Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Abstract for final project: The Proletariat

Who: The proletariat of the United States
What: Fairytale portrayal of working conditions and job opportunities
Where: Hollywood films, The United States workforce
When: The films and literature will be from recent U.S. history and the analysis will stem from current day problems.
Why: To demonstrate that it is not this way; workers in our very own “land of the free” are suffering.

I plan to find academic articles on workforce conditions and investigate worker’s statements and biographies or autobiographies.  Possible categories to search are: the labor movement, portrayal of workers in media/film, opinion of workers, opinion of worker’s rights, knowledge of worker’s conditions, common perception of workers in the United States (I could search in an international database for this).  All of the previous searches will be specifically for the workers in the United States.

Films I plan on reviewing for this project are: Erin Brockovich, Norma Ray, and other films that attempt to portray the reality of factory workers.  I will comment on how the films’ representation of these workers affected its viewers, i.e. if it was an accurate representation, did it follow any stereotypes or end the film with a bow?  I will also look into current popular movies and analyze their depiction of jobs and workers to compare with the reality of the times.   

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

2013 Oscar Academy Awards Ceremony: Trashy, Classy, and … Musical?

“Here is to the losers… the losers of them all!!!” belted out Oscar and red carpet hosts, Seth McFarlane and Kristen Chenoweth.  The two formed the tackiest, most obnoxious duo, with derogatory slurs and mindless prattling, for the classiest night in Hollywood.

But enough of the losers… let’s talk about the winners of the evening.

Breaking free from his typecast as a pea-brained heartthrob, director and leading actor Ben Affleck received the Best Picture Oscar for Argo on Sunday at the 85th Academy Awards ceremony.  Co-produced by Grant Heslov, George Clooney and Affleck, the “sexiest producers alive” approached the stage to thank their crew, family, and “Canada.” 

According to Oscars’ history, there is a direct correlation between the Best Picture and Director awards, but not last evening.  Ang Lee, the first non-white filmmaker who received Best Director for Brokeback Mountain in 2005, also won the honor this year for his Life of Pi.

Claudio Miranda, the cinematographer, accepted his award, and reflected on “wonderful moments” such as the scene made of more than 120,000 candles.  Life of Pi also took home Best Original Score and Best Visual Effects. 

Another first in Oscar’s history was its theme: music in film.  Live performances are a whole new world for Hollywood stars; some cannot do without their cappuccino break, so it was incredible to see actors such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliff, choreographed in song and dance.  Catherine Zeta Jones (43 years-old) made it even more surreal as she (still) flaunted her seductiveness in “All that Jazz.” 

However, the show stealer was the cast of Les Miserables, who performed a medley of “One More Day” and “Suddenly.” No wonder people pay thousands for a seat in the nosebleed section. No wonder Anne Hathaway took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  Wow.

Jennifer Laurence, a winner for her edgy role in Silver Lining’s Playbook, looked star-struck as she gazed in astonishment at the crowd applauding her for winning Best Actress. 

Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln and Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained received Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor (respectively) for their portrayal of characters from the 19th century. 

Even though Day-Lewis became the most decorated male actor in Oscar’s history, with three Best Actor awards, he received the honor with humility and a smile; he bashfully acknowledged that he has “received more than [his] portion on good things in life.” 

Maybe he’ll offer acting classes to McFarlane and Chenoweth, who could learn a little bit of astuteness.  Or at least learn to feign it.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Kalamazoo College is Against Sleeping?

We can’t have it all, Kalamazoo College.  Every student has or will have to face the decision: sleep or finish the 150 page reading assignment due tomorrow?  With extensive homework assignments and quick deadlines, it seems unlikely that a student can get the adequate amount of sleep, which studies show is “eight hours or more.” 

Hell, after morning meetings with professors, from afternoon classes, to evening club meetings, sports’ practices, or workout sessions, throw in some dinner and then the homework, our minds barely have a second to breathe, let alone take a “nap” (which researchers say is ‘okay’ if it is a short one).

