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Friday, February 13, 2015

A Tribute to New York Times Media Critic David Carr

Posted By on Fri, Feb 13, 2015 at 5:05 PM

David Carr - SCREEN SHOT FROM THE FILM PAGE ONE
  • Screen shot from the film page One
  • David Carr

It’s been the farthest thing possible from a slow news week. It’s been a bad news week. And the bad news about the news just keeps coming.

On Tuesday the media packaged two completely unrelated stories together throughout the news cycle: Wherever you turned, there were Brian Williams and Jon Stewart: The NBC anchor had gone overboard with his war stories one too many times and had been suspended without pay for six months. Stewart announced to a stunned audience he’d be punching out at Comedy Central after 17 years as host of "The Daily Show."

Then, on Wednesday, things got grimmer. Legendary CBS News foreign reporter and "60 Minutes" correspondent Bob Simon was killed in a grisly car crash at the age of 73 in New York City. The next evening, David Carr, the world’s preeminent media reporter, moderated a "TimesTalks" panel discussion with Edward Snowden, director Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald about the documentary Citizenfour, returned to his office at the New York Times and collapsed. He was 58.

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Movies You Missed: Venus in Fur

Posted By on Fri, Feb 13, 2015 at 3:00 PM

click image These stilettos were made for worshipping. - IFC FILMS
  • IFC Films
  • These stilettos were made for worshipping.
This week in movies you missed: I'm going to see Fifty Shades of Grey this weekend. What can I say? I'm curious.

I am expecting to watch two scantily clad thespians uncomfortably fake sexual chemistry. I am expecting (or hoping for) moments of high camp. What I am not expecting from Fifty Shades is to learn anything new about the role of dominance and submission in sex and romance. (For an extremely exhaustive analysis/satire of everything the Fifty Shades series gets wrong about real-life BDSM, click here.)

No. For insight into the culture of whips, chains and legalistic sex-slavery contracts, I turned to David Ives' 2010 play Venus in Fur, adapted for the screen by Roman Polanski and now available on Netflix Instant. It proved to be about as provocative as an arty two-character drama confined to a single location with virtually no nudity can be. That is, a lot.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Center for Cartoon Studies Launches Veterans Project

Posted By on Thu, Feb 12, 2015 at 9:24 AM

A panel from Jess Ruliffson's comic Invisible Wounds - COURTESY OF THE CENTER FOR CARTOON STUDIES
  • Courtesy of the Center for Cartoon Studies
  • A panel from Jess Ruliffson's comic Invisible Wounds
The Upper Valley town of White River Junction has long been just that: a junction. It’s where the rivers come together, the railroads, the highways. This month, the town will witness yet another union, this one somewhat more unlikely: cartoonists and veterans.

White River Junction is home to two important institutions that, until now, have not formally collaborated: the White River Junction VA Medical Center, and the Center for Cartoon Studies. The school has invited veterans and their families to take part in the Cartoonist Veteran Project, in which CCS students and faculty will help vets to tell their stories in graphical form.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Still Wrapping My Mind Around the Artist Christo

Posted By on Tue, Feb 10, 2015 at 4:49 PM

Christo in his studio with a preparatory collage for "Over the River," 2011 - PHOTO: WOLFGANG VOLZ © 2011 CHRISTO
  • Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 2011 Christo
  • Christo in his studio with a preparatory collage for "Over the River," 2011
I've been thinking a lot about Christo since hearing his talk in Stowe last Thursday. Before 2005, he and his wife/artistic partner Jeanne-Claude were, for me, those oddballs who had wrapped the Reichstag in fabric. Then came “The Gates,” the artists’ installation in February 2005 of 7,503 orange metal gates, each hung with a rectangle of billowing orange fabric, along the winding paths of Central Park in New York City. I walked beneath a portion of them.

It was an experience I’ll never forget, and I’ve puzzled over its impact ever since. Perhaps because I’d lived in Japan and witnessed the reverence shown at Shinto shrine torii – those vermillion-colored gates that the New York installation seemed to echo – it felt as if passing under each gate was at once a solemn and celebratory event: a processional. Which, in turn, felt like a celebration of every person ahead of and behind me, in a city where anonymity rules. It was the gift of recognition: Walk here and be honored.

Everyone has a different interpretation of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s works (she died in 2009), as Alex Aldrich, executive director of the Vermont Arts Council, pointed out while introducing Christo to the sold-out audience at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. Christo’s visit was courtesy of Vermont Town Hall – a collaboration begun a year ago of a handful of local individuals and Spruce Peak’s foundation to bring “intriguing” speakers to the public – and Inntopia, a software company.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

On Screen This Week: Decay, Cartoons and Indie Darlings

Posted By on Mon, Feb 9, 2015 at 3:55 PM

The Kronos Quartet performing "Beyond Zero" - COURTESY OF THE HOPKINS CENTER FOR THE ARTS
  • Courtesy of the Hopkins Center for the Arts
  • The Kronos Quartet performing "Beyond Zero"
The weather outside may yet be frightful, but inside most movie theaters, it’s nice and toasty. (Except for the Palace 9 during my weekend viewing of Jupiter Ascending, during which I had to use my coat as a laprobe. What’s up with that?) Venues all over the state this week present warm, movielicious treats in store.

Tuesday, February 10

Among the film offerings this week, perhaps the most intriguing takes place just over the state line at the Hopkins Center for the Arts in Hanover, N.H. The Hop itself commissioned The Kronos Quartet in “Beyond Zero: 1914-1918,” a multimedia artwork that brings together the acclaimed neoclassical group, the Serbian-born composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and the talented filmmaker Bill Morrison.

