Weekly Adventure:The Glass Menagerie

I had a snow day from work yesterday. Which meant that I spent all day eating and finally watching The Crown. But earlier in the week, I had bought a discount ticket to The Glass Menagerie from Lincoln Center Theater, because Sally Field is in it. It was worth the cold walk to the subway (but honestly, house mangers, on the day of a blizzard when the temp is 10 below freezing, let people go to their seats early instead of lining up outside. C’mon.)

Anyway, this play has long been on my list of blindspots. I knew a few references, just enough to get “gentleman caller” jokes without ever having actually read or seen it. Because it was by Tennessee Williams I assumed it was bleak and beautiful. And I assumed right (though I didn’t find the ending to be terribly sad. There’s some room for hope there, or maybe I’m deluding myself.)

This production is strange, non-linear, and lovely. Like a so called “memory play” ought to be I suppose. At first, I was confused as to how I was supposed to believe that Joe Mantello was the younger brother of Madison Ferris, but then I realized that he was stepping into his own memory of the past. A conceit that actually worked really well once I got used to it.

Ms. Field did not disappoint. She is delightfully unhinged, and I don’t think I will ever forget the image of her in that Glinda the Good Witch courting dress. (Since the show is in previews, I can’t find a picture, but trust me it’s perfect.)

The heart of the show me though was the last 20 minutes, with Finn Wittrock, as the long awaited gentleman caller and Ferris*, lit only by candles and a neon sign. It was touching and intimate in a way I expect more from my beloved Chicago store fronts, not a grand Broadway house.

 

*Side note: it’s refreshing to see a disabled character played by an actress who uses a wheelchair rather than an able bodied actress putting on a limp (or something similar). More of that please.

 

 

Six Degrees of Cinema: Paterson

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Remember when I used to do these posts? Well, I have a couple of non-nominated Adam Driver movies that I wanted to see so I’m resurrecting this. As I wrote yesterday, I had just finished rereading Paterson by William Carlos Williams, the morning that I went to see this. I didn’t know if that would feel relevant, but it definitely did. It’s not a direct adaptation of Williams’s poem, but the feeling of the movie, it’s repetition and it’s preoccupation with notable figures in history with some connection to Paterson, has the same tone and rhythm.

On the level of plot there’s not much to recap here. A bus driver named Paterson wakes up next to his Iranian partner, gets up, eats Cheerios, works on a poem, drives his bus, eats dinner, walks the woman’s English bulldog Marvin, goes to the bar. Repeat. Then repeat again, with slight variations throughout the week. She flits between slightly odd creative projects, all variations on black and white, he remains consistent, but they clearly love each other. There is no love between the man and the dog. That’s it really.

But the sum of these days is something really lovely. Watching this couple navigate the mundane while also remaining committed to their creativity was quietly inspiring. Sitting in the this theater felt like communal meditation. And, not to put too fine a point on it, it felt like reading poetry. Complete with symbols that are clearly important but open to interpretation (what’s with all the twins?) and a laundromat rapper reminding us of WCW’s mantra, “No ideas but in things. No ideas but in things.”

In this chain: Paterson – 

Read Harder Review: Paterson by William Carlos Williams

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So, this one is a bit of a cheat. I’m counting Paterson as my “book I had read before” on my Book Riot Read Harder list, because I have a distinct memory of being assigned the book length poem in college. I even remember that the only copy I had at the time was in a Norton Anthology, one of those bricks with the very thin paper and crazy small print. I remember reading the first page, that English professors always made us buy for survey courses. (I think this was for Modern American Poetry? Or maybe even just the second half of the intro to American Lit? Fellow Northwestern English majors help me remember…)

Anyway, that’s really all I remember about having read this. I’m sure I finished it. I was/am a big nerd and usually did all of my reading, especially in my poetry classes. But like most stuff I read for survey classes, I remember the one sentence , (in this case: “No ideas but in things,” that I’m sure I quoted in a midterm paper. You may know that there is a movie of the same name out right now with Adam Driver as a bus driving poet. The director, the indie legend Jim Jarmusch, didn’t directly adapt the book (that’s really not possible), but seems to have taken his own swing at the Williams’s central premise, that a man and a city can stand in for each other.

I’m going to see the movie tonight and decided to revisit the book in preparation. And this time around I was amazed that I could ever have forgotten it. It’s an epic collage of history, found text (including letters from a young, slightly sycophantic Allen Ginsberg!), and of course, poetry.

