Velvet Buzzsaw–Art Can Be Dangerous

In this grisly art-world satire, Velvet Buzzsaw opens with a renowned art critic, Morf Vandewalt (the sensational Jake Gyllenhaal), in his designer sunglasses, turning his pompous, gimlet eye on artwork at the highly hyped Art Basel Miami show. Pontificating about what he considers worthy or unworthy, Morf has the power to punish or reward.

Everything starts conventionally with the cocktail circuit of groveling artists’ representatives, but  soon it turns grisly.  Velvet Buzzsaw relishes in satirizing the pompous art-world,  blending horror  inside an artist’s disturbed mind.

The disturbed mind is that of a deceased elderly man, Vetril Dease, whose paintings are discovered by Josephina (Zawe Ashton) , a recently fired art gallery assistant.  Although Dease had instructed that his paintings be destroyed after his death, Josephina ambitiously appropriates them.  She sees an opportunity for profit, power, and status.  Partnering with her former boss (Rene Russo), the powerhouse owner of the Haze gallery, the two women form an unholy alliance to sell Dease’s “outsider art” for exorbitant sums of money.   Despite the fact that Rhodora Haze had humiliated Josephine previously, the young assistant soon becomes indispensable to Rhodora.

Art becomes personal, and Dease’s mysterious  paintings have a mind of their own.  What if the figures in his paintings reflect the artist’s past pain and suffering? Dease’s fear, melancholy, menace and agony?

Seemingly unfazed by growing concerns over Dease’s work and his past, Rhodora imperiously manipulates the profits from this windfall collection, creating more buzz as some paintings are destroyed. Josephina is her accomplice.

Velvet Buzzsaw’s pacing is skillful and adept with what-will-happen-next tension.  However, a few images are almost too far-fetched, even for the horror genre.  Part “Black Mirror” and part classic “The Red Violin”,  the viewer is left asking questions from the ambiguity of the ending:   Who is the perfect victim for a cursed object?  When is the punishment too extreme for the crime?  Velvet Buzzsaw is sharply rendered.

Note: This is a new release, a Netflix Original,  with grisly deaths and a few bloody scenes.   

 The Favourite–A Compelling Menage à Trois

 

 

The Favourite

Nominated for ten Academy Awards including best picture, The Favourite is perhaps one of the best revenge thrillers of 2018. Reminiscent of Downton Abbey with its opulent settings and costumes, The Favourite is also an historical drama.

In the early 18th century court of Queen Anne, we see a mentally fragile and damaged queen (the sublime Olivia Colman), facing the usual suspects vying to seize the growing power of an emerging empire. The queen’s closest advisor and friend, Lady Sarah Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), governs the country behind the scenes through manipulating Anne’s vulnerabilities, infantilizing her, and enabling the Queen’s weakened health to worsen.

When Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, desolate and no longer considered aristocratic, Lady Sarah becomes indebted to her for assuaging the Queen’s episode of gout. Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots if she can become a trusted confidante of the queen. The plot thickens, as we see the two ladies-in-waiting wrestle for the queen’s attention and affection. Queen Anne seems to slip deeper into madness, while delighting in being fought over by Lady Sarah and Lady Abigail.

 

The Favourite movie

The Favourite is not only a thriller but a love triangle. Are Lady Sarah and Lady Abigail really in love with the Queen or simply ingratiating themselves in order to manipulate her for their own self interests? We’re never quite sure.

Colman, Weisz and Stone are fully in control in every scene, giving powerhouse performances. Their virtuoso acting is the engine that drives the subplots and unexpected twists and turns at Kensington Palace. (With subchapter titles like “I Dreamt I Stabbed You in the Eye”, the viewer is still left unprepared.) In the end, however, it is Colman who is unforgettable, whose eyes subtly water at hurtful comments, the gaze of one who hopes that no one notices the injury. Those eyes and the subtly of her acting, repeatedly holding this viewer’s undivided attention, are exceptional.

Through her mesmerizing performance as Queen Anne– broken, impulsive, lustful, needy and angry all at once, –Olivia Colman owns almost every iconic moment. All is communicated through her eyes. Few can rival that.

Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone give the performances of their lives too, with tantrums, furious raging, and sexual excesses. Uncomfortably intimate close-ups, with a wide range of emotions richly displayed, reveal their desperate loneliness and despair.

While the wicked schemes and betrayals make The Favourite a very strong contender for an Academy Award for best picture, the historical setting was puzzling at times. It is the early 18th century and England is at war with the French, but The Favourite does little to inform the audience that the war is known as Queen Anne’s War and foreshadows the Napoleonic  Wars so this is a critical time for building an empire. The addition of a little historical context would have put the crowning touch on The Favourite.

