Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Believe it or not, Open Studio is only a month away (the first three weekends in October), so break out those comfy shoes and start building up your stamina. The Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County announces that the Calendar/Guide to this year's event (including a handy fold-out map) will be available as of this Friday, September 3, at discerning outlets countywide. Art lovers can take this self-guided tour of artists studios from Davenport to Watsonville on their own, but the truly savvy will pick up the calendar first; the map is essential for plotting a relatively sane course through the 300+ artist's studios on view, and the calendar (with its thumbnails of every single participating artist's work) will make sure you don't overlook someone fabulous.

To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of this venerable art event, CCSCC has commissioned an original linocut from printmaker Liz Lyons Friedman to decorate this year's calender cover. No medium is left behind in Liz's gorgeous image, "Studios By the Sea" —painting, drawing, ceramics, pastels, sculpture, printmaking and photography are all included in her vivid and intricate design, along with the sun, the sea, and the redwoods of Santa Cruz County. (And if you know Liz, you can be sure she's got a bunch of grapes and a wine glass in there somewhere!)

Liz's cover image has been made into a commemorative poster, which will also be available as of this Friday ($30 signed and numbered, or $20, unleaded). Check out the CCSCC Open Studio web page for details. Liz will also do a poster signing later in September at the York Gallery, but more about that later.

Out of over 300 artists in this year's event, why was Liz chosen for the Silver Anniversary poster? She's the only artist in the county to have participated in OS every single year since it began in 1986. Talk about intrepid!

Saturday, August 28, 2010


In case you weren't looking, two terrific new movies opened up in town yesterday, each very different from the other, and both guaranteed to cure your end-of-summer blahs.

MAO'S LAST DANCER It's really a tale of two dancers. One, Li Cunxin, a peasant boy plucked out of his rural Chinese village and sent to the Beijing Arts Academy toward the end of the Mao Zedong regime, became one of the most prominent ballet dancers in the world. The other, Chi Cao, is the phenomenal young Chinese ballet star who plays Li in Bruce Beresford's heartfelt, rewarding film. Scripted by Jan Sardi (Shine) from Li's autobiography, the film sticks to the highlights of Li's incredible journey, but dramatic resonance and Beresford's beautifully shot dance sequences keep the viewer enchanted. (Read more)

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED There are few things more exciting in moviegoing than finding a truly original film by someone you've never heard of before. Think back to the first time you saw Christopher Nolan's Memento, say, or Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects. Remember that feeling of, "Wow, where did this guy come from?" You may get that same hit of awe, coupled with a gleeful sense of discovery, when watching The Disappearance of Alice Creed, a gutsy, disturbing, scrupulously well-honed little thriller from rookie British auteur J Blakeson. (Read more)

Thursday, August 26, 2010


It didn't take long for the fog to come rolling back in, the old killjoy, terminating what was supposed to be a nice, long, summery hot spell. Ready to escape into an alternate reality? I suggest the outstanding two-volume series, Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth, a marvelous fantasia of Elizabethan scholarship and spellbinding magic from fantasy writer Elizabeth Bear. Known collectively as "The Stratford Man Duology," the story envisions an Elizabethan England teeming with more than the usual intrigue, as Elizabeth and her spymasters maintain an intricate bond with the parallel, underground kingdom of Faery to suppress the forces of Dark Magic that threaten them both.

The Stratford Man is, of course, clever, soulful, courageous Will Shakespeare, pressed into service to work protective magic into his verse as a reluctant, but brilliant replacement for verse-master Christopher Marlowe, recently deceased. But the most triumphant performance is by Kit Marly (Marlowe) himself, newly resurrected in Faery—poet, spy, sodomite, lover of several important fairies, Devil's personal plaything, and, ultimately, lapsed atheist. Bear's delicious series is a triumph of poetry, audacious eroticism, tenderness, and unfettered imagination.

Speaking of Shakespeare, only a few days remain to catch up with this year's dynamic Shakespeare Santa Cruz season. I highly recommend The Lion In Winter, a splendid theatrical entertainment presented con brio.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column, "Babes, Ditzes, and Moms," plagarised—oops, I mean inspired by—a Wallace Baine column collected in his new book of essays, Rhymes With Vain. His piece, "Jed Clampett, Molder of Men," discusses childhood role models on '60s TV shows.

Turns out that local songbird Jayme Kelly Curtis was inspired by the same column. You can listen to her wry, bluesy tune, "What Would Jed Do?" here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Speaking of movies I didn't get to review, is it too late to put in a good word for Inception?

