Category Archives: art criticism

Only One Star?

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There are certain books that simply have to exist in order for me to be me.  I couldn’t be the person I am without The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) by Thomas Mann, and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  These are all books that have an allegorical element, a trans-formative effect, that shapes how you think and how you live after reading them. Some of these books have not been made into a movie.  Some probably still can’t be.  Others have not been made into an effective movie.  But, then, Disney in 2018 makes a movie version of A Wrinkle in Time that makes me relive the primary experience of the book all over again.

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I was disappointed to see the critics being harsh about the movie.  I had high hopes before going to see it.  Yet, you couldn’t miss the one star rating on the box office rating system of the ticket and show time site I was using.  But my daughter and I went to see it yesterday anyway.  It was far above my highest expectations.

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You see, the novel itself is magical.  The essential characters of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which have to be witch-like, super-real incarnations of inter-dimensional beings.  It is the view of them with open-minded childlike eyes that makes the complex relationships of this story to reality apparent to anyone who thinks clearly like a child.  It is the reason why this book is a young adult novel, written primarily for children, even though the concept of a tesseract is wholly mind-bending in a Stephen Hawking sort of way.  It is the wonder with which the director of this movie lensed the dimension-tessering time witches that makes this movie the best version.  Not like that failed attempt in 2003.  That was almost there, but not quite by half.

MV5BMjEyNjc0NDgzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjYwMjcyMQ@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_ Strangely enough, the things that the critics seem to hate about this version of the movie are precisely the things that I think make it miraculous.

Critics don’t like some of the special effects and the color schemes of some scenes.  Many things about the final battle with evil are seen by them as inexplicably bizarre.  They don’t like the over-use of extreme close-ups on the faces of characters.  And they think the performances of some of the child actors are too wooden and unreal to carry off the story.

I wholeheartedly disagree.

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This is a story that takes place in the heads of the people involved, including the viewer of the movie.  The extreme close-ups pull you into the personal feelings and struggles of the main characters.  Particularly Storm Reid as Meg.  The story is about her struggle as an adolescent to be at peace with her own flaws and self-image while at the same time being responsible for finding and saving her father, as he has completely lost his way on his quest to “shake hands with the universe”.  Meg undergoes a challenge to her self image as she is cruelly bullied by another girl in school.  She has to come to terms with loving her super-genius little brother Charles Wallace.  And she has to weather the changes that occur when she encounters a potential first love in Calvin.  It is a coming of age story that really smart kids can relate to directly from their own personal experience.

This one-star movie with only a 40% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes is a far better movie than the critics would have you believe.  It is doing quite well at the box office.  Kids seem to love it.  And in my wacky opinion, it is the best movie version of the book to date.  I love this movie.

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Filed under art criticism, commentary, magic, movie review, science fiction

The Last Jedi – An Uncritical Review

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There is controversy about this movie.  Fanboys were disappointed that they were so far wrong about what is really important in this movie.  Fan theories were all way off base.  And that was a good thing.  The movie was the best Star Wars movie they have ever made.

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I took my family to see this movie at a Thursday matinee a week ago on a regular screen so I could actually afford it, and we watched good battle evil once again.  And all the usual things were set up to be a replay of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  But this smashed all expectations.  The evil side very nearly won.  And the good side lost almost everything.  So, in many ways, this whole movie reflected reality in America.  Except, of course, for the fact that Emperor Snoke is actually quite smart and crafty.

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But the thing that makes this such a flaw-filled perfect Star Wars movie is how the story builds on everything that came before to make a coherent and very wise theme.  Threads of ideas that exist in all of the previous movies (except the Christmas specials) are drawn together and woven into a whole thematic cloth.  The Jedi tried to bring balance to the Force, and they failed because they thought balance was the same as the Light Side winning out over Dark.  Anakin Skywalker brought balance to the force by bringing back the Dark Side, and then Luke came along to bring the Light Side into balance.  Of course, the rise and fall of Light and Dark will occur over and over again.

