Thursday, June 29, 2017

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

the virginia state colony for epileptics and feebleminded

Shout-out to this wonderful first book of poems by Molly McCully Brown I picked up recently at the library. The collection title describes a real place in Madison Heights, Virginia (near where I grew up). The history of the colony is disturbing and a reminder of atrocities buried (it's now the Central Virginia Training Center) in corners of America. Patients in this hospital were sterilized, without consent and many without their knowledge, if they were considered defective, morally or mentally ill.

I really admired Brown's poems: their sensitivity and quiet power and the history she brings to light.

NYT Review by Dwight Garner

Her selected writing can be found here.

Where to find book.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Mozado delivers an excellent remix of Bey and Andre 3000's "Party."

Also check the work on J-Lo's "I'm Real."

Monday, June 26, 2017

in transit + person to person

We need a little humanism in these polarizing times. Two quiet, poetic summer films--distinctly American ones--portray an array of characters with grace and without judgement.

In TransitAlbert Maysles' (co-directed by Lynn True, David UsuiNelson Walker III and Benjamin Wu) poetically-fitting final film, studies the lives of commuters, drifters, travelers and dreamers along the Empire Builder--America's busiest long-distance train route which runs between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. It begins modestly with flits of conversation, snatches of imagery dealing with the wonkish aspects of train-life (bunks, food prep, and ticket-taking) and the picaresque views of the passing countryside. Eventually the filmmakers establish more intimacy with their subjects--a pregnant woman en route to Minnesota to be with her family, a young woman born to crack addicts, a single mother with her bevy of children (she says, "she fits the stereotype"). There are more, who seem especially willing and, perhaps even eager, to have their stories captured on celluloid. And even though the film moves in and out of all kinds of tales, it feels tightly-focused within its fluid yet contained timeline. It also carries an emotional resonance in its depiction of our current era of separation and of an uncertain economy (we pass oil rigs, many of which employ the passengers on the train,  built upon once sacred landscapes).

Decades after Salesman and Grey Gardens, In Transit is another piece in an enriching oeuvre of documentaries. It may not break much ground artistically as many of Maysles' other works have, but it still feels like an accomplished, refreshing doc distinctive in a sea of quick-paced docs (and YouTube videos) in an era of cynical indies and sheepish, boring blockbusters. What burns through is a love for the quirky, the misfits and the down-on-luck. The camera and the shaping of the film through editing (brilliant work by True) and intertwining stories treats all within the work with compassion. A reminder how much the Maysles will be missed. ****

Person to Person reminded me somewhat of Wayne Wang's and Paul Auster's 1995 multi-character movie Smoke. Though not as sharply written or disarmingly deep as Auster's tales, Person to Person, a movie written and directed by Dustin Guy Defa, is comparable as lithe little New York comedy and a quiet gem. The cast (deftly selected by one of the masters of casting: Avy Kaufman), which includes as its most familiar faces Michael Cera and Abbi Jacobson as bumbling NYC paper reporters and a rumpled Philip Baker Hall (almost emotionless--perhaps hardened from all he's seen) as a tinker, are all appealing. A true standout is the bright Tavi Gevinson with her pixie haircut and blunt voice delivering amusingly dry and quietly searing social commentary. The comic lines throughout land softly and the story-lines don't really move anywhere too surprising, it knows its limits and because of this, the film feels humble and warm. ***

-Jeffery Berg

Friday, June 23, 2017

the beguiled

Watching The Beguiled, I sometimes misheard the word Corporal (as Colin Farrell's Union soldier character is dubbed) for "corporeal"--which means pertaining to the body instead of the spirit. In Sofia Coppola's humid drama, the wounded soldier is taken into a southern girls' seminary deep in Virginia (though obviously Louisiana-shot) in the midst of the Civil War. For much of the film he is indeed only a body, stitched up and mended. We get oozy closeups of his shellacked leg. We sense the erotic pangs for him from some of the women.

Nicole Kidman plays the headmistress running the mansion, who lost her husband to war. Kristen Dunst is the main teacher, attracted to the Corporal and also to his idea of running away with him out West. We sense the loneliness from both the aesthetics (pent-up emotions in stitching and the tied knots of ribbons) and the actors themselves--Dunst in particular feels the most immediate. Kidman still delivers the best ice-glares of any living film actress but also discovers an acute physicality in elegant and symbolic poses--a brave protector of sorts of her girls. And Farrell always has a knack of absorbing his characters believably and without hesitancy. Elle Fanning as the loopy, more brazen student, is, perhaps purposefully, affected with more contemporary acting choices and colloquial language. 

