Tag Archives: On Pop Culture

Today? Christie’s. Tomorrow…the World!

By Dennis Hartley

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So there’s Michelangelo, Rodin…and then there’s this guy:

(from Independent UK)

A statue of Hitler on his knees by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan has sold at auction for an earth-shattering $17.2 million (£12 million).

Titled Him, the wax sculpture was expected to make between $10million and $15 million at Christie’s auction house in New York. 

Having made well over the estimated amount, the sale set a record for the Italian satirical artist, best known for La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour) – a sculpture of  Pope John Paul II having been hit by a meteorite. Cattelan’s previous record was $7.9 million for a statue of himself peeping through a hole in the floor.

Completed in 2001, Him is supposed to disrupt the viewers sense, with the work appearing like a small child from behind, yet with Hitler’s face offering a sinister contrast.

Describing the piece, the 55-year-old artists said: “Hitler is pure fear; it’s an image of terrible pain. It even hurts to pronounce his name. And yet that name has conquered my memory, it lives in my head, even if it remains taboo.

“Hitler is everywhere, haunting the spectre of history; and yet he is unmentionable, irreproducible, wrapped in a blanket of silence. 

The work previously caused controversy when it was installed in a former Warsaw Ghetto, a place where thousands of Jews died under Nazi rule.

“I’m not trying to offend anyone,” Cattelan continued. “I don’t want to raise a new conflict or create some publicity; I would just like that image to become a territory for negotiation or a test for our psychoses.”

Fair enough. Although, if your intent is so truly benign (and far be it from me to feel I have any presumptive right to advise you what to do with your own hard-earned  money), it would be a nice gesture to donate a portion of that $17 mil to, oh, I don’t know…The Holocaust Museum? Or maybe a human rights organization? So, what’s next?

Earlier this year, the artist revealed he would be returning to the Guggenheim Museum in New York to install a new artwork: a solid gold toilet titled America which patrons of the gallery may use.

Hang on. Crapping on America whilst seated on a solid gold toilet? Hate to break it to you, but Mr. Trump could sue you for plagiarism.

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England swings like a pendulum do

By Dennis Hartley

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It was 50 years ago today (or thereabouts)…

(from USA Today)

This year, 400 since the death of Shakespeare and 90 since the birth of Elizabeth II, is also the 50th anniversary of Swinging London, a time and place that produced the British Invasion rock bands, Georgy Girl and Darling, Twiggy and The Shrimp and the miniskirt.

In the 1960s, London — epitome of everything hierarchical, traditional and stodgy — was the site of a revolution in music, fashion and design. Lords partied with bricklayers, rockers with gangsters. Anything seemed possible.

The scene was made famous by an April 1966 Time magazine cover story, titled “The city that swings.’’ It described a place where “ancient elegance and new opulence are all tangled up in a dazzling blur of op and pop.’’

[…]

The 50th anniversary of Swinging London is being marked at a Saatchi Gallery show of Stones memorabilia. Jimi Hendrix’ old flat (once Handel’s attic) has opened to tourists.This summer the Victoria & Albert Museum begins an exhibition, You Say You Want a Revolution?

Yeaahh, baby!

I’m a bit of an Anglophile; I particularly love the British music,  films  and TV shows of that era.  In fact, 1966 was a watershed year for British cinema: Alfie, After the Fox, The Deadly Affair,  Fahrenheit 451,  Funeral in Berlin,  Georgy Girl,  A Man For All Seasons, The Wrong Box, and of course, Antonioni’s Blow-Up. Here’s my favorite scene:

As for the most memorable UK TV show of ’66, 2 words: Emma Peel!

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And lest we forget the fab UK music of ’66…here are my top picks:

Now if you will excuse me,  it’s time for my tea and bickie. Cheers!

Video pirates beware!

By Dennis Hartley

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Just because Blockbuster and Hollywood Video are kaput, don’t think that you are off the hook. You scofflaws know who you are:

A North Carolina man faces a court date after a bizarre arrest for not returning a 15-year-old VHS rental, but he may receive a little help from the movie’s star.

