Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City

Exhibition at the New York Public Library through August 29.

So my last few posts, collectively, were starting to look a bit Comic-Con-esque. That might be kind of inevitable, given summer fare, and it’s not there’s like there’s anything wrong with that, per se, but … there’s more to life. I felt like writing about something that didn’t involve superheros or aliens and whatnot, so at lunchtime I walked down to the public library to check out this exhibit, which has been stuck on my well-intentioned meaning-to-go list for a while.

And as is often the case with stuff on that list, I enjoyed it tremendously once I actually got around to going. The title (alluding to the contentious issue of the government seizing private property for public use or, even more controversially, for private development) is misleading because the exhibit isn’t overtly political and certainly doesn’t deal with that subject directly. The point of the name is to get at the ways in which public and private spaces overlap in urban areas, and though that theme shows up in the exhibit in some artists’ work more than others’, I see where the curators were going with the idea, and it’s interesting.

But I have to admit, too, that I wasn’t thinking much about eminent domain—on either a literal or a metaphoric level—as I wandered through the exhibit. The photographs that really captured me were so arresting, so aesthetically striking and evocative, that I found myself enraptured in enjoying them on that level. These were the kind of photos that don’t find beauty so much as create it, and that, I think, is rare and special.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

In theaters.

Note: This isn’t so much a review as it is a navel-gazing meditation on what The X-Files once meant to me and how that meaning has faded. I tried to write a real review, but I wasn’t able to disentangle my reaction to the movie from my one-time infatuation with the TV show, and I finally gave up. Consider yourself warned.

“Trust no one” was the line most associated with The X-Files back when it was in its prime. That phrase reflected its convoluted conspiracy-oriented mythology, not to mention larger premillennial fears, so that was the phrase that magazines and the like used when talking about it. But for me, that was a misrepresentation, for much of the show’s drama comes out of the fact that Mulder and Scully both have someone they do come to trust: each other. The truly archetypal X-Files phrase appears on Mulder’s iconic flying-saucer poster in block capitals: “I want to believe.”

The Dark Knight

In theaters.

Consider the title fair warning. Dark doesn’t even begin to describe the latest Batman movie. I don’t think much of the ratings system, but if you’re going to have one, it’s outrageous that The Dark Knight is rated PG-13. True, I don’t recall any swearing or exposed breasts, but the violence is wincingly graphic and deeply unsettling and not remotely cartoonish. Comic book source material notwithstanding (and frankly, turning up one’s nose at the medium is a breed of snobbery for which I have no respect), this is a movie for grown-ups.

And that, of course, is part of the reason it’s so good. Director Christopher Nolan and his brother and co-writer Jonathan aren’t content just to sell action figures and blow stuff up, and their ambition shines through in every scene of The Dark Knight. It isn’t as perfectly conceived and crafted as their previous collaboration, the underrated The Prestige, but unlike most summer blockbusters, Knight gets under your skin and leaves you talking. It stays with you.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog

Available online at drhorrible.com through July 20 and available for download at the iTunes store.

If I didn’t already love Joss Whedon, I would for this: When the writers’ strike prohibited him from working on screenplays for film or TV, he used the break as an opportunity to collaborate with friends, family, and colleagues on an Internet project, an oddball musical about a would-be supervillain, his smug superhero nemesis, and the object of his unrequited affection.

Given that “Once More, With Feeling,” the musical episode of Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was one of the few truly bright spots of season six (I might love Joss, but I’m no apologist for Buffy’s sharp downturn), I was looking forward to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, and it didn’t disappoint. It did surprise, though. I suppose I had expected something lighter and breezier, a trifle to match its let’s-put-on-a-show roots, but now I wonder why. After all, Whedon has all but perfected the art of exploring hard emotional truths in potentially campy premises. Why shouldn’t he do that online as well as on TV?

Concert in the Park

The New York Philharmonic at Central Park, on Tuesday, July 15.

Lesson learned: When attending a free concert in Central Park, go directly after work to stake out a spot. In the past, I’ve done that as a matter of course, but the concert Tuesday snuck up on me, and I made a quick trip home to grab dinner and a blanket to spread on the ground. By the time I arrived at the park about forty-five minutes before the program began at 8, I could only find room about two-thirds of the way down the Great Lawn.

From there, I could barely hear the orchestra, particularly because at that distance most of my neighbors would best be described as picnickers rather than concert-goers. Not to be a snob, but I don’t understand their thinking. If you just want to eat and drink and talk and enjoy the outdoors, why attend a concert at all? Have a picnic some other night, and leave the concert-going for those of us interested in hearing the music!


The American Ballet Theatre at Lincoln Center on Tuesday, July 8.

Dancers generally don’t show fatigue. No doubt the fact that they’re in peak physical condition has something to do with that, but even so, it just wouldn’t do to have anyone gasping for breath between pirouettes or pausing after a series of leaps to put his head between his legs. So part of what makes the ballet Giselle so much fun is that it makes such a show of exhaustion. Characters literally dance themselves to death—but not before they pant and heave and collapse a few times, almost as if their bodies tire like those of normal human beings—and I have to admit, I kind of love it.

My sicko tendencies aside, however, Giselle is a wonderfully lush, twistedly tragic ballet, a paragon of the romantic tradition. If the score were by Tchaikovsky, it would be perfect. (The music, from a hodgepodge of sources, is fine, but it can’t compare to Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty.)

Tell No One

In theaters.

Conveying paranoia is one of the things movies do best—and not just showing it but making you feel it along with the characters. Looming images, wary pans, jumpy camerawork, and carefully doled information can create a delicious sense of anxiety, the perverse thrill of jangly nerves and bated breath.

The French thriller Tell No One achieves those tense heights of paranoia beautifully (a few sequences have real Hitchcockian flair, not quite Cary-Grant-in-the-corn-field but admirably close), but if falls short of what might be the more difficult trick: the dismount. As long as the threat against protagonist Alex Beck is left vague and shadowy, Tell No One works the classic man-unjustly-accused theme to great effect. Undefined, the threat feels overwhelming, but once the movie starts spelling everything out in long explanatory flashbacks, it begins to feel small and sordid, a letdown.

August: Osage County

Now playing at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway.

The centerpiece of August: Osage County is a grandly disastrous family dinner. The matriarch of the Weston family gleefully tears a strip out of everyone in turn, paying particular attention to her three daughters and leaving behind a glut of emotional carnage: reopened wounds, exposed secrets, and shattered psyches. The frequently made comparison to Tennessee Williams’ work isn’t an overstatement. It might be set in Oklahoma rather than the Deep South, but this year’s winner of both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play falls easily into the muggy, tempestuous Southern gothic tradition.