July 2nd, 2015

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.

On Saturday evening, June 27th, we went to the Downer Theatre to see the Swedish film, entitled “The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.”

The long title is not the only quirky thing about this entertaining movie. It could be considered a combination of “Forrest Gump,” “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” and “Uncommon Valor” (the movie where I first encountered variations on ”There are very few personal problems that cannot be solved through a suitable application of high explosives.”).

The “Forrest Gump” part of the plot is shown as flashbacks, memories sparked by Allan Karlsson’s (Robert Gustafsson) hundredth birthday. He has lead an adventurous, and sometimes dangerous life, having met Francisco Franco, Robert Oppenheimer, Joseph Stalin, and Ronald Reagan.

Escaping from the dull nursing home he has been placed in, Allan ends up in possession of a suitcase stuffed with money, the property of a crime lord (Alan Ford), which starts the present-day plot, a comedy of errors as the criminals attempt to find and reclaim the loot.

And, as for “Uncommon Valor,” well, it seems that Allan has a particular fetish for blowing things up, which landed him in a mental hospital as a child, made him a valuable member of the Spanish Communist armed forces, and results in his being put in the nursing home in his old age.

That the plot, quite plausibly, eventually includes a stolen circus elephant, just adds to the fun.

Highly recommended for fans of foreign cinema, independent cinema, and the just plain odd.

English voiceover, Swedish dialog, subtitles.

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“Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” Paine Art Museum, Oshkosh

On Sunday, June 28th, we drove to the Paine Art Museum in Oshkosh, to see the travelling exhibit, “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times.” (We weren’t able to join the Milwaukee Steampunk Society for the outing on Saturday, so went on our own--.)

This is the exhibit’s second stop in America, having just come from its opening at Biltmore, the palatial home of the famous Commodore Vanderbilt. Curated in conjunction with the show’s production company, it is apparently being shown only in museums such as Biltmore and the Paine, which once were fine homes and provide appropriate settings for the costumes.

In this regard, the Paine Museum is a spectacular success. Construction of the house began in 1925, but it was deliberately designed by the architect to appear to have been constructed and (tastefully) added on to over three centuries of English building styles. As such, the home suits the costumes marvelously, and many are shown in the correct setting: dinner dress in the dining room, travelling clothes in the foyer, formal gowns in the ballroom, and outdoor clothing, such as Lady Mary’s riding habit, Matthew Crawley’s military uniform, and Lady Edith’s bicycling outfit (complete with bicycle) are shown in the specious purpose-built gallery.

The house and its permanent collection of artworks are worth the trip alone, but it was hard to pull ourselves away from the costumes. They are all shown in the open. Most you can get very close to, and many of those that you can’t see the back of have strategically placed mirrors allowing you to see back details. The exhibition includes large color photographs of the costumes as worn, and text identifying the episodes in which they appeared.

The museum gift shop has been totally given over to “Downton Abbey” related merchandise, from tea and wine to jewelry and teddy bears. (There’s no “Carson” bear—yet!) We resisted most of the temptations, but did buy an exhibit catalog, which is very nice.

Of course we dressed Neo-Edwardian, which got us a number of approving comments from visitors and staff. The staff mentioned also that they had very much appreciated the Milwaukee Steampunk Society visit the previous day.

The exhibition remains in Oshkosh through September 20th. The exhibition will be returning to the Midwest later: The Richard H. Dreihaus Museum, Chicago, February-May 2016; The Taft Museum of Art, Cleveland, July-September 2016; and The History Museum, South Bend, Indiana, October 2016-January 2017.

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Inside Out

On Wednesday evening, July 1, we went to our local Marcus Cinema to see the new Pixar/Disney movie, “Inside Out,” which personifies a young girl’s major emotions, chosen as Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust (Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling, respectively). The story deals with the emotional upheavals attendant upon the sudden transplantation of a young girl, Riley (Catlin Dias) from Minnesota to San Francisco, and the conflicts in her mind/brain complex that result. The film ends up being a sweet, slightly sad story (though with a happy ending) that has some moments of real tension.

Joy is a charming sprite who is the most intelligent and flexible of the emotions, and the de facto leader. Her mission is to ensure that Riley leads a happy life and to keep her existing mental structure (visualized literally as an internal landscape) functioning smoothly. That all of Riley’s “personality islands”, Family, Friends, Honesty, Hockey (her sport), and “Goofball” (her sense of fun), are positive, shows that Joy has been relatively successful so far, or anyway that Riley has had a very good life.

The unanticipated participation of Sadness into Riley’s new situation throws Joy for a loop, and a substantial monkey wrench into the functioning of Riley’s mind. This tends to be taken rather more seriously than intended by adult critics, who see memory loss, personality disintegration, and emotional flatness as indicative of serious mental illness, rather than the transitory loss of balance the movie shows us. However, the metabrain we see in the film is a virtual mindscape optimized for storytelling, and not intended to represent reality.

Pixar continues to delight and amaze with its animations. The visualization of “Inside” is quite creative and interesting, but the most fascinating constructs are the emotions themselves, which get more detailed the more closely you see them. It takes a good close up to see that Joy and the others don’t have smooth “skin” or even a textured integument, but that their borders are a zone of fine pixelations, almost as though suggesting the emotions were fractal in nature—as, indeed perhaps they are.

It also took me a while, and some of the darker scenes, to realize that Joy, is—well—radiant. The subtlety of this effect, and the modelling of her light on the environment around her is a triumph of the new art of animation, and one of the few things I think I have seen that absolutely could not have been done by more conventional means.

“Outside,” the Pixar artists have done an excellent job of balancing cartoonishness and the “uncanny valley,” so that it’s easy to emphasize with and accept the human characters. Ms. Dias as Riley does a good job characterizing a troubled pre-teen, and Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan do good jobs as Riley’s loving parents who are also distracted by the big move.

The film is not without its flaws, but they are minor. At points we see inside other people’s heads, where all five emotions are represented as the same sex as the outward person, as opposed to Riley, where Fear and Anger present as male. Perhaps this is something that changes during “Puberty”—which has had a big red alarm signal installed during the latest upgrade?

Highly recommended for fans of animation mature enough to understand the somewhat complex and esoteric storyline.

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