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As with any work of this length, some sections are better than others. It went off the rails a bit in the third (or maybe 4th book) when he tries to tell a more coherent narrative story. I much prefer the grand pronouncements (though he didn’t like them much himself – see above re: ideas and things.)

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This section really spoke to me as I read it the night of the airport protests. My Instagram followers seemed to like it too.

He also takes a weird tangent in book 5 where he goes on and on about women being either virgins or whores, where I couldn’t tell if he believed that, or his Paterson believed that, or if he was being satirical. I kind of don’t want to unpack it, because I hate discovering my favorite writers hate women…especially when he dropped this reference in an earlier book:

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For those not in the know on their Temperance Movement radicals…Carrie Nation was hardcore

But contradictions are part of the point of course. (There’s a direct line easily drawn between Leaves of Grass and Whitman’s multitudes and this poem.) If Paterson the character is Paterson the city, I think it’s pretty clear to say that Paterson the city is also means to be America. And as we all see right now, America is a mess of contradictions.

But if you let Williams’s writing just wash over you, the effect can be pretty glorious:

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Images from the #NoBanNoWall Protest at Battery Park 1/29/2017

Apparently this is going to be a new blog series. This rally and march came together in under a day, and it was very impressive to see New Yorkers come together quickly, and strongly for the brave people being illegally kept out of our country right now.

 Senator Gillibrand summed it up pretty well:

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Cher Horowitz would approve

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Awards Show Roundup: SAG Awards 2017

Even for an awards super fan like me, with all that’s going on in the world it felt a little weird to sit down and watch actors congratulate each other, but, my Hollywood coastal elite loves, took the platform and used it to speak out for good so, it was actually a really nice way to end the weekend.

Ashton Kutcher and Julia Louis-Dreyfus started the night out strong:

I don’t watch it any more, but I love that Orange is the New Black submits their entire 37 person ensemble, it’s always such a great moment:

To quote Denzel Washinton: Viola. Davis.

In case you haven’t taken my advice and watched Captain Fantastic yet, this might be some motivation now:

Power to the people, stick it to the man

Marhershala Ali made me cry, yes with his performance in Moonlight, but also with this speech:

I love Lily Tomlin, I want to be her when I grow up (and I’m glad I could find a video that didn’t include Dolly Parton’s boob joke filled introduction):

I really need to watch The Crown, because John Lithgow and Claire Foy are delights:

The kids from Stranger Things are adorable, still not watching that show though they did give the best speech ever:

Also, I just love Winona Ryder, she really went on a journey through this speech.

I think Natalie Portman should have won Best Actress, but I love Emma Stone, and I feel a real kinship with her, and this is the kind of speech I would give if ever called upon to:

I’m never going to complain about Denzel Washington winning an award, especially when he is genuinely surprised:

Look, I think Moonlight was robbed, but the Hidden Figures women gave a speech that made their win worth it:

And look, it was a weird night for fashion. Every time I thought, “Oh I like that dress,” and then it would have a strange flower applique, lace detail, or sheer panel. But here were some favorites:

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Lela Rose (Photo Credit: Getty)

 

Annalise Basso in Bibhu Mohapatra (Photo Credit: Women’s Day)

Michelle Williams in Louis Vuitton (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Michelle Dockery in Elie Saab (Photo Credit: Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock)

Bryce Dallas Howard in Dress the Population (it’s off the rack!) (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images) 

Rasida Jones in Vivienne Westwood (Photo Credit: Getty) 

Emily Blunt in Roberto Cavalli (Photo Credit: WENN)

Kirsten Dunst in Dior (Photo Credit: AP)

 

Five Star Book: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

A friend and I have started a 2017 long-distance book club, and I chose this for our first pick. I admit that this was based mainly on the yellow flowers on the cover and a recent (previously discussed) preoccupation with what it would be like to live like a hermit in the mountains.

Well, if this book is to be believed it will drive you crazy. But that’s a very glib summary of a beautifully empathetic novel. Idaho starts with the story of Ann, an English woman who is the second wife of a man named Wade who is dealing with early onset dementia. They live in a small town in Idaho, or more accurately, near a small town, nestled on a farm on the side of a mountain. That would be a bleak enough premise, but as the book goes on and the perspective shifts a few times, you learn that what Wade has forgotten is more tragic than he could even imagine.