James Meyers said he was pulled over on Tuesday morning for a broken taillight, but later learned that there was a warrant out for his arrest because he had not returned a copy of “Freddy Got Fingered” he rented in late 2001.

The 37-year-old single dad told the Daily News that cops allowed him to continue driving his daughter to school, but was later handcuffed and taken into custody when he met up with police that afternoon.

Luckily for him, this lawless ne’er-do-well has a guardian angel:

[Tom] Green, who is currently on a stand-up comedy tour in Australia, told the Daily News that he is happy to support fans of his film, which was the subject of terrible reviews and currently has an 11% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The 44-year-old comedian, who said that Rotten Tomatoes is “in the business of hating on art,” said that he could put in a good word with the court or even help out financially as long as the outcome doesn’t involve an outrageous sum.

Goddam movie critics. Always hating on art. Insufferable snobs.

Apparently, this has happened before, back in 2014:

Kayla Finley, 27, had visited a police station to report a crime, only to find a warrant for her arrest had been issued in 2005, when she was 18.

Ms Finley had rented a VHS copy of romantic comedy Monster In Law, starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda.

According to local television station Fox Carolina, Ms Finley was “shocked and disgusted” at the arrest.

Police said several warning letters about the overdue video were sent to Ms Finley, but she had since changed address.

[…]

Monster In Law, released in 2005 and directed by Robert Luketic, was mostly panned by critics.

So there are 3 lessons we have learned today:

  1.  If the technology is obsolete, it’s probably overdue.
  2.  Critics are always hating on art.
  3.  Freddy Got Fingered  and Monster In Law are obviously art.

Class dismissed.

Everybody gets a trophy (not)

By Dennis Hartley

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Well, we got through the Oscar telecast last night, and the world is still here. Yes it was awkward (I had to disable my Liberal Guilt Chip before tuning in), but it’s part of my duties as an alleged movie critic.

Thank god for Chris Rock, who found the sweet spot between acknowledging the elephant in the room and keeping everything moving along. He doled out some shaming on the Academy (as there  should have been), but Rock is such a pro that everyone was too busy laughing to be taken aback; and when he made a direct statement about affording people of color more opportunities in Hollywood, it was refreshingly devoid of sanctimony or grandstanding.

I dug Leo’s stump on global warming  (anything that makes the deniers twitch is OK in my book) but the most eloquent moment of the night was Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s acceptance speech for winning Best Documentary Short.  Of course, now I’ll have to face my own shaming for admitting that I haven’t had a chance to see any of the Best Documentary Short nominees (bad critic! bad! bad!).  However, I did manage to see and review the other shorts nominees.

I don’t normally “root” for one movie or the other, but I have to say that I was pulling for When Marnie Was There (my review), which lost to Pixar’s Inside Out for Best Animated Feature  I expected a little love for Studio Ghibli,  especially since this wonderful film  is purported to be the swan song for anime master Hayao Miyazaki.

But you can’t have everything. Hey…is there a trophy for that?

BTW your thoughts on the Oscars are welcome (be civil)…

What’s on your DVR?

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on January 9, 2016)

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Years ago, in days of old (when magic filled the air)…before the interwebs (or cable, even), we ancient folk suffered a kind of post-holiday, affective disorder called “mid-season blues”. Granted, one could say the very concept of television “seasons” has become moot, with a growing wave of cable subscribers (350,000 in Q3 of last year), who have “cut the cord” and opted for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, etc. etc.

But there remain some of us who still subscribe (literally) to the Old Ways. I don’t know, perhaps it’s that tactile sensation of brandishing a remote. Or maybe it’s the warm, special feeling I get when I receive my monthly Xfinity “Triple Play” bill of $244, which not only gives me access to the interwebs and 200 channels (out of which I only watch about 15 with any regularity), but provides me with a good ol’ reliable land line, which keeps me up-to-date on all the latest phone scams (“Hello! I’m calling from Microsoft.”).

