Current U.S. culture and politics is riddled with fake news and exaggerated fearmongering. Paved with Good Intentions is a satirical installment critiquing this era with drawings on vintage postcards of American landmarks and destinations composed into a gridded landscape that mirrors today’s environmental chaos. In addition to the postcards, animated shorts and script-driven video in relation to the postcards are played. The exhibition opens on January 25 at the Institute for the Humanities with an opening reception and a panel discussion, “Good Intentions: Is Art an Effective Means of Activism?”, featuring artist David Opdyke, journalist Lauren Sandler, art historian Tara Ward, and arts curator Amanda Krugliak. This installation explores the power, or lack of power, that the arts have to address political and social issues. Open until February 26, you have a month to stop by the Institute for the Humanities to see this impactful mural.
The annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival is a fundraiser for The Ark that takes place in Hill Auditorium with two entertaining nights filled with the best folk music around. For the 42nd Folk Fest, the first night on Friday, January 25 features Brandi Carlile, Gregory Alan Isakov, Haley Heynderickx, Sam Lewis, Parsonsfield, Michigan Rattlers, and Peter Mulvey. Then, the folk fun continues on Saturday, January 26 with the exciting lineup of Rufus Wainwright, I’m With Her, Pokey Lafarge, Ahi, The RFD Boys, and Peter Mulvey. Tickets can be bought at MUTO in the League Underground, at the Ark box office, or online at www.theark.org.
Vulfpeck is one of Ann Arbor’s greatest phenomena, and now, their funkiest guitarist is finding success with his solo project, the Cory Wong Band. Following the release of his latest solo album, The Optimist, Cory Wong is spreading his unique multi-instrumental rhythmic music across the country with his tour, which includes a stop at the Blind Pig on Saturday, January 19 at 9pm. Tickets are $20 and can be bought online at www.blindpigmusic.com.
Vox Lux opens in 1999 to a chilling and graphic school shooting. Celeste is eerily calm and frozen after she watches her music teacher get shot and tries talking to the shooter and offering to pray with him before he opens fire on his classmates in the corner. Though severely injured, Celeste survives and performs at the memorial service with a song that becomes the world’s healing, or glorifying, anthem. Before she knows it, she’s in recording sessions, dance lessons, and traveling the world with the older sister she is really close with and her manager, a stone-cold Jude Law. They explore Europe as her pop career grows, and on the day of 9/11, she sleeps with a rock musician and Ellie sleeps with the manager. As a rift grows between Celeste and Ellie as a result, the narrator claims that Celeste and the world lost their innocence that day, though I would argue Celeste’s innocence was gone the day she was a survivor in a school shooting.
The second chapter features Natalie Portman as a grown-up Celeste, a narcissistic pop diva that loves and despises the attention showered on her. She has a daughter, apparently from a hookup with that rock musician when she was a teenager, even though that scene when she “loses her innocence” was unclear. Having Raffey Cassidy play Celeste in the first chapter and celeste’s daughter in the second was an interesting bold choice, since it was a reminder that the future is very much crafted by the past. A recent terrorist attack across the world made a connection to Celeste by using her famed glittered masks in the attack, though the reason why was never established. In this chapter, Celeste navigates being a mother, exploding when she finds out her daughter had sex, while struggling as an artist making a comeback, giving interviews and press releases the day of her big show back in her hometown. She’s also busy hating her sister, showing just how much their relationship has changed.
After being high and having a massive breakdown in her dressing room, Celeste appears onstage flawless and ready to perform. No one would have guessed she was crying about wanting to be on the top and how mean people could be just minutes before. The concert scene at the end lasted longer than it needed to, and the final lines by the narrator didn’t seem to provide any resolution, just simply claiming how Celeste sold her soul to the devil after she was shot. There is no feel-good ending, just a dark reality about a self-pitying pop star in a world of violence.
Unfortunately, there were many problems with the directing and content of this movie. The strobe lighting and sped-up scenes caused headaches, which I personally found annoying. Their trip to Stockholm was a literal blur, which is probably how it seemed to Celeste and her rise to fame. The painfully screeching score in the first chapter, such as during the ambulance ride behind the opening credits, contrasts sharply with the pop music, which wasn’t catchy even though it was written by Sia, that dominates Celeste’s concert. There never seemed to be a connection between Celeste and Ellie, so their supposed-inseparable childhood and tense relationship in adulthood was hard to believe. The movie did show the pressures of celebrity life, especially if it’s crafted in childhood, and there was also a large emphasis on gun violence, which was important given the state of today’s society. While it implied that there was a relationship between fame and violence, both in the spotlight and also feeding off one another, Vox Lux does not offer much else. None of the characters were likeable, and Celete’s story was not gripping, just tragic in many aspects.