I’m not going to spoil anything, but if you are particularly sensitive to harm coming to children you may want to skip this one. But, I hesitate to even write that, because if I had read that warning I wouldn’t have picked up this book, and I really loved it. It’s not an easy experience, my reading buddy and I both decided we couldn’t read it at night, which meant for me, reading it on the subway, which meant crying on the subway. (But the nice thing about New York is a woman crying while reading on the subway isn’t even on the list of top weird things someone will see in a day, so people barely seemed to notice.)

Emily Ruskovich’s style is gorgeous and lush, and you do get a sense why these characters feel drawn to this landscape, even in its bleakest periods, but the real strength of this book is her talent for building character. I feel like I know all of the people in this book intimately now, and I feel for them, even the ones who did terrible things. I also appreciated how she handled the central tragedy. It’s always present but she never delves too deeply into the details or the motivations, because, as another great writer put it, “there are moments that the words don’t reach.”

Images from the Women’s March on Washington

I tried to write up my reactions to the Women’s March last night, but I couldn’t manage to be coherent. (Partly because it was a wonderfully overwhelming experience, and partly because I’m still pretty exhausted.) So, instead, here are a lot of photos I took of my parents and our friends and a bunch of strangers with their signs:

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At Starbucks on the drive down, with our pussy ears. It felt like everyone we ran into on the way down seemed to be heading to the March

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Mom and Allie up and ready to march

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Dad after I asked him

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Mom and I are still bad at selfies

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We were under a parachute of a giant boob…

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GLORIA

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Dad watching Gloria

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This was my favorite sign

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I left my sign near Leia

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This fence wrapped around the whole ellipse

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Women dressed as suffragists

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Rest stop on the way back, also filled with marchers

Weekly Adventure: In Transit at Circle in the Square

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With all the craziness (and expense) of moving and the holidays and all my awards season movie, I haven’t been as focused on my Broadway lottos recently. So, I haven’t been to the theater in a while. But, I luckily have a wonderful woman I refer to as my New York godmother, who sometimes out of the blue emails me things like “Are you free to see In Transit some day next week?” And I was.

I didn’t know a ton about the show going in, except that it is the first all a capella musical on Broadway, which Baboo was very excited about as she had been in an a capella group in college. I cannot sing, but have always been a fan of people who can, so I was intrigued.

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Pre-show selfie to make my mom jealous

And the show was completely charming. The a capella blend is beautiful and the beat boxer at the center of it (played last night by Chesney Snow) has impressive range. I saw a review this morning that says this is like if Love Actually were a musical set in New York, and that captures it pretty beautifully.

The plot is a series of interlocking stories of New Yorkers on the subway dealing with loss (of love and career), ambition, and love. It’s not breaking any ground, but a few of the songs are genuinely moving. And the whole cast is incredibly talented. As Baboo would say they have a great “blend” and the soloists were all wonderful, particularly Aureilia Williams. (Side note: at one point she wears a dress made of Metro Cards, which would win a Project Runway, unconventional challenge in a heartbeat. It was amazing.)

(Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

As a big fan of the Broadway-centric web series Submissions Only it was also a thrill to see Colin Hanlon, who apparently just joined the cast as a replacement, in a very sweet story with Justin Guarini. (Who you probably know from the first season of American Idol, but for me will always be the guy who at the stage door of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, repeated the sentence “It’s like being living art” to many times and Hanna and I couldn’t stop laughing.)

Anyway, the show is really fun, and definitely worth it. We got discount tickets, but the Circle in the Square is such an intimate house that there really isn’t a bad seat in the house.

 

Read Harder Review: The Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel

Yay a new series! Sometime last year I subscribed to the, excellent, Book Riot newsletter, which has given me a million things to add to my “to read” list. But it’s also given me a new blog series idea! And this one isn’t about movies, for those of you who are just muddling through my nearly incessant ramblings about film, I now give you: more frequent ramblings about books! (I promise to return to Shakespeare and baking updates soon too!) Anyway, Book Riot hosts a challenge each year to get people out of their reading comfort zones, and I’m going to attempt it this year. (Though looking at the list, I am going to need recommendation help, especially for the comics. I don’t really read comics…)

I started off the year by knocking out arguably the easiest one on the list for me, considering I live in New York City, “A book that’s set within 100 miles of your location.” I picked this book up at the Queen’s Library Broadway location mostly based on a whim and the blurbs. I’m going to try to be more thoughtful in my selections from here on out: 

The Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel 

God, so much of post-modernism is so boring to me. This is apparently an “anti-novel,” because it is both a book, and a book within the book at the same time, or something. I’m not completely sure how I was supposed to read the chapters of the novel that were written by the main characters of the other chapters.Were they intentionally overwrought bordering on bad? If so they weren’t different enough from the chapters set in “reality.” And the woman the fictional novelist is obsessed with, absurdly named Starshine, is a ridiculously drawn, borderline misongynist picture of a single, free-spirited woman. At times the descriptions of her, particularly in relation to the men she sleeps with/lusts after, made me very uncomfortable. Was I supposed to read this as simply the deluded ramblings of the desperate protagonist? Well, then I wish Appel had included at least one actual woman who could conceivably exist somewhere in the book.