The vicious cycle of a college student’s life is draining and various articles, published by universities themselves, have recognized it:  “Everyday activities such as going to class, working out, or working on a computer can strain your mind and body.  Sleep deprivation can affect important aspects of your mind and body such as your mood, energy, ability to learn, memory, good judgment, reaction time and efficiency” (The Importance of Sleep, University of Michigan).  If a tired mind is a weak mind, how can we keep up the prestige of Kalamazoo College? 

There is an option; we do not have to go out Friday night.  Or Saturday.  We can stay in and study, and wake up early to study some more.  But this isn’t appealing to any college student, including the college itself.  Kalamazoo College has recently sent out surveys asking about the level of fun or a social life of its students (or lack there of).  It appears the College wants its students to have a good time; we do have days like DOGL and events like Monte Carlos, but why not make free time a daily concept? Surely that will settle any anxieties of the College regarding its students’ free time. 

Not trying to sound too radical, but Gandhi believed “where there is love there is life” every day, not just a choice few.

With two presentations, two papers and one project all due on Monday (true story), do we
a) go out on Saturday night and exercise our time as young, adventurous adults, maybe even treat ourselves to a 10:00am alarm clock on Sunday morning…b) pull an all-nighter (do not get sufficient sleep) or c) not enjoy the sense of a weekend?  The answer: if only a troubled K student knew.

The Critic as an Artist or The Artist as a Critic?: Neither and Both

When Oscar Wilde wrote his piece, The Critic as an Artist, in the early 1890s, his idea of a ‘critic’ and of an ‘artist’ was different from the meaning of one today, where there are not any Monets, Manets, Degas and Renoirs sprouting up.  In order to properly understand a work of art, it is important to notice the time it was made.  For example, Wilde reasons that “it is the critical faculty that invents fresh forms” but whose ‘critical faculty’ was he considering (900)?   

Wilde means that critical thinking is the seed of remarkable and legendary art.  Not all artists are critics, some artists regurgitate popular culture, but all remarkable and legendary artists, like that of Da Vinci’s Monna Lisa or even Walter Pater’s words that describe the painting, “hers is the head upon which all ‘the ends of the world are come,’ and the eyelids are a little weary,” are works of art (906). 

Wilde argues that all “beautiful” art, whether it is paintings on canvas or words on paper, is derived from critical thinking.  He explains, “Without the critical faculty, there is no artistic creation at all worthy of the name.  That spirit of choice, that subtle tact of omission, is really the critical faculty” (900).  For a piece of art to be different and exquisite, no matter the medium, the artist has to have a critical eye and a spirit different from the rest. 

Following this thought, Wilde describes, “the mere creative instinct does not innovate, but reproduces” (902).  Wilde acknowledges that not all artists, or critics, are brilliant thinkers—the “mere creative instinct”—and do not have the ability to reflect deeply or develop a profound feeling.  He states the “highest Criticism deals with art not as expressive, but as impressive” meaning that only art that is “impressive” is paired with “impressive” criticism (905). 

He recognizes that not all artists are critics and not all critics are artists.  Only those artists who are exceptional are critics, and likewise, those critics who are exceptional are artists.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Critical Essay on Pauline Kael: She’s sassy and she knows it

“Not many reviewers have a real gift for effrontery.  I think that may be my best talent.” –Pauline Kael

Pauline Kael, “the Elvis or the Beatles of film criticism,” has every right to be sassy (online).  Queen of the zingers and Master of detail, she knows everything about a film: the director, the actors, the script, the culture, and then some.  She is a walking Encyclopedia of cinema, with her own zesty twist. 

  William Zinsser in On Writing Well advises that a film critic has to be a “movie buff who will brings along a reservoir of knowledge, passion and prejudice.” With her major in Philosophy at UC-Berkeley and her critical writing experience as a play writer and a radio show reviewer, Kael is more than credible to assert her judgment on film.