“Can you ever forgive me?” writes Dorothy Parker in a letter. Except Dorothy Parker never wrote those words. Instead, Lee Israel, struggling author, forges those titular words. Lee is a character I highly admired and related to on a basic level. She didn’t like to socialize with other writers, and she refused to compromise her voice and preferred genre, namely autobiographies, for the material people want to read. As she is struggling to find money for rent and for a vet visit for her cat, Jersey, Lee comes across original manuscripts hidden in a book while doing research for the autobiography about Fanny Brice that she is determined to write. This begins her criminal lifestyle of forging literary letters, demonstrating the prestige of antique bookstores. As she increases the frequency of her sells, as well as her asking price, she adjusts to this life of comfort that money, and her companionship with lonely yet likable grifter Jack Hock, provide. As buyers and collectors grow more aware of these forgeries, Lee ups the ante by actually stealing original manuscripts to sell.
As you watch Lee and Jack’s endeavors, you get caught up in the intensity of it all, despite knowing they will eventually get caught, which is a testament to the directing of the movie and the captivating acting by Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy delivers a performance perfect for Lee’s character, her biting wit and cranky passion exuding out of McCarthy. It is hard not to feel for Lee’s overflowing pride in the forgeries, which she makes clear after she is arrested and brought to court.
I thought the musical score for the movie was extremely pretty. There were a couple scenes where the orchestral music was all that was playing, intensifying in volume and in beauty as Lee was surrounded by manuscripts and books. One thing I particularly appreciated about the movie was that a big deal was never made about the characters’ sexuality. This took place in 1991, yet this was accepted with normal ease. However, I was left kind of frustrated that the storyline with Anna, a bookseller she had a connection with, was never resolved, but I think that’s also pretty realistic of real life. There is not always a happy ending, and some actions cause too much harm to be simply mended.
The connection between Lee and Jack was touching, as Jack understood Lee and provided her with the companionship she desperately needed. However, his character was bound to hurt Lee, and the pain from his act of carelessness was beyond incomprehensible. The saddest moment of the movie involved Jersey. In a way, that important scene was the most human, showing how lonely Lee truly was in the world.
The final scene between the Lee and Jack, and Lee’s parting comment about how she wanted to trip him as he was leaving, was bittersweet and perfect. While this duo lacks morals, they embrace that and their complimenting scathing conscience, and the film attempts to humanize their wrongs by pointing to all the nuances of their self-awareness. We don’t leave the theater feeling sorry for the characters; rather, we feel emboldened by the brash stubbornness they lived by every day, in sickness and in crime. Can You Ever Forgive Me? was a brilliant movie as Lee embraced her individuality and lived even as she perfected the voice of others and brought their legacy back alive.
It starts with different scenes of rippling water against a stationary background, creating an enticing illusion of the constant and the moving, a still reflection dancing in the water. Then, it starts panning across neighborhoods and houses before people appear, rowing boats and canoes through the land they knew that suddenly drowned. People trek through the waters alone at first, and then pairs of people make it through the water together. Eventually, it shows families and first responders appearing, these groups of people staying strong together.
People waddle through the remains of their houses, trying to salvage whatever is floating by. You watch people washing the walls with the flood water and wring their drenched clothes from the laundry washer. It ends with people just standing in the flood waters, alone or with their family, just staring at the camera, their gaze somber and intense. They hold ruined photographs from the flood, distorting the faces of these individuals from the past and the present affected by these catastrophes.
This work opened my eyes, quite literally, to the frequency of these events and the grave aftermath of them. Deluge features ten years worth of floods all over the world, and in just thirteen minutes, he shows a captivating glimpse into the reality of such global phenomena. The silence of the video installation, except for the sound of moving water, was haunting, which was a great choice made by Gideon Mendel. The panels played continuously in the dark room in the Institute for the Humanities, allowing visitors to walk in at any moment and feel instantly invested in the scenes that appear in front of them.
Every place was different, yet there was a commonality between the floods. You can’t tell the exact country or location of the shots, and that doesn’t matter. As the five panels displayed high water levels and people of all ages and races with water up to their stomachs, you realize climate change and floods are a global issue.