 

IndigNation–Jim Carrey’s Political Cartoons

 

Jim Carrey Robert Mueller
Squeeze. Mueller. Squeeze

Every time I think I know what Jim Carrey will do next as a comedian the actor throws me off balance. Think of his new HBO series Kidding. But most of all, his evolution as a no-holds-barred political artist just blows me away.

I recently was privileged to see more than 80 of his sketches at the Maccarone Gallery in Los Angeles, IndigNation: Political Cartoons by Jim Carrey, 2016–2018.” This Canadian actor is fearless in attacking the dysfunction of Trump’s presidency. The intensity of his aversion for Trump is felt pulsating through the 8 1/2 x 11 school notebook pages literally ripped from the binder. The torn, ragged edge of each sheet is perhaps a metaphor for how Carrey feels while painting with brush markers and acrylics, often in exceptionally fine detail.

From October 13 through December 7, the Los Angeles exhibit covered the Twitter sketches Carrey has posted weekly, since Trump’s inauguration. The Maccarone gallery had three huge rooms exhibiting his colorful drawings, simply framed, and with often scathing and vituperative captions revealing an artist talented with words as well as with color. Carrey has been quoted as saying that social media is his canvas. (Currently Carrey has 18 million Twitter followers @JimCarrey)

Jim Carrey A Void cartoon
A Void

But it is only since January 2017 that we have seen how accomplished his artistic talents are, as he reacts with outrage to what Trump has done.

Jim Carrey political cartoons
Our Ally. Our Missile. Our Crime.

I hope that the IndigNation exhibit will travel throughout the country so that followers of Carrey will see for themselves how irrepressible these drawings are. Truly turbocharged fulminations of our times.

 

 

Note: “IndigNation: Political Cartoons by Jim Carrey, 2016–2018” was on view at Maccarone, 300 South Mission Road, Los Angeles, October 13December 7, 2018.

 

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World

 

Lo and Behold documentaryFilmmaker Werner Herzog, in this tech-retrospective of the history of the internet and the convoluted relationship between humans and computers, examines the past, present and future of the internet. His easily recognizable gravelled-voice of the narrator is both ominous and puzzling.

Lo and Behold gives the viewer a spellbinding, lesser-known walk back in time through the birth of the computer and its subsequent impact on our daily lives. Some of the segments are dazzling glimpses of the brilliance of discovering this way of communication(with a few academic and boring bits of calculus), some are amusing (the increasing ubiquity of porn), and some are heartbreaking (cyber bullying, suicide, and grief). Anyone who spends a lot of time online will find plenty here to process and reflect on.

We see extremes: medical marvels saving lives or electromagnetic waves that debilitate. Each chapter introduces a different positive or negative dynamic of the internet.

Lo and Behold documentary

At the end of Lo and Behold, after examining the intelligence of robots and their position in our lives (chapter: “Artificial Intelligence”), Herzog poses the question “Can the internet dream of itself?” This is a fascinating look at the pros and cons of our internet world–riveting and memorable!

 

Happy New Year Chinese Style –Year of the Brown Earth Pig or Wild Boar (February 5, 2019–January 24, 2020)

Year of the Wild Boar

The Year of the Wild Boar (in the Japanese and Tibetan zodiac systems) or the Pig in the Chinese Zodiac:   the Buddha called a meeting of his monks, the townspeople, and the animals before entering Nirvana. The Pig was late to the sermon because he ate too much and overslept.

Chinese New Year 2019
Year of the Pig 2019

 

 

The fat, happy Pig’s nature  is to be naturally pleased with himself or herself, no matter what he or she does. The Pig likes creature comforts and is sensual in everything. Tolerant, compassionate, generous, he or she nonetheless has difficulty controlling  passions but hides neither faults, mistakes, nor  self-indulgence. One of Pig’s essential drives is  love of freedom and beauty. The eternal optimist, the Pig’s attitude is, “Don’t worry, be happy”.

Year of the Wild Boar

Although the Pig or Wild Boar is the symbol of both wealth and success in investments, the financial conditions of 2019 may increase unexpected expenses and debt for those born in the Year of the Pig but 2019 is a good year for making money  for everyone else (in today’s stock market?!)

The Year of the Pig (the 12th and last sign of the Chinese Zodiac) is associated with excess, an over-the-top attitude in lifestyle. Their chubby faces and big ears are  considered signs of good fortune.

Because 2019 is the last year in the cycle, this is a year of endings and a time to bring things to completion. This is not the time for new projects. We’ll have to wait until January 25, 2020–the Year of the Rat–to prepare for anything new.