But it’s not like she gives a hoot about what others think of her.  She follows her own ‘pencil’ as she pans widely adored movies like The Sound of Music (she defines its admirers as “emotional and aesthetic imbeciles…humming the sickly, goody-goody songs”) and champions films denounced by other critics, such as Pennies from Heaven and Casualties of War (Ken Tucker, Francis Davis).

Sticking to her guns, Kael is the tough woman on the block, she fights for the underdog films and she disputes what the big bad New York critics have written about them.  Francis Davis describes this behavior as “independence—or the nerve—to go to bat for a good movie that’s been given up for dead by its distributors” but, in Kael’s own words, she simply “feel[s] it when [she] see[s] it” (Davis 25, 107). 

Kael is a woman of her word.  Never compromising her opinion, she once reviewed a close friend’s film, Hardcore, stating that “Paul Schrader may like the idea of prostituting himself better than he likes making movies” (Davis).  To put it lightly, a genuine critic, just like a friend, tells the film like it is—no matter the circumstances. 

Unlike other critics who shy away from dealing with socially awkward subject matter in films such as Deep Throat or The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Kael welcomes (--and craves--) to review their sexual and racial content (respectively).  Her analytical and insightful thinking allows her to find a deeper meaning in all movies, even in a Disney animated princess flick, The Little Mermaid –Kael refers to it as “the closest thing women have to a feminine Faust story.” 

There is no doubt that Kael has a knack for word choice.  She is cognizant of the film’s context and target audience, in her review of The Sting starring Paul Newman and heartthrob Robert Redford, she concludes, “The Sting is for people—and no doubt there are quantities of them—who like crooks as sweeties” (Reeling 245). 

Some critics accuse Kael as “relentless” or “inexorable”, but that is exactly the type of critic people want to read—someone with an opinion and not afraid to say it (Adler 331). As William Zinsser says, “criticism is the stage on which journalists do their fanciest strutting” (195).  As long as her reviews are sharp and honest, why not let Kael walk the catwalk?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

New York Times Defense: Afghani Ensemble Visits "Bolero"

On Wednesday Mara and Colin will be covering Anthony Tommasini’s review of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music rendition“Bolero” by Maurice Ravel.
Tommasini is the chief music critic at the New York Times as of 2000, first joining the staff in 1996.
This music critic actually began as a professor at Emerson College in Boston, but after being denied of tenure he pursued music criticism.
We’re going to analyze how Tommasini targets his audience, and how he introduces new vocabulary of traditional Afghani music and its instruments without alienating his readers.
One of the reasons why we’re defending this piece is because of the word choice used to describe the feelings evoked from the foreign instrumentation.
Tommasini describes the unfamiliar sounds of these instruments with familiar comparisons (“Or the sarod, another plucked Afghan instrument [...] could bend the blue-notes of the melody with the yearning of a Billie Holiday”).
We’re also going to explore the use of diction, assonance and consonance, as well as meter (“plucked like a lute to produce a sound both tender and tart”).
Lastly, we’re going to appraise the cultural context Tommasini adds to the review; he draws awareness to social climate of Afghanistan with quotes from Mohammad Asif Nang.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Delicious Breakfast Done Sunny Side Down

On a sunny Saturday morning, nothing is more relaxing than breakfast in bed, except for maybe a more practical option: breakfast downtown.  Keyword: maybe. Toast, a breakfast cafĂ© in metro-Detroit, offers delicious morning treats but lacks the warmth and comfort of home.

Despite its bright and funky vibe, Toast offers no neighborly greeting.  The collection of bold colors and vintage toasters makes the joint look trendy, but the hostess-manager is no morning-person, and unlikely a day or night person too. 

However, a case of the grumps did not dispirit the jolly breakfast-goers.  People of all ages and appetites clumsily stacked themselves in the waiting ‘hallway’ for a table. And they sure did have a reason to wait. 

