Friday, July 03, 2009

How to top "The 1812 Overture"? How about the Clyde Stubblefield Band at the Monona Terrace?

Clyde Stubblefield at the Monona Terrace
When Wednesday night's Concert on the Square was rescheduled for Thursday night due to weather concerns, it dropped on top of the previously scheduled Community Care Concert by the Clyde Stubblefield Band on the Monona Terrace rooftop. A double treat for Madison music lovers -- two great concerts in different downtown open air venues on the same night. On one stage, Maestro Andrew Sewell, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, "The 1812 Overture" with full cannon support -- on the other, Madison's Maestro of the funk beat with his band. It doesn't get better than that.

Biking to the Concert on the SquareWe had not meant to go to the Concert on the Square last night. It seemed a bit too cold, cloudy and gloomy. But it warmed up and then late in the day, the sun started breaking through, and we decided at the last minute to go after all. Too late to find a parking space downtown, and anyhow, we had told ourselves this year we would bike to the Concerts, so we hit the Southwest Bike Path a little after the concert started. Arrived during the intermission, stayed for the second half, the one with the "1812 Overture" pyrotechnics. The light on our ride was extraordinary -- bright, warm lighting breaking under the dark, low-hanging cloud cover. (This is along the path between West Washington and Brittingham Park.)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Grand Central towers skyward -- luxury rental units in the heart of the UW campus

New Luxury Apartments Tower Skyward
The real estate development boom of the last few years left Madison with a glut of unsold homes and condos when it cooled, but there is one kind of new development that is still doing well -- luxury rental housing for students near campus. The new $20-million-plus Grand Central development is mostly rented for the fall semester. It's the most expensive residential development launched in Dane County the last two years. Rents start at $1,195 for a one-bedroom and top out at $3,175 for a four-bedroom with a den. Residents can also reserve the 13th-floor party deck. "Developers have found students are willing to pay those higher rents for apartments with all the amenities," UW facilities planner Gary Brown tells The Capital Times.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

All that remains of St. Raphael's Cathedral is a bit of the wall, a patch of grass and some new graffiti

A Year Later, All That Remains of St. Raphael's Cathedral
And memories. I'm not Catholic, and I don't think I've ever been in the church, although I used to walk past it on the way home from school back in the day. I liked what Jack Holzhueter, a retired researcher and writer for the Wisconsin Historical Society, presented at a forum on the building's fate after the fire.
St. Raphael is the only church in Madison integrally tied to the city's original plat of development, he wrote. Like other great buildings and public spaces in cities around the world, St. Raphael was adopted by the community, which loves the building and looks to it for a sense of neighborhood.

"Thus, Madisonians and residents of the greater metropolitan area have come to 'own' St. Raphael's, though the vast majority of them have never set foot into the place. The diocese may own the structure; the clergy, religious and parishioners may imbue it with spiritual and sentimental attachments, but the wider public puts it into a context of place and space. The wider public endows it with its status as a landmark," Holzhueter wrote.
Summer Solstice Report on the State of the St. Raphael's SteepleUnfortunately, this landmark never achieved offficial landmark designation (a last minute effort last year was too little, too late), and so the Diocese was free to tear it down. They took down the steeple last June, and then demolition of the burned-out shell of St. Raphael's Cathedral started last July. Now all that remains of the former cathedral of the Madison Diocese are some remnants of limestone wall, a raggedy grass lawn where a cathedral loved by many once stood, and a new coat of graffiti. (In the background is the roof line of the rectory that used to be adjacent to the cathedral.) The Diocese has announced they plan to build a new cathedral at some point, but because of economic conditions they have not started a fund-raising campaign yet.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A lot of film critics hated it, but "Away We Go" was a sellout its second night in Madison

Seeing a Sold-Out Showing of "Away We Go" at Sundance
It must have had great word-of-mouth. The movies we go to usually aren't sellouts, but we were lucky we bought our tickets online. Otherwise we would never have made it into the sold-out 7:15 showing Saturday night at Sundance Cinemas Madison. We enjoyed it, the public mostly liked it, Roger loved it, The Onion liked it -- but many critics absolutely hated it.

"Away We Go" belongs to that tiny genre of movies that also includes David O. Russell's 1996 screwball classic, "Flirting with Disaster," in which a young couple copes with the anxieties that come with getting ready to become parents by undertaking a road trip on the flimsiest of pretexts. In "Flirting with Disaster," the adopted Ben Stiller is trying to find his birth parents so he'll know what genetic heritage he's passing on. In "Away We Go," John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are looking for a place to make a home for their child. The former is wackier and more surreal. "Away We Go" begins with some wonderfully cutting social satire but goes on to conclude with real depth of feeling. Maya Rudolph's performance is amazing.

The website Metacritic.com is an aggregator that's great for getting a snapshot of critical opinion by assigning numerical values to critics' review (and moviegoers' comments) -- an imperfect, subjective process, but it's good at capturing patterns. In this case, the public seems to like the movie much more than the critics, judging from the average score, a mediocre 57. But this isn't one of those homogeneous responses in which most critics share the same lukewarm critical reaction. This is one of those movies that people either like a lot or dislike a lot. There's no real middle ground, except for the misleading numerical average.

Many of the critics who disliked the movie didn't seem to be reviewing the movie at all. They misrepresented the protagonists as slackers and anti-social narcissists. They interpreted social comedy as mean-spiritedness. They scarcely talked about the performances. Instead, they seemed to be settling scores with the movie's creators -- director Sam Mendes and screenwriters Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida, accusing the former of being a snotty foreigner and the latter two of being solipsistic slackers. Knocking the movie was their way of attacking one or another, or all, of its creators. It seemed to be a relexive, emotional response.

Hard to tell what triggered such fury, but the NYT's A.O. Scott was typical. The normally even-tempered reviewer became spiteful and nasty.
To observe that they inhabit no recognizable American social reality is only to say that this is a film by Sam Mendes, a literary tourist from Britain who has missed the point every time he has crossed the ocean. The vague, secondhand ideas about the blight of the suburbs that sloshed around “American Beauty” and “Revolutionary Road” are now complemented by an equally incoherent set of notions about the open road, the pioneer spirit, the idealism of youth.
[ ... ]
But you should also understand that you are not welcome. Does it sound as if I hate this movie? Don’t be silly. But don’t be fooled. This movie does not like you.
The reviewers who liked the film also seemed to be participating in a referendum about is creators. In a rare swipe at another critic, Roger Ebert referenced Scott's words in his own conclusion.
I submit that Eggers and Vida are admirable people. If their characters find they are superior to many people, well, maybe they are. “This movie does not like you,” sniffs Tony Scott of the New York Times. Perhaps with good reason.