If you dig around enough, you can still find some worthwhile teevee for your viewing pleasure. It does take some work, because you have to be willing to hold your nose and sift through a load of offal (read: reality TV programming) to unearth the odd gem. So for anyone who cares, here is my current top 10 list of “must see TV”, in alphabetical order:

Decades (Decades) – Now that the “History” Channel (home to the likes of Pawn Stars, Ancient Aliens, and erm, Swamp People) appears hell bent on covering anything but, history buffs have to do a little detective work in order to get their fix. This daily news magazine, the flagship show for the Decades channel, is right in the wheelhouse. Hosted by Bill Curtis, the show employs the venerable “this day in history” formula, utilizing clips from the news vaults of parent company CBS. “And that’s the way it is…”

The Director’s Chair (El Rey Network) – Robert Rodriguez goes one-on-one with fellow directors, Charlie Rose style. Not unlike David Steinberg’s excellent Showtime series Inside Comedy, the peer-to-peer shop talk approach yields conversations that are candid, insightful, and enlightening. Guests have included John Carpenter, Michael Mann, Francis Ford Coppola, George Miller, and some buddy of his named Quentin something.

Fargo (FX) – I confess being late to this party; I passed on Season 1 because I have a block against shows spun from films (personal problem). I had so many friends lobbying me to check out Season 2 that I finally binge-watched all 13 hours, to get them off my back. Imagine my surprise once I discovered how extraordinarily good the show is. The Coen’s involvement is minimal, but their thumbprints are all over it: arch, darkly funny heartland noir, smartly written, marvelously acted and tightly directed. Kirsten Dunst and Patrick Wilson are both up for possible Golden Globes tomorrow night, and rightfully so.

Humans (AMC) – What this UK-produced sci-fi drama series may lack in originality (it’s the umpteenth riff on Ray Bradbury’s short story, I Sing the Body Electric and/or Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) is more than made up for by its dynamic execution. Currently on hiatus (AMC has confirmed a second season for 2016), the narrative centers on how the addition of a servile “synth” (your basic drop-dead gorgeous android) to the household affects the dynamics of an already dysfunctional upper middle-class family. While the android is allegedly factory fresh, there are hints that “she” may have a complicated past, which introduces conspiracy thriller elements to the tale. Uniformly well-acted, but the most compelling performance is by Gemma Chan as the family’s synth. The series was adapted from the Swedish TV drama Real Humans.

Independent Lens / P.O.V. (PBS) – I’m consolidating this pair of curated series because they are, in a fashion, two parts of a whole. Both provide a fabulous showcase for indie nonfiction films (representing a truly democratic diversity of voices and topics) that may not be otherwise accessible to a broad audience (on “free” TV, no less!). I’ve noticed that many of the better documentaries I’ve covered at the Seattle International Film Festival find their way to PBS (getting distribution for a documentary can be a tough row to hoe).

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) – With no disrespect to Trevor Noah, who is doing a bang-up job with The Daily Show, what with Jon Stewart’s retirement and Stephen Colbert’s defection to the straight world, I’ve been going through satirical withdrawal. But thank the gods for HBO, and their wise decision to give John Oliver a platform for his pointed, gloriously demented take downs of hypocrisy in all of its guises.

 Live from Daryl’s House (Palladia) – Daryl Hall has had an eclectic career, stretching himself as an artist in ways that may surprise casual music fans who only think of him as one-half of one of the most successful pop music duos in chart history. His musical flexibility comes in handy in this multiple platform cable show (since 2011) and webcast (since 2007). It’s a simple concept; a guest artist joins Hall and his band at his rustic home/private studio in upstate New York for food, conversation and (of course) lots of jamming. What makes it fun is the vibe of intimacy and spontaneity (although you can tell from the incredible tightness of the arrangements that they’ve rehearsed all the numbers). Still, it gives you an enjoyable illusion of being a “fly on the wall” at the session. The guest roster has been quite varied, ranging from established classic rockers, soul, R&B, blues and pop artists to up and coming acts. Some personal favorite sessions: Todd Rundgren, Joe Walsh, Nick Lowe, Ben Folds, Rumer, Allen Stone, Grace Potter, Dave Stewart, Smokey Robinson, Toots & the Maytals…hell-(as they say) it’s all good!