An aroma of cinnamon, doughy French toast, dazzled with fresh blueberries, black berries and raspberries, topped with grandma’s homemade whipping cream, teased nostrils as it danced around tabletops. 

This popular dish, served with breakfast essentials (sausages, bacon, ham) is one of the many funky choices on a menu made for meat lovers, sweet tooths and vegetarians alike. 

According to the server and a friendly regular, a favorite dish is the “Blackstone Benny.”  The poached egg, with a satisfactory ETA of 10 minutes, was a tiny bit undercooked, but its combination with bacon, tomato, and hollandaise, all neatly placed over a sourdough baguette, atone for any minor flaws.

The creamy, mellow-in-flavor hollandaise sauce is a matchless companion.  Like butter to toast, it did not steal the spotlight from the sizzling apple-smoked bacon and the wholeness of the sourdough, but rather it tied flavors together.

Although the baguette could have been crispier to juxtapose the perfection of the succulent yolk, the crust had the right crunch.  The choice of sides, either Parmesan encrusted grits or a medley of crisp redskin potato home fries, seasoned with herbs and spices, would leave any stomach satisfied.  (Note: the house recommendation is the home fries; a Goldilocks pleaser that is not ‘too hot’ and not ‘too bland.’)

Even though the chitchat of morning news and clatter of coffee mugs and silverware may be a burden to enjoy a conversation, the flavorful breakfast and lunch menu certainly keeps mouths occupied. 

Toast offers breakfast fit for a Queen, only without all of the pampering.  Just beware of morning grumps and a 15-20 minute wait. 

…Oh and the king-sized, mouth-watering ooey, gooey cinnamon roll that fits ever so perfectly into a to-go box.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The "Woulda-Coulda" Sherlock Holmes Review

In order to review Sherlock Holmes: The Last Adventure I would need a program to orient myself with the actors.  As McLeese states, theatre is an “actor’s medium.”  The same production could have been in Grand Rapids that same night, but it would have been different based on the cast of the show. 

With a background on the actors, I will be able to analyze their performance and compare it to a range of their ability (other characters they took on in past productions) or lack there of.  I would also be interested to see if anyone has worked with each other before in a set because this might help me understand some stage dynamics: either awkward interactions or smooth exchanges. 

For example, it seemed like Watson and Sherlock weren’t the most relaxed with each other, whereas Sherlock and other characters such as the King or Irene intermingled comfortably.  Instead of just commenting on Watson’s acting abilities, I would like to know more about him: is he new to Kalamazoo’s Civic Theatre?  Is this a role where he stepped out of his comfort zone? 

McLeese explains that theatre is more comparable to “concerts or dance recitals” as opposed to “film” because “movies remain the same every time it’s shown.  But live performances offer the possibility of differences…each night.”  For this reason, I would consider it wise to go see the performance two times before I write my overall review.  I can still use my “gut reaction” that I had after the first performance, but I also would have done my “research” by comparing the consistency of the two nights and analyzing if the theatre made some critical changes after the prior performance. 

Theatre seems like it is a learning process.  Productions ranging from Shakespeare to not-so-famous play writers such as Ionesco are reproduced throughout time.  It would make sense to compare an old viewing of a similar production in order to understand the director’s flair or the venue’s vibe.  For example, does the director decide to follow a flexible manuscript that changes with modernity, or stick to a rigid original?  Is the vibe of the theatre more of a classic, high chandelier, formal setting to match with the latter style of the director?  Since there are adaptations out there, I would think it best to use all of the resources available.  For all the audience member knows, the play could be perfectly fine but the acting was abysmal, or vice versa.  By comparing more than one production, the review would be more reliable.

I have been to the theatre quite a few times in my childhood; I have even been on the stage a handful of times.  It was kind of bizarre at first, walking into a formal theatre setting with an empty auditorium. It was difficult to put myself in the mindset that I was out to see a production.  Even though the beginning may have started off a little bit slow, I soon fell into my typical, zombie like trance (I cannot EVER take my eyes off of a television screen) towards the middle-end of the first Act.  It seemed like my mind and those of the actors were in sync, we started off not really “in character” to go see a play or to perform one, and then as we got more comfortable throughout the evening we embraced our respective roles.