Morrison is known for finding the inherent, bizarre beauty in old and decaying films, a subject he explored most memorably in the unique film Decasia, which exists at the crossroads of documentary and experimental film.

Morrison again resuscitates nearly expired celluloid for “Beyond Zero,” the subject of which is what your great-grandparents called "The Great War": World War I. This one-of-a-kind film-and-music event is worth the drive. See hop.dartmouth.edu for more information. (Tickets: $17-$50.)

Wednesday, February 11

On January 20, A Path Appears, the documentary about women who break free from the yoke of forced prostitution, played at Johnson State College; if you missed it there, you have another chance to see it this week in Burlington. The film will screen for free at the Fletcher Free Library at 6:30 p.m. See fletcherfree.org for more information.
A Path Appears - COURTESY JOHNSON STATE COLLEGE
  • Courtesy Johnson State College
  • A Path Appears

Saturday, February 14

The nominees for animated short films all will be screened at the Hop in Hanover, N.H. This is a great way to gain an edge in your office’s Oscar pool, because the “little” categories like this one are often decided by the tossing of a metaphorical dart. The full list of nominees is here; visit hop.dartmouth.edu for more details about the 7 p.m. screening. (Tickets: $5-$8.)

Another film playing locally on Valentine’s Day may not necessarily be the best date movie in the world, but it certainly attracted a lot of attention in indie-film circles over the last couple of years. Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, starring indie darling Greta Gerwig (who also coscripted the film), plays for free at the Hirschfield International Film Series at Middlebury College at 3 and 8 p.m.
Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha - IFC FEATURES
  • IFC Features
  • Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha
The film is sort of about … nothing, really. A young woman in New York City has friends and wants a better job and is charming and quirky. As you can probably tell, this film does not do much for me, but I’m an old crank. Don’t listen to me. Also, get off my lawn.

Tuesday, February 17

For the continuing Architecture + Design Film Series at Burlington City Arts, VTIFF presents the documentary 16 Acres, about the design and rebuilding of New York City's  Ground Zero site. The film recounts the story behind the massive, complex, decade-long, $20 billion project that has transformed lower Manhattan. It plays at 6 p.m. at 135 Church Street. The screening is free, but the pre-film cash bar (by definition) is not; stick around afterwards for discussion.

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

What I'm Watching: Phase IV

Posted By on Sat, Feb 7, 2015 at 9:02 AM

Phase IV - PARAMOUNT PICTURES
  • Paramount Pictures
  • Phase IV
Last week, I experienced an unprecedented and utterly joyous moment of cinematic serendipity. By pure chance, I stumbled across a little oddball jewel of a film on Netflix — a film that, I think, must somehow have been made with me in mind. I am this film’s ideal spectator. Phase IV is one of my new favorite movies.

Netflix gets a lot of flak for having too shallow a library in its streaming service, but, in my opinion, this criticism is inaccurate. Netflix has a gigantic library; it’s its search feature that’s crappy. Subscribers’ Netflix home screens are presorted by viewer preference, and highlight only several dozen titles in a small handful of categories. Though it’s difficult to find hard numbers, the Netflix catalog clearly runs deep, and certainly offers the widest array of titles of any of the major online streaming services. Yet it’s nearly impossible to get past the small number of “Recommended For You” titles. How to access Netflix’s “deep tracks”?

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Friday, February 6, 2015

Movies You Missed: It's Such a Beautiful Day

Posted By on Fri, Feb 6, 2015 at 5:02 PM

click image Bill and his ex contemplate life, death and everything. - © 2012 DON HERTZFELDT
  • © 2012 Don Hertzfeldt
  • Bill and his ex contemplate life, death and everything.
This week in movies you missed: I've been hearing about Don Hertzfeldt's It's Such a Beautiful Day since it was theatrically released (barely) in 2012. Last month, the acclaimed animator — who does everything himself, with minimal computer assistance — won his second Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for his latest short, "World of Tomorrow."

The feature-length It's Such a Beautiful Day is finally available for streaming on Netflix Instant, so I got my first taste of Hertzfeldt's work. Or maybe I should say this little cartoon snuck up, slammed into me, convinced me I was about to have a seizure for a few seconds, and left me awed, shaken and in tears.

Lesson 1: Always beware of films with titles that sound like somebody's daily affirmation (e.g., Life Is Beautiful, Everybody's Fine). They aim to make you cry.

Lesson 2: See this one anyway.

What You Missed
It's Such a Beautiful Day started as three short films: "Everything Will Be OK" (2006), "I Am So Proud of You" (2008), and "It's Such a Beautiful Day" (2011). They share a protagonist: a top-hatted stick figure named Bill. Hertzfeldt's voice narrates and relays all the dialogue to us, along with Bill's thoughts.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Vermont College of Fine Arts Establishes Vermont Book Award

Posted By on Tue, Feb 3, 2015 at 4:20 PM

© STOKATO | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • © Stokato | Dreamstime.com
Vermont writers have a new incentive to hunker down and create their masterpiece. The Vermont College of Fine Arts has just announced the creation of the Vermont Book Award, a $5,000 prize intended to honor excellent writing that makes the most of its Vermont ties.

The prize is open to writing of several kinds — poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and children’s literature — and to works that take place in Vermont, is published by a Vermont press, or is written by a Vermont author. (Sorry, self-published authors: Your works are not eligible.) Any book published between January and December 2014 is eligible for the inaugural 2015 prize.

Nominations for the Vermont Book Award may be made either by local publishers or by a committee formed by members of the group Independent Booksellers of Vermont.

Though the judges for the award committee have not yet been named, VCFA asserts that the prize, awarded to a single book, will be given this summer. VCFA president Thomas Christopher Greene, the author of several novels, is confident that the school “will have no trouble identifying really good people from the very big Vermont literary community.”

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