 Maron (IFC) – Following in the footsteps of Seinfeld and Louis, comedian/podcast host Marc Maron plays a theatrically embroidered version of “himself” in this acerbically amusing look at what comedians “do” those remaining 23 hours a day when they are not on stage. Yes, it’s another show about “nothing”…but darker and more angst-ridden than the aforementioned, with a Saul Bellow vibe. But still funny. Very, very funny. Trust me.

Ray Donovan (Showtime) If you miss The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, or Sons of Anarchy, this series should more than adequately fill that void in your life that cries out for a weekly “criminal thug as harried family guy” drama to really sink your teeth into. The Donovans are a clan of Boston Southies who have transplanted to sunny L.A. Liev Schreiber leads a fine cast as Ray, a Hollywood “fixer” (think George Clooney’s eponymous character in Michael Clayton, or Harvey Keitel’s “Mr. Wolf” in Pulp Fiction). Ray’s methods for making his wealthy clients’ problems “disappear” are discreet, but hardly legal. Of course, he does it all to support his family, who are dysfunctional at best. In fact, he spends just as much time making his own family’s problems disappear; especially those of his two brothers, and his father (Jon Voight, rarely better, as one of the most odious “bad dads” of all time). Can’t wait for Season 4.

Star Talk (National Geographic Channel) – Astrophysicist/head cheerleader for science Neil deGrasse Tyson continues his crusade against ignorance and superstition in America (yes, it’s still rampant…have you been following this election cycle?) with this lively, brain-stimulating talk show, which just wrapped up its second season. Far from a dry science lecture, Tyson infuses pop culture and humor into the mix; inviting a scientist and a standup comic to share the stage with him each week. In turn, this panel parses and adds color to Tyson’s in-depth, pre-taped interview with whoever that week’s special guest is. The guests hail from a wide spectrum of professions: actors, musicians, authors, entrepreneurs, politicians, film directors, astronauts. What I love about the show is how the conversation expands into all directions (art, music, religion, politics, history, philosophy, economics, etc.) yet always loops back to science, and the joy of discovery.

Back to the future with Roger and Gene

By Dennis Hartley

Apropos to the opening weekend of The Force Awakens, Chaz Ebert unearthed a fabulously entertaining vintage Nightline clip over at her blog that features a three way dust-up (quite civil, actually) between her late husband Roger, Gene Siskel and venerable New York-based critic John Simon. The year was 1983, the subject at hand was the original Star Wars trilogy. Return of the Jedi had recently opened, apparently prompting Simon to go on a tear reiterating his disdain for the franchise. He had famously lambasted the 1977 original, writing:

Strip Star Wars of its often striking images and its highfalutin scientific jargon, and you get a story, characters, and dialogue of overwhelming banality, without even a “future” cast to them: Human beings, anthropoids, or robots, you could probably find them all, more or less like that, in downtown Los Angeles today. Certainly the mentality and values of the movie can be duplicated in third-rate non-science of any place or period.

I sense hostility.

Anyhoo…Ted Koppel was the moderator, John Simon played Darth Vader, and Roger and Gene stood in for Luke and Han. Check it out:

God, I miss Siskel & Ebert (I wrote a tribute a few years back). They may have not have always seen eye to eye, but as evidenced in the clip they could be a formidable tag team. I love the part where Simon champions Tender Mercies over Return of the Jedi as a film  he would take his (hypothetical) children to see. Tender Mercies is a great film, but if I wanted to treat my (hypothetical) kids to a Saturday matinee, I’d probably opt for the fun space western with the cute robots over the painterly character study about the, erm… recovering alcoholic .

But that’s just me.