This movie isn’t just another hero’s journey where Rey finds a master and learns what it will take to defeat evil.  Master Skywalker does not actually take her on as a student.  He is dealing with his own demons and refuses.  So the hero must learn the lessons on her own.  But she falls into the pattern naturally that Luke recognizes.  And Luke’s hero journey has not yet concluded either.  Luke recognizes his own past in Rey.  Master Yoda reappears and still teaches him something he needed to know.  “Failure is the greatest teacher.”

Rey shows signs in this movie of becoming the hero that win it all in the end.  But this is Luke Skywalker’s moment.  He learns from his personal failure with Ben Solo.  He steps into his old role as the light that guides the rebellion.  He creates a final duel with Kylo that calls upon him to use greater powers of the Force than we have ever before seen from a Jedi of the Light Side.  And he doesn’t win the battle.  He only delays Kylo and the First Order long enough to save Rey and the Resistance.  It will be up to others to fight on in the next movie.  But Luke has finally proved that the Jedi don’t always fail when the next power surge rolls through the Dark Side.  Metaphorical victories count too.  Surviving is a victory in itself.  No movie has ever been so relevant to my own life and struggles.  I have to fail so I can learn too how to win.

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So, yes.  I am a completely uncritical critic.  I only report on the things I love about movies.  I never quibble over how it should have been done differently, or how it disappointed me.  I actually loved the prequels, and Jar Jar Binks was one of my favorite characters.  But I loved this Star Wars movie more than any of the ones I have seen so far.  And the next one may surpass it.  Miracles do happen.  But this movie was the perfect thing at the perfect time in my life to accomplish everything I want a movie to do for me.  I loved it.  I wouldn’t change a  thing, even if I had the power in the Force to do it.

 

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Filed under art criticism, heroes, humor, movie review, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Stranger Things Too

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I admit it.  I binge-watched Stranger Things 2 this weekend, just like everyone else who fell in love with the original.

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The monster is bigger and scarier this time.  It uses new versions of last year’s monster for minions.  The characters are growing and changing and falling in love.  If anything, I love the characters as people even more than last time.

The whole thing is very seriously set in 1984.  You know, the year of Ghostbusters as a summer blockbuster.  References to D & D, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and visual homages to Speilberg movies, gritty urban dramas like The Warriors, and the video game Dragon’s Lair  don’t merely set the scene, they are cultural references artfully used to weave the story together and move the plot, providing short-hand explications of science-fiction-y ideas and Steven King tropes.  There is story-telling mastery to be marveled at here.

And my favorite thing of all here is the satisfying collection of resolutions to ongoing issues.  Eleven re-connects with her past and separates herself from it again.  She finds a place for herself and someone to love her, in more ways than one.  Jonathan and Nancy and Steve work on their love triangle.  And Joyce and Hopper move closer together in spite of the tragedy that tears Joyce’s world apart.  (I can’t talk about Bob.  I identify with Bob. He is just like me in so many ways.  And what happens to Bob?  Ack!  There have to be horrors in horror movies.  And the best ones rattle the foundations that you live on.)

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I am the Uncritical Critic.  I only tell you about the things I love when it comes to movies, TV, books, and music.  And I definitely love this.

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Filed under art criticism, commentary, humor, movie review, review of television

About Bruce Timm

“Today I thought I would tell you about Bruce Timm.”

“Bruce Timm?  Who the heck is he?”

“You know. That artist with that style… you know, the Batman guy.”

“You mean he played Batman?”

“No.  He designed Batman; The Animated Series.”

“Oh, that guy… the guy who draws girls really good.”

“Yes, that’s the one.”

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“He gave all the DC heroes their modern, animated look… their style and flair.  He made them angular, immediately identifiable, and powerful.”

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“Yeah, I think he not only did the Batman cartoon, all film noir and retro-cool, but the Superman series that followed it, the Justice League, and all the cartoon series and movies that went along with those.”

“But that’s not all he did, either, is it?”

“No, there’s more.  He wanted to be a comic book artist, but before he got into animation, Marvel and DC turned him down.”

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“I heard he worked at Filmation for a while.”

“Yes, he got a chance to draw and design characters for Blackstar, Flash Gordon, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra; Princess of Power, and the Lone Ranger.