The film is based upon a novel by Thomas P. Cullinan which was adapted in 1971 by Don Siegel for a movie starring Clint Eastwood. Supposedly that venture is much pulpier. Sticking to her trademark style, Coppola's fever dream is visually pitched in muted creams and pinks, with dark backgrounds. There's even the frilly pink lettering of the main title card (similar to the girls' cursive lessons). The cinematography by Philippe Le Sourd is fuzzy like strained eyesight and mis-remembered memories. We watch candle lights flicker, the pale faces of the women and young girls lurk in and out--their dresses glowing faintly in soft-colored cotton and satin. It's beautifully orchestrated, as Coppola's films usually are, with a sharp exquisiteness and a hushed somberness. Like the pet turtle in the movie, slowly moving about, nestled in its shell, there's a sense of isolation and of being cut off from traumas just outside of the setting's perimeter (as in Marie Antoinette): off in the near-distance are passerby soldiers on horseback in the mist, the muffled booms of cannons--smoke rising from trees--a quiet rattling of their coziness and structured daily lives. There isn't much of a soundtrack though this time. Instead Coppola selectively employs brackish, dirgey electronic long notes from Phoenix and the schoolgirls' hummings and out-of-key vocal, piano, and sawing violin renditions of rounds and Stephen Foster tunes. There's also the sound of war muted by distance overpowered by the locusts and the birds (are they larks or just robins?). However the aesthetics are sometimes somewhat out-of-sync with the source material. Even though the more sensationalist, plottish moments (unfortunately predictable thanks to heavy-handed symbols and the movie's thriller trailer) fizzle, perhaps the polarization of these times in America adds to a simmering intensity to the picture right now that the film itself may lack. ***

-Jeffery Berg

gifs from spyrogif

Twitter: Blobby Barack

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Friday, June 16, 2017

the bad batch

Somewhere in cracked clay terrain beyond the legal line of Texas lies trash dumps and fearsome mini-societies of exiled Americans. After showing much promise with her vampiric directorial debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Ana Lily Amirpour returns with The Bad Batch, another richly evocative mythical tale in a dystopian key. Lyle Vincent (my personal  Best Cinematography winner of 2014!) is also back with indelible photography, this time in garish and ghoulish grindhouse-color. Reminiscent of George Miller's Mad Max and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Vol. 2, The Bad Batch is a swerving survivalist fable with dabs of social commentary, gore, and desert-dry humor.

For the squeamish, it's good to know that the most graphic sequences in the film are early on, when Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is captured. Amirpour's insistence on practical effects make for realistically grim make-up work. It's a rough, nauseating sit in some of the opening scenes--set in a hollowed-out 747, overrun with tatted, hyper-muscled and cannibalistic Venice Beach-types (Jason Momoa is a ringleader of sorts in this universe). However, our laconic and purposefully obscured heroine soon hobbles her way to a community of desert hippies at the mercy of tongue tab drugs supplied by their mysterious leader The Dream (well-cast Keanu Reeves). The exiled misfits do not dwell in open, natural surroundings--instead, they are well-padded within ramshackle sets of chain-link fences, wind-blown plastic bags and detritus--seemingly leftover from an early 90s era (when Ace of Base and cast members Reeves and, an unrecognizable Jim Carrey, were at their most ubiquitous; now they are just part of a mythic wasteland); these objects make for exaggerated, bluntly ironic cues--including a patriotic puzzle. There is literal social commentary in the litter everywhere from meat-eating to racism to upending power structures; at times, it seems to be a harsh satire of hamburger-chomping, "comfort"-seeking Americans. And yet, cleverly, the obviousness of the commentary is both tongue-in-cheek and faintly endearing rather than cringe-inducing (look out for "the Dream is inside me" tees on pimpish Reeves' clan of impregnated women).

The sound design is particularly magnificent, especially in tripped-up acid western scenes. As is the music supervision (Andrea von Foerster), with wavy electro-disco tunes roiling about. A cassette version of "Karma Chameleon" is appropriately tinny within Walkman headphones; the lyric motif "you come and go" is also resonant of our main characters' strange journeys. Even though Waterhouse and Momoa are sort of wan leads within Amirpour's meandering, stretched-thin narrative, the picture has so many artistic strengths and is also not easily forgotten. I am again looking forward to what she does next. ***

-Jeffery Berg

Thursday, June 15, 2017

hard to say goodbye

Washed Out is back at it with mellow disco shuffle "Hard to Say Goodbye." Their Mister Mellow LP drops June 30th.

The visual album paired with LP looks super promising and cool.