each attendee was able to scoop up a paper cup’s worth of salt (paper cups supplied) and transport it to the sea at Fisherman’s wharf.

It was encouraging to see how enthusiastic local Monterey residents are to be involved in a museum exhibit.  The community really turned out for this event.  Hopefully, future events will have an increase in attendance as well.  I personally brought home the salt and threw it in the fire pit for good luck and to reinforce the Buddhist principle of the impermanence of all existence.   We need more communty involvement in our local arts programs.


“We Need to Talk About Kevin”–The Bad Seed


“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is an unforgettable portrait of the baby from hell, and as such this film may not be meant for a lot of viewers.

Kevin comes into the world as a very difficult, “challenging” infant.  The unconditional love between mother–Eva Khatchadourian (played to perfection by Tilda Swinton, a BAFTA nominee for this role) and child (as a teenager by the talented newcomer Ezra Miller) just doesn’t happen.  In the delicate and intricate mother-child bonding requiring a mutuality of response–pick up the crying baby, baby stops crying, mother smiles,  baby smiles –Kevin and his mother struggle in ways horrific and unimagined.

The movie opens with Eva Khatchadourian trying to recover from something the viewer does not know. In an alternating split between past and present action, the flashback and flashforwards  confront the puzzle of Eva’s role as mother and her son’s difficult nature.  Once a successful travel author, she now is employed as a clerk in a travel agency. She lives a solitary life as people who know about her situation openly shun her. The aftermath and consequences of an unknown incident have resulted in an intimidated, damaged woman with no social support.  Her clueless husband, Franklin (John C. Reilly in a small but persuasive part) has consistently sided with their son over his wife, and goes beyond, encouraging Kevin’s typical (?) boy behavior.

The troubled relationship between Kevin and Eva continues until the climax near the end of the film.  Although the first half with frequent flash backs and forwards leaves the viewer unsure of where we are being taken, it all fits in at the end. Questions of parental responsibility, the newborn baby who becomes the child from hell, the culpability of the relationship, and the unraveling of human bonds all come into question in this  unusual and provocative film.  A standout for courage and difficult subject matter!

[Available on Netflix]


The Backstory behind “Orange is the New Black”

51Ce4GvkwWL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_With all the buzz about “Orange is the New Black”, I had fun chasing down facts about the memoir of that name by Piper Kerman after binge viewing the huge hit, “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix.  (See my last post for the review of the hit series).

In two separate interviews on NPR’s “All Things Considered”, Terry Gross interviews first Piper Kerman and then Jenji Kohan. It makes for fascinating listening!

To take a few examples:  In the memoir Kerman does not actually experience solitary confinement.  However, to show the desolation and dehumanizing boredom of prison,  Jenji Kohan has the fictionalized Piper spend time in the SHU (solitary confinement).  To show prison at its most extreme.  In addition, the ending of the series is not the same as in the memoir but leads dramatically to the promised second season, when Piper’s experiences will almost certainly deviate further from the memoir and create its own plot and momentum.

The actresses who played the key roles are also brilliantly discussed in NPR’s interview of Kohan.  The transgender actress, Laverne Cox, is seen in  flashback while a male.  But that was not possible with the actress’s female beauty.  Serendipitously, Cox  has a twin brother who played those scenes, unbeknownst to the producer and casting director at the time they cast Laverne.  Another actress (Uzo Aduba) who plays “Crazy Eyes” was not considered quite right for the role she was auditioning for, so Kohan created a new character because she was so impressed by Aduba’s performance.  That character became pivotal to the plot.

Enjoy listening to both NPR interviews!  I can’t wait until  Netflix’s second season, currently in production.

“Orange is the New Black”–Life Behind Bars

Orange is the New BlackThis is a caged beast financed and produced by Netflix: thirteen episodes available on Instant Queue for binge viewing if you are so inclined.

“Orange is the New Black” (filmed on location in a women’s prison in Chino, California) is loosely based on the 2010 memoir by Piper Kerman (now an advocate for women prison reform.)  Piper Chapman (phenomenal newcomer Taylor Schilling) is a privileged Smith College graduate sentenced to 14 months in prison for the crime of smuggling drugs ten years earlier.  Her former lover from that time, fellow drug smuggler Alex Vaus (the pitch-perfect Laura Prepon), is  sent to the same prison.

The question:  How does one survive in an institution that can kill your soul?  Piper is blond, blue-eyed, terrified, but also an outsider because of an upbringing far removed from the world of most of the other inmates, mainly women of color–young, middle-aged, and old–guilty of crimes undeserving of such long prison sentences. Trying to develop some sort of connection with them as well as with the prison guards, Chapman is determined to learn how to survive and, in the learning process, changes in ways both unexpected and welcomed. Her fiancé (Jason Biggs of “American Pie” fame), a journalist, also changes while separated from Piper.

Each of the thirteen episodes flashes on a different inmate’s backstory: her life before prison.  These women’s snapshots interweave with Piper, whose story is the main spine of “Orange is the New Black”.  Moments of comedy morph so fast into dramatic, painfully dark scenes the viewer feels whiplashed!  Each situation has more than one moral choice, and all choices are lose-lose.  And every single inmate has to give up something with unbelievably high stakes. There are narrative arcs and character development to surprise even the most attentive viewer. “Orange is the New Black” is story-telling at its finest.

Riveting, spellbinding, and infused with dilemmas at every turn, this new mini-series–written by the superlative Jenji Kohan of “Weeds”—is, I believe,  one of the very best ever produced for television at a time when there is a fast-growing bounty of high-quality programs.  The opening footage of faces –just eyes and foreheads, then mouths and chins–is like none seen in what Hollywood persuades us to believe human faces are supposed to be like. And the dialog is terse, mesmerizing, and vibrates with nuggets of truth you want to never fail to remember!