“Katrina” sounds accusatory to me now. It used to be a comforting word.  I knew this woman named Katrina enough to ask to share her table at coffee, on one of those outrageous days when people who don’t normally drink coffee are bored or cold or whatever and they invade my coffee sanctuary as stupid as Napoleon in Russia.  Now the word is an indictment– in any tone.

So when I went to the Kemper yesterday, and saw a label for David Bates’ show that said “Katrina,” I was deflated.  I hadn’t come to an art museum to confront political realities or national catastrophes.  I didn’t find the presentation too accusatory, though.  One large panorama of black faces is confronational, for sure, but I found a variety of moods across the walls.  There were scenes of the flooded New Orleans.  The compositions and the execution were so lovely that I could only enjoy them.  The lines were nice slashy ones, like Van Gogh’s, and something of the colors reminded me of our great Thiebaud tugboat at the Nelson.

Because I found New Orleans the most romantic city on the planet (no, not Paris– too sophisticated, so you’re always slightly nervous, and not Rome, which is just sex on plates), the destruction looked romantic to me, too.  Ravaged.  You screamed through it, but you wanted it.  (Of course no one in New Orleans asked for that or wanted that, what a horrible idea! I’m just talking paintings here, in my aesthetic vaccum.)

The portraits also impressed me, technically speaking.  I can introduce colors that pull at each other, and pound my way to a composition I won’t mind looking at on my wall, but the subtleties of color mixing and juxtapositions escape me.  Bates uses the lavenders and gasoline greens on faces right where they belong, to show how interesting the planes of faces really are (at least to fellow humans).  They kept my eye busy and curious all across a gloomy visage.  The pieces stood up as paintings without any political fuel.

Maybe this is all me, though: maybe the show seems both accusatory and political to others.  I don’t find a great lesson in the Katrina disaster.  All societies have an underclass, a group denied and shuffled aside and asked to go without.  And every society treats is rich better than its poor.  We’ve come a long way toward creating more equality in human civilization.  We also have a long way to go.  I’m glad to participate in making things more equal, although I don’t expect this to cause radical or even lasting change.

What I did see something of, in the despairing faces, is the bitterness of experience, and the horror of watching things change and die.  Some people get hit with that a lot harder than others.  For some people, great loss inspires great insight.  For other people, it knocks them into a bitter, tight corner.  I understand that.  I’ve been both places.

Robots Are Sexier than Brad Pitt

If “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” wins Best Picture, I’m moving to Canada.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the film, I don’t understand how you could give Best Picture or (heavens!) Best Director to a movie that could be thematically improved by the discussion in my mother’s Corolla in the Chili’s parking lot.  Seriously, the committee of my family made some great suggestions. 

The Katrina framing device does not work.  We’re all worried about what happens to that daughter and those nurses.  The whole Luke-I-am-your-father thing does not work.  Why does Benjamin Button not grieve the loss of his mother, or his family home?  How come Brad Pitt plays him like an eerily emotionless Ken doll?  Isn’t the interesting thing about this character that he experiences life in this unique way?  We need to see how he feels about that.

How come it’s not sexy to see Cate Blanchett in bed with him (sigh)…?  Why does Benjamin seem to not even know his sister?  Is his adoptive mom married to that guy she sleeps with, or not?  And why not?  What about that clock motif?  Time goes backwards, but then it doesn’t, and why does it stop going backwards? 

When the movie was a great popcorn fest, like the last Indiana Jones, these discussions were just for fun.  Fine: I accept that a man could survive a nuclear blast inside a refrigerator.  But “Benjamin Button” is supposed to be a serious movie telling us about the meaning of life and time.  It’s all Katrina-ed up, for heaven’s sake.

“Frost/Nixon” is perfectly well-intentioned, if a little distant and dry.  It’s a lot more laughs than you might expect.

I’m trying to bring myself to watch Sean Penn go gay.  Why oh why is playing a gay guy such a spectacular transformation?  Is it really harder to pretend to want to kiss boys than to pretend to be a serial killer or Richard Nixon?  I’m not impressed by straight men pretending to be gay.  This annoyed me with “Brokeback Mountain,” too.  I liked the movie fine, but to me, pretending to be in love with someone you’re not in love with is the trick, not the gender of your pretend lover.

I’m also having a hard time psyching myself up to see Kate Winslet’s Holocaust/statutory rape film.  Honestly, these aren’t topics I want to focus on in my free time.

I’d also prefer “Doubt” to get a Best Picture nod over “Benjamin” or “Frost/Nixon.”  The subject matter really appeals to me– schools, power, faith, skepticism, hierarchy– and I enjoyed the visuals and performances, especially Philip Seymour-Hoffman.  He’s tricky, tricky, tricky, and, while not my favorite actor, worth a thousand Brad Pitts.  The debate between the old-school discipline and the new-school warm fuzzy hippie love is oversimplified, but I liked seeing it played out anyway.  Those mean old nuns! (I am an aspiring mean old teacher myself.)

But how could the Academy have pleased me?  Why don’t we go “Beauty and the Beast” style and nominate “WALL-E” for Best Picture instead of leaving it in the Animation ghetto?  I was enthralled by the visuals in “WALL-E,” I laughed at its silent-movie-style humor, I smiled at its simple optimism and morality, and WALL-E reaching out to hold hands with EVA is sweeter and more romantic than any scene in “Benjamin,” Brad Pitt be damned.