December 27th, 2011

Milwaukee Art Museum: Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper

Imagine finding that a cache of unpublished manuscripts by all your favorite authors had just come to light. As an aficionado of the Impressionist school of art, that’s rather what attending the exhibition “Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper,” is like. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen all, or even most of the well-known Impressionist paintings, but I do have a pretty good familiarity with the school, and even books tend to concentrate on the oil paintings and “big” works.

So, it’s a real pleasure to get a chance to see this collection of one hundred and twenty five works by Impressionists, almost all of which were new to me. Among the other ways in which the Impressionists differed from traditional schools of art was in treating drawing as being of equal importance with painting, so these works are not “just” sketches or studies for paintings, but fully finished works, often as large, detailed, and colorful as any of the oils.

Artists exhibited in the show include all the major Impressionists, such as Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec, but also lesser-known artists like Paul Signac, Armand Guillaumin, Berthe Morisot, Eva Gonzales, and Odilon Redon, among others. Pastels, which were popular with the Impressionists, are just one of the mediums used in the show. Gouache, watercolors, crayon, charcoal, and others are represented.
The show was organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum, in cooperation with the Albertina Museum of Vienna, and brings together pieces from a large number of collections, making it a rare opportunity to see them all in one place. This is a must-see if you are a fan of the Impressionists, and very interesting even if your interest in the visual arts is only general. The exhibition continues through January 8th.

The exhibition was co-curated in Milwaukee by Christopher Lloyd, guest curator, and Laurie Winters, director of exhibitions at the Museum.

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

We went out to see the second installment of the Robert Downey “Sherlock Holmes” movies on December 23rd, and enjoyed it, although in a lot of ways it’s further than ever from the classical Holmes. Taken as a period adventure romp, it’s good enough fun to be enjoyable.

When you know that Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) is the film’s villain, and that the word “Reichenbach” comes up fairly early in the script, it’s not difficult to figure out that the plot is very loosely based on “The Final Problem,” the one Holmes story in which Moriarty makes an actual appearance. Nevertheless, how the characters get to the denouement is as far different from the story we know as the characters are from the versions we know.

Part of the fun, at least for me, is counting the things that “our” Holmes would “never” do, for example, dressing like a Bohemian ragbag even when not supposedly in disguise. Going to meet Irene Adler at a good restaurant wearing his cravat inside his open collar? Horrors! Holmes always had a sense of humor, but Holmes should never be ridiculous, as he appears on a couple of occasions in this film.

Oh, well, it’s still a good romp. Jude Law as Dr. Watson has lots to do, and pretty well banishes the “Watson as boob” idea, although of course Holmes is always several moves ahead of the ordinary men. Jared Harris is quite chilling as Moriarty, a veritable thinking machine to whom human lives are just so many beans to be counted. Noomi Rapace as gypsy “Madame Simza,” is a nice addition, playing a believable competent woman who leads men and fights effectively in her own defense, but also cries out when hurt, and checks her face after a brawl to see how badly she’s been hurt. Kelly Reilly is also excellent as Mary Morstan-Watson, who survives being thrown off a train with reasonable aplomb, and becomes a valuable asset to Holmes as the plot works out. While I was pleased to see Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes, and he did a good job with the role as given him, I was very disappointed with the part—speaking again of things that “our” characters would NEVER do--. I was also disappointed by the treatment given Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams); as THE woman in the Holmes stories, I though she deserved better.

There are things I like about the movie: the use of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” as a theme, the uses and differing outcomes of Holmes’ fight-planning fugues. There were things I didn’t like, markedly Guy Ritchie’s hodge-podge of styles. Some fight scenes, such as the one with the Cossack assassin (!) are blurs of motion in which it’s hard to see what’s happening. Others are larded with slo-mo “bullet time”, so you never really get used to how you ought to be watching the action scenes.

Although frequently referred to as “Steampunk,” this movie is less so than the last one, with only one real gadget in it, although the weapons technology is pretty much 20 to 25 years advanced of what it ought to be.

Overall, the positives outweigh the negatives enough to make it a fun movie, although it’s really a Victorian James Bond, or updated Wild, Wild West type of movie than anything resembling the old style Sherlock Holmes.

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Puss In Boots

And, speaking of movies that are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike their origin material, we caught up with “Puss In Boots” on Christmas Day. This spin-off from the “Shrek” fairy-tale world has nothing whatever to do with the Marquis du Carabas or any of the elements of the classic fairytale. Instead, it is largely an homage to Sergio Leone-style spaghetti Westerns and star Antonio Banderas’ own “Zorro” movies. Although according to the script, the setting is Spain, the environs of the town of San Ricardo and its inhabitants are pretty clearly Mexican, and there are other Leone homages such as split-screen sequences.

The plot is pretty good and surprisingly convoluted with some decent surprises as we get to see Puss In Boots’ origin story. Flashbacks are integrated with a decent action-adventure. Animation, character design, and backgrounds are actually a bit better than the Shrek sequence, natural for evolving technology, but without as many embedded jokes as we’ve become used to in “Far Faraway.”

Voice acting by Banderas as Puss, Salma Hayek as “Kitty Softpaws,” and Zach Galifianakis as the scheming “Humpty Dumpty”, is good, and it’s fun to find out in the credits that bad guys “Jack and Jill,” were voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris, and that Guillermo Del Toro did character voices as well.

Pure fun, and enjoyable for most ages, although young kids will miss some innuendos. Action sequences might be intense for the very young.

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