“Dang!  He was busy.  But only superhero stuff?”

“In 1989 he went to work for Warner Brothers.  He worked on Tiny Toon Adventures.”

“That Spielberg/Bugs Bunny thing?  The one with Buster and Babs Bunny?”

“Yeah, that one, believe it or not.”

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“Tell me more about the girls.  I want to hear about him drawing girls.  Wonder Woman in Justice League was hot.”

“Showing you is probably better than telling you.  Be prepared to cover your eyes, though.  He liked to draw the female figure nude and semi-naked.”

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Betty and Veronica from the Archie comics.

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“I like how he draws pretty girls.”

“You would.”

“He’s the artist you wish you could be, isn’t he?”

“Pretty much.  He’s about four years younger than me.  If I had gone the comic-book artist route instead of becoming a public school teacher, our careers might’ve been parallel.”

“Except he has talent.”

“Yeah, there’s that.”

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The Nerdwriter

Evan Puschak is a genius and a masterful artist working in the medium of the video blog.  He educated himself with intentions of working in the film industry, but he has found his niche by posting on YouTube a long series of insightful, in-depth video essays on what it means to be an artist, how an artist does what he does, and even theories about how the world of art works.  And not just for the sake of movie reviews, though he does some of the best of that kind of work that I have ever seen.  He knows about painting, television, speech making, essay writing… in fact, everything it takes to be a really great essayist in the manner of  Michel de Montaigne who created the form in the 1500’s.

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Find Evan here on Twitter

Of course, I can’t make you understand the true scope of his essay-making powers without showing you some of his work.  So let me give you a heads up on some of his many wonderful creations and insights;

Here he examines the phenomenon of Trump speaking;

His insights and analysis inspire me to always dig deeper and look for the patterns that underlie the way things occur.  He is a master explainer who can connect ideas and facts together for you seamlessly.  And it is not only the art of speaking and essay-writing that he knows in depth.  He understands all sorts of art.

Here is his take on a single painting by Picasso;

Interpreting things is a matter of opinion, but he breaks down his opinions point by point and uses the evidence he is pointing out to you to help you follow how he reaches his conclusions.  He talks about 5 ways you can look at Picasso’s painting and gain a deeper understanding, not only of this one painting, but of all paintings.

I deeply love the films of Guillermo del Toro, and none more than his masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth.  It is a weird and horrifyingly wonderful fairy tale of people, politics, and surreal juxtapositions of fantasy used to cope with people and politics.  But the Nerdwriter’s analysis not only helps me understand del Toro’s creation better, it makes me love it more.

And I can’t help but notice how Evan uses his film-maker talent and understanding of film to craft videos that flawlessly weave narration, idea, video clips, and music together in a way that even Frank Capra or Alfred Hitchcock or Martin Scorsese could learn from.  Witness this from his take on Pixar’s Inside Out.

There is such a pleasing power in the art-appreciation engines of this man’s video blogs that I could go on gushing about it and linking more videos here all day long.  Believe me, I have lost whole days of work to binging on his videos.  But I have to draw the conclusions sooner rather than later.  I don’t want to waste your time reading this humble blog when you could be sending your mind soaring with these Nerdwriter videos.  So, please, explore them and tempt fate to start you on a new addiction.

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Filed under art criticism, education, humor, insight, movie review, review of music, sharing from YouTube, strange and wonderful ideas about life

A $3.00 Treasure Trove

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If you cruise the bargain sections in an old used book store like Half-Price Books, eventually you are going to find something priceless.  This book I am showing you is that very thing for me.

It was copyrighted in 1978.  The inscription inside the front cover says this was a Father’s Day gift on June 19th, 1988.  Someone named Gary gifted it to someone named Claude in Burleson, Texas.  It was probably a cherished book until someone passed away and the book changed hands in an estate sale.

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Howard Pyle

The book chronicles the height of the publishing era when being able to print books and reproduce artworks began entertaining the masses.  Always before painters and great artists worked for a patron for the purpose of decorating their home in a way that displayed their great wealth.  But from the 1880’s to the rise of cinema, magazines and books kept the masses entertained, helped more people to become literate than ever before, and created the stories that made our shared culture and life experiences grow stronger and ever more inventive.  The book focuses on the best of the best among a new breed of artist… the illustrators.

