Thursday, January 19, 2017

Touch Me And See: Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing

Kwak Do-Won and Jo Han-Cheol in The Wailing.

I’ve spoken before about the blending of genre, tone, and theme that exemplifies the unique style of directors like Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-Ho, and Kim Ki-Duk. It’s a renaissance of cinematic flair that has come to represent the Korean New Wave as a whole for many Westerners since the late 1990s, and results in films that feel – especially to our exhausted, Hollywood-trained eyes – more fresh and vital and surprising than almost anything we produce over here. One of the latest and most emotionally brutal versions of this style might be Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing, which swerves from slapstick comedy to supernatural horror with an intensity that might result in whiplash, if it weren’t handled with such care and skill.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Walker Evans and Johannes Vermeer Walk Into a Bar

Self Portrait, 1937, by Walker Evans.

“There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described.” – Garry Winogrand

The eye of Walker Evans is to the camera what the eye of Johannes Vermeer was to a canvas. Every image they both made is the embodied meaning of a moment in everyday life. Evans may also be the most influential photographic artist of the 20th century, a visionary genius whose unique style of revealing the shadowy substance beneath the surfaces we take for granted has inspired every other photographer since, whether or not they even know his name. I strongly suspect that he was our Vermeer.

Like most people who have developed a deep appreciation for his masterful photographs, I first encountered him while reading James Agee’s book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The curious collision between the agile dissonance of Agee’s poetic prose and the sedate elegance of Evans’ stately imagery, ostensibly designed to illustrate the 1936 text on the American South during the Great Depression, has remained just as powerful after decades. The word indelible is not an exaggeration when it comes to Evans, who lived from 1903 to 1975.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Gutsy: Black-ish Takes On Donald Trump's Election

A scene from the January 11th episode of ABC's Black-ish.

Note: This post contains spoilers for the Jan. 11 episode of Black-ish.

There’s been no shortage of ink detailing the ongoing battle between President-elect Donald Trump and NBC TV’s Saturday Night Live, whose satirical – and often funny and spot on – jibes directed at Trump are driving the thin-skinned, infantile soon-to-be (God help us) Commander in Chief nuts. But the January 11 episode of ABC’s sharp sitcom Black-ish trumped Lorne Michaels’ creation with a beautifully written and tellingly observed show that got at the new realities in present day post-election America, the disturbing and ever more apparent rift between the country’s left and right flanks, as well as the gulf separating those citizens who wanted Hilary Clinton to be their next President and those who were content to make Donald Trump their leader.

Monday, January 16, 2017

I Like to Recognize the Tune: A Doll’s House at the Huntington

Andrea Syglowski and Sekou Laidlow in the Huntington Theatre's A Doll’s House. (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

You can set a play by Shakespeare or Molière in any era, but you can’t mess around with the setting of a realist play or it no longer makes sense. Yet contemporary directors keep doing it, subjecting the modern realist classics to time shifts that have the effect of bowdlerizing them. The Abbey Theatre’s touring production of Sean O’Casey’s great tragedy about the Easter 1916 uprising, The Plough and the Stars, which American Repertory Theatre imported to Cambridge last fall, threw it forward into the twenty-first century. In the last act of the Roundabout Theatre’s recent Cherry Orchard, Chekhov’s bankrupt Russian aristocrats – a class that was, of course, wiped out or driven into exile by the Russian Revolution – walk out into the world in modern-day outfits. And now we have the Huntington Theatre’s mounting of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (adapted by Bryony Lavery), with an ambiguous setting that is, however, definitely post-1930, judging from the dresses Michael Krass has designed for Nora Helmer (Andrea Syglowski) and her childhood friend Christine Linde (Marinda Anderson).

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Seoul Food: CBC's Kim's Convenience

Jean Yoon, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Andrea Bang in Kim's Convenience on CBC.

Ins Choi's semi-autobiographical 2011 play Kim's Convenience originally debuted as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival and was later remounted by Toronto's Soulpepper Theatre Company to wide acclaim. Soulpepper's production would go on to win two Toronto Theatre Critics awards in 2012, one for Best Canadian Play and another for Best Actor for Paul Sun-Hyung Lee in the role of Mr. Kim. With Soulpepper on board as co-producer, CBC's television adaptation concluded its 13-episode first season on December 27, and it was consistently one of the delights of the 2016 television season, be it American or Canadian.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock (1986)

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts, at CJRT-FM (today Jazz 91.1) in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to artists from all fields. Given the recent American election of Donald Trump, which had all the bizarre intrigue of a Cold War thriller  except that it was a far cry from fiction  it seemed appropriate to resurrect an interview I did with authors Michael Cherkas and Larry Hancock. They wrote a series of graphic novels, The Silent Invasion (1986-88), that depicted an America sinking under the weight of paranoia in the Cold War fifties. Ace reporter Matt Sinkage meanwhile tries to solve a conspiracy involving flying saucers and alien abductions which today wouldn't seem too far-fetched.

 Kevin Courrier

Here is the full interview with Michael Cherkas and Larry Hancock as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1986.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Uses of Magic: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them & A Monster Calls

Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Bored to distraction, my ears ringing from the fearful amplification, I slipped out of Rogue One about halfway through. Not a single sequence seemed to me to have been conceived with any imagination or wit; except for Mads Mikkelsen’s grieving, compromised father, there isn’t a memorable character or performance; and I was utterly perplexed by the lack of humor. What’s the purpose of making a sci-fi fantasy if there’s no distinction between the set-piece scenes and those of any run-of-the-mill, over-budgeted action picture – except for the fact that Rogue One’s are louder? The failings of this one-off entry in the Star Wars franchise seem even more glaring in a year that’s produced truly magical movie experiences like Doctor Strange (which is also one of the best acted of all Marvel pictures), the underappreciated Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Tim Burton’s best film since Corpse Bride), Pete’s Dragon, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and A Monster Calls.