Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Americana Part Two

Jack Black has spent his career playing amusing (some think irritating) maniacs. His role in Richard Linklater's "Bernie" is a complete departure from that and he is excellent. This movie is based on a real person and a real case. Black has the title role, playing Bernie Tiede, a closeted gay mortician in the small East Texas town of Carthage. Bernie is the best liked guy in town because he really is the nicest person in town. He sings hymns in church and at the funeral home and sings Broadway tunes in his capacity as the director of the local amateur theater group, which seems to be perpetually putting on "The Music Man". Bernie's the lead, of course. Black, who is a talented musician (Tenacious D), sings beautifully and without a tinge of irony.

Bernie is nice to every one including the richest and meanest woman in town, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Bernie eventually becomes her companion and majordomo and that is when complications arise. Matthew McConaughey is great as the ridiculously self-satisfied Carthage District Attorney, Danny Buck.

Also great are the actual citizens of Carthage, whose interviews are scattered throughout the film like a Greek chorus. It has been noted that giving an interview is functionally a performance and some of the townsfolk are wonderful performers. One Carthaginian talks about the citizens of a town about 50 miles away with a distain worthy of a Cro-Magnon talking about a Neanderthal. This is very funny stuff and I highly recommend this film

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Americana Part One

The bureau chief and Mme. Le Chef saw Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" and I am willing to anoint it his best film. It's the summation of his filmic tendencies to date. The cinematography and the editing are very controlled, very structured. The art direction and the costumes emphasize artifice (and visual enjoyment, and humor) over realism. This is a comedy but there is real heart in it. It's set on a New England island during the first half of the 1960s. Of course this is a distillation of a vision of early 60s America, not the 1960s I remember. Anderson was born in 1969.

At the center of the film is the towering love affair of two twelve-year-olds, played by non-professional actors Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman. They're great. It's also got plenty of professional actors like Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Francis McDormand and more and they're great too. The music is wonderful also, a mixture of Hank Williams, Benjamin Britten, Alexandre Desplat and a little Fran├žoise Hardy.

We saw this film two weeks ago and I'm already willing to watch it again. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Filmic Augury

The bureau chief has no abilities at all for predicting the future from the flight of birds or the condition of the livers of sacrificed animals but he's got a decent record predicting how good movies will be based on their trailers. I'm sad to say that Woody Allen's "To Rome with Love" does not appear to be a promising film. I'd be happy to be wrong.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

School of Life

The bureau chief audited history and French classes at San Francisco State from 2006 to 2011 and may audit some more in the future. In addition to appreciating just how good the professors were, I was amazed at the energy, beauty and optimism of the students, my own college days being long in the past. I came across a quote from Paul Fussell, in his book "Doing Battle", that sums up what I felt.

". . . the sentimentalist indulged the melancholy thought that when deserted by students, classrooms are dead in a way no other public spaces are. What ecstasies and shames have been experienced in these neutral rooms, with their characterless fixed-arm chairs, blackboards, and teachers' desks. What intellectual beauty has had its moments there in the midst of such depressing plainness and utility. . . College students are so fresh, so noisy and so beautiful that their absence from empty classrooms is unignorably melodramatic and touching. They and their charming loquacity pass, but the room is silent, and it remains, in its permanence and anonymity making the ironic comment:'You young people grow old; your hopes and certainties alike will fade away; your vigor and beauty will vanish;  you will be replaced by others like you, equally self-certain and self-concerned.' "

I could have named this post mortality or the human condition but that seemed too uninviting.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Gaultier at the De Young

A couple of days ago, we went to the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. The bureau chief neglected to take a picture of the museum itself but here's the view from it, looking at the Academy of Science, with passing Segways.

The Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit is excellent. In order to provide more than just manikins wearing his creations, they modeled the heads of the manikins after real people and then made a video recording of those people speaking. They projected the recordings on the faces of the manikins and have the voices coming from them. It works in a weird and wonderful way. Gaultier greets visitors.

Here's another manikin.

One of Gaultier's iconic creations.

He even designs furniture.

Gaultier's clothes really do function as art.