Walking out of the theater after seeing this movie is like waking from a profound dream state. Slightly disoriented, you're not quite sure what you've seen, the logic of the narrative is starting to feel a little fuzzy around the edges, and the thread of memory is already starting to loop and swirl around like the Giant Dipper. But you know beyond a doubt you've had one hell of a ride.

That this feeling of such seductive, free-fall, psychological probing is catalyzed by a mere movie—not an actual dream state—is one of the many rich pleasures of Christopher Nolan's singular and audacious film. Nolan doesn't do simple. In films like the brilliant Memento (his rookie feature), The Prestige, even the best parts of The Dark Knight, Nolan fools around with the idea of perception, exploring the fine lines between waking and dreaming, sanity and madness. Inception plunges us into the mire of the human subconscious, combining a kinetic dreams-vs-reality thriller plot and amazingly complex dreamlike visual structures in an elaborate story of memory, guilt, love, and redemption.

It's better not to pay too much attention to all the sc-fi exposition and just let yourself be swept up in the various dream-within-dream scenarios. The visuals are outstanding: I especially loved the shot of an entire Paris neighborhood folding up like a piece of origami, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt maneuvering across the walls and ceiling of a rotating dreamstate apartment (a clever shout-out, by the way, to a classic Fred Astaire dance number in Royal Wedding, 1951). And the idea that dreams can be as addictive as any other anti-reality drug is played to poignant effect in the person of Leonardo DiCaprio's classic film noir hero, a hard-boiled professional thief (he steals—and implements—corporate dreams) with a tragic past.

As in The Dark Knight, there are too many chaotic shootouts in speeding vehicles that actually interrupt the action because they go on far too long after the point has been made. (Okay, our heroes are in jeopardy: got it, let's move on…). If I wanted to sit through bullet-ridden car chases, I'd go see The Expendables. From Nolan, I want ideas and audacity, and there's plenty of both in Inception. Don't just sit there: see it now while it's still on the big screen.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


A girl went looking for enlightenment, and couldn't find it anywhere.

Here's the thing about this movie. I found it enormously entertaining —likable cast, wry dialogue, cool international locations. But I didn't believe for a nanosecond that Julia Roberts' Liz Gilbert was on a serious spiritual journey. It just seemed like a convenient way to dodge the problems in her life.

(Around the world on a freelance writer's salary. Hah! Right there, you know this movie is taking place in Fantasyland. It's like that Drew Barrymore movie, Never Been Kissed, where she's a cub reporter at some newspaper and they give her an office!!! AND a secretary!)

But it's no wonder women love this book so much; it tells them it's okay to stop depriving themselves and go eat! (Preferably in Italy!) (Although I had to laugh when Julia/Liz makes a crack about buying new "fat lady jeans." What, she went from a Size 0 to a Size 1? Oh, the humanity.) The story also it encourages women to empower themselves and jump-start their stagnant lives, then promises them a sexy, wonderful man (in the movie, Javier Bardem) if they just don't give up on love.

But what bugged me was the cavalier way the movie Liz kept discarding all these men, as if the lack of purpose in her life was somehow their fault. Sure, an early marriage before the partners know themselves or each other, that's an honest mistake; it happens a lot. (Although no attempt was made here to make Roberts or Billy Crudup look any younger in the flashback scenes; they looked exactly the same —even had the same hairstyles—on their wedding day as in their last scene together with the divorce lawyer.)

But then she takes up with the sexy, adoring young actor played by James Franco. In need of a post-divorce crash pad after two weeks imposing on her friend/editor, Liz moves all her stuff into his tiny apartment, parades him around among her friends, giggling, "He's only 28!" (nudge nudge, wink wink), then starts to get all affronted about her personal space when the poor guy mistakenly believes they're in, you know, a relationship.

When new men in her life open up to her, she backs off, leaving a trail of broken hearts because she just can't commit, the very thing we used to berate footloose men for in the movies (and life). My psychoanalytical friends point out that a woman's fear of losing herself in a relationship is not the same as a man who claims he needs to be "free," but the end results are the same in this movie: dumped partners left scratching their heads wondering what they did wrong.

And even in Bali, near the end of her journey, when we're supposed to believe that Liz has finally come to terms with her elusive selfhood and dares to start building a new relationship, she still acts like she's just been handed a plague cocktail when her Brazilian sweetie wants to take her away for a few days. Four days alone on a deserted tropical island with Javier Bardem, and she says no? You call that enlightened?.

No doubt the book dealt in deeper complexities (at least I hope so). But it doesn't seem to require a world tour and a Balinese holy man to glom onto the one piece of insight the movie offers: that loving someone else can lead to a more balanced life than endless, solo navel-gazing. Gee, ya think?