January 19, 2014



Philomena has been one of 2013's most praised films, for good reason. It tells the true story of Philomena Lee, who got pregnant as an unwed young woman in 1950s Ireland. Her family rejected her, and her father left her at one of the infamous Magdalene laundries—convents that housed unwed young mothers, kept them in indentured servitude, and sold their children to adoptive couples. Philomena eventually left, married, and had two daughters, but kept her first, lost child a secret for 50 years. When she eventually told her daughter about her lost first-born, her daughter arranged for her to meet with a struggling reporter to investigate what happened to her son.

The movie, in terms of its filmic qualities, was hit and miss for me. In Judi Dench's portrayal, Philomena's personality is a bit indistinct, and I couldn't reconcile her horrific experiences, her doggedness in pursuing her son, and her meekness and occasional uncertainty. The storytelling left some issues hanging, like Philomena's reaction to the little girl who was adopted by the same parents who adopted her own son. Philomena had known this little girl as a baby and toddler; her mother had been her best friend. And yet Philomena doesn't react emotionally toward her, doesn't talk about how she and her son had been friends as children, doesn't reminisce about the girl's mother. It felt strange, just . . . off.

This story, however, is incredibly compelling. No matter that the filmmaking isn't perfect. At times you could hear sniffles throughout the entire theater as people suppressed their crying. It was just heartbreaking. And I can't shake it. I'm home, still wondering if any of the perpetrators of these whitewashed gulags were ever prosecuted or held accountable. And for anyone who has lost a child, the film beautifully portrays the enduring pain of that loss, which never goes away and can only be turned aside from in order to get on with life.

It's a shame that the distributor felt the need to market the film as a kind of light-hearted, strange-bedfellows road trip movie:

This is what I'll remember instead:

January 17, 2014

Disney's Gamma Ray Anatomy

I love Disney. I really do. From the still-amazing hand animation of Snow White to the visual pyrotechnics of Mulan, the wit of Finding Nemo, and don't even get me started on 101 Dalmatians, the greatest movie ever made. But the Disney movies with traditional heroines (not talking about EVE from WALL-E here) have become harder and harder to watch because they keep inflating the size of the girls' eyes. It's actually become uncomfortable to watch. Just compare the early looks of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty to the heroines of Tangled and Frozen:

For pity's sake, give these girls normal eyes. They look like mutants.

Old Masters, Like New

The director Rino Stefano Tagliafierro took images of Old Masters paintings and subtly animated them, adding music as well. At first the process seems prosaic, but as the minutes pass a type of wonder sets in. The slight enlivening of the human figures truly does make them real(er). And Tagliafierro's curation of the images is masterful: the images are alternatingly disturbing, pretty, pornographic, horrific, and moving. The paintings seem more powerful and, ultimately, weird than ever before.  Here's the link:

The Work of Rino Stefano Tagliafierro

(Discovered thanks to BuzzFeed. Note: BuzzFeed provides gifs of some of the altered images, but they're no substitute for watching the entire film.)

January 13, 2014

2014 Golden Globes

1.  How great was it to see some of the guys with elaborate hairstyles at the Golden Globes this year (Jared Leto, Alex Ebert)? You're in the film industry, people. You shouldn't all look like Wally Beaver.

2.  I wouldn't mind never hearing the words "I didn't prepare a speech" again.

3. Biggest shocker: Zosia Mamet was best dressed. Beautiful.

4. Amy and Tina, you are the funniest.

5. Amy and Tina, your audience collaborators were also the funniest.

6. Amy, I'll now always hate you because you got to make out with Bono.

7. How gorgeous is Bono's wife, still??

8. Ha ha . . . "Irish Alzheimer's: you never forget."

January 11, 2014

Smithsonian American Art Museum

This is possibly my favorite museum in DC, mostly for the wonderful contemporary Lincoln Gallery. But one of my favorite pieces is this amazing sculpture of Gertrude Stein, which for copyright reasons I will only post a link to:

Jo Davidson's "Gertrude Stein"