Friday, May 15, 2015

Clouds of Sils Maria

This is a very clever movie. Heartfelt as well. I should also mention honest. Very truthful, right. Also closely observed. It captures the way people talk now, the 21st century's ubiquitous demi-cyberspace of cellphones and tablets, the nuts-and-bolts of an actor's craft, the rarefied world of an A-list actor, and on top of that it's got lots of really nice Swiss scenery. But?

Well, OK.

But ...

Director/screenwriter Olivier Assayas seems to think that entertainment and selling out are the same thing. Let's be clear. Temptations to stoop to entertainment abound in this flick. But he remains pure.

The set-up is a goldmine. Back in 1995, an actress (Juliette Binoche) made a name for herself as a 20-year-old heartless temptress in a play and film adaptation. Flash-forward to 2005, and she's an aging actress. A hot director wants to cast her in a remake. Not the seductress, this time. He asks her to play the older woman that the young sociopath seduced and abandoned.

Good stuff, right? Alfred Hitchcock or Charlie Kaufman would've twisted reality to imitate art and showed the aging actress falling for her brat costar and reprising the fictional plot in real life. Could've been really entertaining, but Assayas is above such temptations.

What he gives us instead is a combo of actor's prep and subtext.

The actor's prep? Hey, you could take this movie and teach a class from it at an actor's conservatory. There's a lot of specific insight into how actors approach their characters and make 'em real. (Or not.) Binoche's character does line readings with her charismatic assistant. Every now and then, there's a frisson of ambiguity -- is this the play, or a real conversation? But there are only mere hints, subtextual winks -- and never to the point of being unsubtle, boorish or entertaining. Most of the time, it's dull actor's process stuff. "An actor prepares." Yeah, yeah. Evidently, they do that a lot. Yep. A lot of boring stuff has to happen before the entertainment begins. Good to know. Do we need two hours of granular detail? It's like a movie about a war where you never actually see the war -- just the hurry up and wait stuff as the army gets ready.

The subtext? That's Binoche's character confronting the aging process, of course. There are a couple of poignant scenes. Most of the time, Assayas sticks with hints and implications -- and never puts something so obvious as actual conflict, drama or character revelation on the screen.

This is not to say there's no drama in the movie. There is.

The plot builds up to the world-premiere of the actual play. The drama we've all been waiting for ...

And that's when the film ends.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

ART REVIEW: “SquareRoots: A Quilted Manifesto — A John Sims Project”

Johannes Curtis Schwarzenstein (aka John Sims)[/caption] “SquareRoots: A Quilted Manifesto — A John Sims Project” explores the shared domain of visual art and mathematics through March 27, at the SCF Fine Art Gallery. The exhibition showcases John Sims’ latest math-inspired visual artifacts. These include 13 math/art quilts, nine dresses based on the number Pi; a blues composition based on Pi; and a video installation introducing Johannes Curtis Schwarzenstein, the Afro-German Jewish math-art poet. (And Sims’ alter ego.) As fans of Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land know, the connection between visual art and math is profound. For centuries, artists have been fascinated by (and created fascinating imagery from) such mysteries as the ratio of the Golden Rectangle, the Fibonacci Series behind every spiral form in nature, and, of course, Pi. (The number also known as π.) Strictly speaking, 3.14159… Well, it goes on. Forever actually. An irrational number at the heart of Western rationality. Math/artist John Sims, Pi is more than a fascination — it's close to an obsession. The irrational number pops up throughout this exhibition. The relationship between Pi and visual art is the spark igniting “Civil Pi,” Sims’ textile collaboration with local Amish quilters; it informs Sims’ series of Pi dresses examining and deconstructing the cult of couture; it also underlies the strategies of cultural revolution explained by Sims' Schwartzenstein persona in a multimedia video production. So. Why Pi? As the artist points out, “Pi is one of the few mathematical constants that have successfully entered the pop-culture psyche. It's a number that continues to stimulate and fascinate the human mind.” Pi fans will note that this art show coincides with the release of “31415,” Sims’ and Vi Hart's Pi-themed spoken word and hip-hop single track. The official release date is 3 /14/15. Otherwise known as Pi Day.

Square Roots: A Quilted Manifesto — A John Sims Project. Through March 27 at Fine Art Gallery at SCF Bradenton, 5840 26th St. W.; 752-5225. John Sims dedicates this exhibition to the legacies of Kevin Dean, Kenny Drew Jr., Joanna Weber and Florence Tate.