Dante Running from the Three Beasts — William Blake

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Dante Running from the Three Beasts, 1827 by William Blake (1757-1827)

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Figure at a Typewriter — Henry Koerner

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Figure at a Typewriter by Henry Koerner (1915-1991)

Hercules and the Hydra (Detail) — Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder

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Hercules and the Hydra, c. 1537 by the Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder

A democratic way of looking around (William Eggleston)

The Misfortunes of Love — Francis Gruber

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The Misfortunes of Love, 1937 by Francis Gruber (1912-1948)

On Doing Nothing (Book acquired, 12 June 2018)

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Roman Muradov’s On Doing Nothing is new from Chronicle Books. Instead of the blurb, here’s the intro:

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Pierre & Tess — Peter Ferguson

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Pierre & Tess by Peter Ferguson (b. 1968)

Abraham’s Sacrifice — Karoly Ferenczy

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Abraham’s Sacrifice, 1901 by Karoly Ferenczy

Snake Bite Floripondio — Leonora Carrington

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Snake Bite Floripondio, 1975 by Leonora Carrington (1917–2011)

 

Mia — Francis Gruber

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Mia, 1933 by Francis Gruber (1912-1948)

Breakup — Andrew Wyeth

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Breakup, 1994 by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)

Nuit Tropicale — Wolfgang Paalen

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Nuit tropicale (Tropical Night), 1948 by Wolfgang Paalen (1905-1959)

Ethel Ashton — Alice Neel

Ethel Ashton, 1930 by Alice Neel (1900–1984)

Dante Drinking the Waters of Lethé — Jean Delville

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Dante Drinking the Waters of Lethé, 1919 by Jean Delville (1867–1953)

Terrible Saturday Night Double Feature: Ant-Man and The Disaster Artist (Summer Film Log)

It is possible that there is a good film hiding somewhere in the patched-together mess that is Ant-Man (2015), but I doubt it. The film had a troubled production, with original director (and producer/writer) Edgar Wright dropping out because he could see that Marvel Studios would not let him make the film he wanted to make.

I haven’t liked anything Wright has done since Shaun of the Dead (2004), and his last film Baby Driver (2017) looked so insufferable that I’ll likely never sit through it. Still: Wright’s films are his films, marked by his style, his idea of “cool,” and his idea of “humor.” I don’t think his films are particularly good, but they are nevertheless original. The version of Ant-Man that Marvel Studios gave its loyal fandom bears traces of Wright’s vision—“traces” is not the right word; it is too subtle–maybe “chunks” is the word I want: Big “chunks” of the film Wright likely intended are in Ant-Man, delivered mainly via Paul Rudd’s glib charm. And yet the chunks aren’t particularly well-integrated—or maybe it’s unclear what they are to be integrated intoAnt-Man tries to do too many things and ends up not delivering on them; or, rather, it delivers them with slick emptiness that points to the film’s utter inconsequentiality. There are plenty of examples, but none so glaring as when Michael Douglas (playing the original Ant-Man Hank Pym) reconciles a relationship with his emotionally-estranged daughter (Evangeline Lilly who will become the Wasp in the upcoming and inevitable sequel), only to have the moment punctured by Paul Rudd. The breeziness doesn’t feel comedic, but rather a bit nihilistic.

Nothing matters in Ant-Man except setting up the next Marvel Cinematic Universe film. So why not shoehorn in a scene with a flying Avenger? The film sometimes delivers aesthetically—I mean, this is a movie about a guy who shrinks, right? there should be plenty of cool imagery here—but for all its charms à la Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), Ant-Man is ultimately uninterested in tapping the massive potential of a microscopic world. Even worse, the film has no interest at all in exploring the deeper philosophical implications of what it might mean for a consciousness to find its bearings in time/space fundamentally transformed. Ant-Man feels more like a product assembled by committee than an actual film, which is a shame, given all the potential in its basic story.


How I watched it: On a big TV via a streaming service, with my wife and my children, who selected it for our viewing entertainment.


The Disaster Artist (2017) is a bad movie about a bad movie. I’ll admit that the charms of The Room (2003) will forever be lost on me. That film is bad, yes, but worse, it’s boring. (I like my bad films to be not boring).

The Disaster Artist is based on a book of the same name by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. The book chronicles Sestero’s relationship with Tommy Wiseau, the auteur behind The Room (Wiseau and Sestero star in The Room). Director James Franco plays Wiseau and his little brother Dave Franco plays Sestero. James Franco portrays Wiseau as kind of deranged Dracula; Dave Franco plays Sestero as an earnest, empathetic, friendly hero. The Disaster Artist never questions Sestero’s account making The Room. He’s simply the Good Guy.

The Francos are not nearly as compelling as the cast around them, which is larded with ringers like Alison Brie, Sharon Stone, Nathan Fielder, Hannibal Buress, Bryan Cranston, and Seth Rogen. (Rogen’s performance as a script supervisor who ends up essentially directing The Room is probably the highlight of The Disaster Artist).

A good cast is not enough to cover over James Franco’s pedestrian direction though. He takes every possible shortcut, slathering scene after scene with cheap music, staging scenes in the most formulaic way possible, and telegraphing almost every plot point in unnecessary exposition. Franco directs the film as if he is worried your baby boomer uncle might not get what’s going on, squandering much of the weird potential that rests in a character as unique as Tommy Wiseau.

To make sure that all viewers “get it” — or at least get the idea of “getting it” — Franco frontloads the film with talking head celebrities (including Adam Scott, Kristen Bell, and Danny McBride) pretending to improvise their enthusiasm for the ironic charms of The Room.

The Disaster Artist culminates in the premiere of The Room. In Franco’s portrayal, The Room’s premiere audience attunes quickly to the absurdity of Wiseau’s wreck, adopting an ironic vision that allows them to take deep joy in watching a bad film. Franco pours sweetened laughter over the scene. The whole effect is like having someone explain an absurd joke. Who wants to have an absurd joke explained to them?

What the film never does—never even really tries to do—is get into Wiseau’s weird mind. There’s a strange and fascinating story in there, but The Disaster Artist can’t get to it, offering instead contours with no real substance. Indeed, The Disaster Artist seems a bit afraid of whatever’s going on inside Wiseau, and so instead retreats into platitudes about How Great Film Is and How Great It Is To Make Movies and etc.  The Disaster Artist is boringly competent. The Room is a bad film, but at least it’s original.


How I watched it: On an iPad with earphones, lying in bed, trying to follow up Ant-Man with something better, and ultimately finding no success.

Wisdom V — Tamara de Lempicka

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Wisdom V, c. 1974 by Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980)

Nan Wood Graham — Joan Liffring-Zug Bourre

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Nan Wood Graham, 1975 by Joan Liffring-Zug Bourre (b. 1929)