McLeese also notes that important elements of the show are “lighting, staging, pacing, sets, costumes,” and while I am not too familiar with this technical vocabulary, if I were to have seen the production twice, I could make more of an assertion regarding the effect of these characteristics.  Also with a comparison, I would be able to witness the critical eye of the director and his or her effect on the show, because I would know if an error was corrected from the night before.

For me, film reviews seem to be more challenging than a theatre review.  Film, as McLeese mentions, never changes.  It has an infinite amount of “takes” to perfect its image and the actor, director, set-coordinator all sort of blend together as one.  However for a theatre production, all eyes are on the actor, from the front row to the nose bleed section.  This is a lot more pressure on the talent of the actor; he or she cannot rely on a scene “cut” until the curtain falls.

When reviewing theatre, I would be mindful that Broadway productions and downtown plays are different, just like small-budget documentary films and Hollywood blockbusters.  The role as a theatre critic versus a film critic involves more of the feeling aroused by the actors, the interactions between the actors and the environment of the performance, and in a film review, direct relations to the venue or interaction between characters would not be as effective because of the physical detachedness from the actors and the audience.   

Theatre adds an extra layer of excitation to the experience because actors only have one chance for each line.  If they have a brain freeze or stumble on a prop, they have to work through it and maintain composure and character.  In theatre, actors do not have the luxury to request a Venti decaf, 2 shots of espresso, skim, blended with ice every time they need a break; the only break they get is “a leg.”

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Duffield Caron Project: The Piano Man

“I got ramblin’, ramblin’ all on my mind,” sings the conventional yet satisfying voice of Lorraine Caron, sporting a brimmed top hat.  Pianist Tom Duffield does more than accompany her; he strokes the keys with soulful fervor in a tribute to the legendary bluesman, Robert Leroy Johnson. 

The Duffield and Caron Project would be just another local blues duo, but the harmony between the piano and the soul that conducts it arouses snaps, foot taps, and a sass that only the “boogie-woogie blues” can summon. 

Old Dog Tavern, a quaint, eccentric bar, appeals to the mellow music that it hosts.  The duo performs every Saturday evening at five, and on Tuesday nights, Duffield flies solo.   

The venue, decked out in its eclectic decorations (moose heads and vintage whisky bottles), and its relaxed serving staff make it an appealing scene for a range of all ages (--especially those over 21, with their $3 Captains and $5 Wine Saturday specials).      

The band kicks off the evening with a sultry classic, B.B. King’s “Since I Met You Baby.”  As the show goes on, the pair covers a medley of blues, jazz, and traditional classics and dabbles in a few of their own originals. 

Tributes are well chosen fan favorites, the crowd intermittently whistles along, but the monotone and occasional twang of Caron’s voice tends to muffle the melancholic vibrations of the blues.  With a decent range, she keeps the night safe and light-hearted. 

Regulars love her; she waves and sends compliments their way during show, which doesn’t really work when covering Hank Williams, “I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry.”

Caron is a perfect host and full of compassion, but blues is no place for flattery.  The anchor of the night was Duffield.  Wherever Caron’s voice does not quite hit the spot, he makes up for with a funky trill or with a resonating arpeggio.  As Caron stays in the same pitch, Duffield makes it a thing to crescendo con brio through an array of scales.

After a quick interview during intermission, Duffield comments that he “likes to share the feeling with the crowd.”  From white-haired blues veterans in sweater vests and walking canes to college-students in plaid button downs and wool scarves, the “feeling” is relived and passed on. 

Duffield, as his fingers glide upscale across the piano keys to expose each octave in one stroke, captures the very essence of the blues, with one hand.  Single-handedly.