These are the ones the book details;

Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Frederick Remington, Maxfield Parrish, J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, Charles Dana Gibson, Howard Chandler Christy, James Montgomery Flagg, and John Held Jr.

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N.C. Wyeth

Wyeth was most famous as a book illustrator for Treasure Island, Kidnapped, other books by Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain,  and a famous volume of tales about Robin Hood.

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Frederick Remington

Remington is a name you probably know as a maker of Western art.  He was a famous painter of cowboys and Indians and the American frontier.

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Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield Parrish is my all-time favorite painter.  His work is something I gushed about in previous posts because I own other books about his fanciful works painted in Maxfield Parrish blue.

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Also Maxfield Parrish

 

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J.C. Leyendecker

You will probably recognize Leyendecker’s work in magazine and advertising illustration as the standard of the Roaring 20’s.  His paintings set a style that swept American culture for more than a decade, and still affects how we dress to this very day.

 

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More Leyendecker

 

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Even more from Leyendecker

 

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Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell and his work for The Saturday Evening Post is still familiar to practically everyone who reads and looks at the illustrations.  As you can see he was a master of folksy realism and could do a portrait better than practically anyone.

 

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Also Rockwell

I have also written about Norman Rockwell before too.  I have half a dozen books that include his works.  My wife is from the Philippines and she knew about him before I ever said a word to her about him.

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Charles Dana Gibson

As you can plainly see, Gibson was a master of pen and ink.  His work for Collier’s and other magazines thrills in simple black and white.  More cartoonists than just little ol’ me obsess about how he did what he did.

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Also Gibson

 

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James Montgomery Flagg… with a name like that, who else could it be?

 

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John Held Jr.

The work of Held is stylistically different than all the rest in easily noticeable ways.  He’s the guy that made all the big-headed Pinocchio-looking people in the 1920’s.  You may have seen his work before, though you probably never knew his name.

This bit of someone else’s treasure hoard will now become a part of my own dragon’s treasure, staying by my bedside for quite a while, while I continue to suck the marrow from each of its bones.  I love this book.  It is mine, and you can’t have it… unless you find your own copy in a used bookstore somewhere.

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Filed under art criticism, art my Grandpa loved, book reports, book review, humor, illustrations, imagination, oil painting, old art, old books, pen and ink, Uncategorized

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (a review by the Uncritical Critic)

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I love musicals.  What can I say?  I am a surrealist as an artist, and so I am dedicated to combining the disjointed and bizarre to make something that makes you laugh, or makes you cry, or makes you go, “Huh?  I wonder why?”  So when, in the middle of a sometimes serious but mostly comic story of escaped convicts on the lam in the Great Depression Era South, people suddenly burst into song… I love it!

And this movie is filled with creative stuff and biting social satire about religion, politics, crime and punishment, love and sex, desire and disappointment, and, most of all, the need to escape from it all if only for a moment to share a good, old-fashioned song.

The main character is Ulysses Everett McGill (played by George Clooney), so naturally the sirens overpower him and turn one of his crew into a frog.  This is because this story is based on the Odyssey by Homer.  Only the Trojan War is replaced by a chain gang singing spirituals as they break rocks, the cyclops is a Bible salesman and Ku Klux Klan member with a patch over one eye, and when Ulysses returns to Ithica, he defeats his wife’s suitors with a song.  How can you not love a story as creative as that?

The whole movie is shot in color-corrected sepia tones to give it an old-photograph, old-timey feel.  John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson are masterful in the role of McGill’s two idiot hayseed friends.

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Again, I remind you, as a completely uncritical critic, I have no intention of trying to tell you what is wrong with this movie.  I loved it.  I will watch it again.  I am writing this review only because I feel moved to tell you how much I loved it and why.  So if you don’t approve of that, well, don’t shoot me.   Put me on a chain gang and give me a chance to sing.

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Filed under art criticism, commentary, humor, movie review, strange and wonderful ideas about life, surrealism, Uncategorized