The descriptions of New York were nice though.

 

 

And the Nominees Are 2017: Round 5

BAFTA nominations came out this week! Which means that in addition to the movies I saw in the last week, I have a few catch up posts, and an even longer list of things to see! So this may be a bit of a long one, but there’s some great stuff.

Weiner

Note: I wrote this review this summer, before the latest round of investigations into Anthony Weiner and their devastating implications for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Instead of rewriting it, I’m sharing it here as a time capsule of my initial thoughts on this film.

 

I’ll admit I went to this basically because I wanted to go to the IFC Film Center, but I’m glad I wandered in. Look, Anthony Weiner seems like a difficult person, but I think he genuinely would had good policies as a mayor. Though one with an anger management problem. The real story here isn’t why he sexted (obviously that’s some combination of lust, ego and a maybe pathological need to be adored) but why that’s unforgivable when others things aren’t. And more importantly its about how amazing his wife Huma is. Not for putting up with his crap (how and why she did is her business. Note: Though I’m glad she’s gotten out now) but for creating boundaries for herself and sticking to them even when there’s a documentary crew in her house. She’s me new definition of grace under fire.

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

If you’ve read this blog, or ever talked to me, you probably know that the Harry Potter stories (I almost wrote universe, but I don’t like that. Maybe the Harry Potter mythology?) are incredibly important to me. In other words, this movie was made for me. And it was a delightful return to a world that I love. Plus Eddie Redmayne & Colin Farrell are 2 of my all time favorite actors, so I’m happy to watch them run around New York (including the museum I used to work at!) reducing it rubble.

The magical creatures are wonderfully rendered. I especially love the platypus like creature who collects gold in a pouch, which google tells me is a niffler. And I loved the sequences where Newt (Redmayne) walks his new, no-maj (aka muggle) friend Jacob (Dan Fogler) around his suitcase taking care of his animals. It was a lovely touch of warmth and whimsy.

Which honestly was needed, because the main plot of this movie is very dark, and the anti-magic Second Salem crusaders are super creepy. No spoilers, but until something towards the end becomes clearer about him, I found it very hard to watch Ezra Miller‘s character Creedance (and don’t get me started on his creepy little sister…)

But, as always, in J.K. Rowling’s world at least, there is hope in the darkness (and its usually in the form of a smart woman – I loved Katherine Waterston as Tina!)

And while I am not happy at all about the casting of a domestic abuser as the franchise’s new villain, I am happy to see where the story goes from here.

Divines

I wanted to like this movie so much. It tells the story of 2 French girls of color, one the daughter of an imam, growing up in the equivalent of the projects. At first it was giving me Fish Tank vibes and I was so in. But, I don’t know if it was the mood I was in or my over empathizing problem, but I could not get over my, ultimately justified, fear for these girls.

At every step along the way I wanted to save them from their self destructive decisions. I understand the point that writer-director Houda Benyamina, was making about the truly bone crushing stagnation of poverty, but I ultimately didn’t enjoy watching their naive attempt at escape (through the emulation of a local female drug dealer) grind them even further into despair.

That being said, the two actresses at the center here, Oulaya Amamra and Déborah Lukumena were remarkable and Kevin Mischel added a lovely touch of romantic relief.

20th Century Women

I love the way Mike Mills tells stories. I loved Beginners and this felt like a true companion piece to that. Not just because Mills has said this is his love letter to his mom the way Beginners was to his Dad, but they feel cut from the same stylistic sloth. And I love that cloth.

It’s a mixture of collage, nonlinear storytelling and other technical tricks with real emotional depth and sly humor. Every character in this movie feels like a real, full person, even the ones that easily could have been jokes, like Billy Crudup‘s post-hippie handyman.

Annette Bening is quietly wonderful as the older, single mom of a 15 year old boy (Lucas Jade Zumann) who she feels unequipped to raise into a “good man,” (Because, “who even knows what that means any more?”) She enlists the help of his friend Julie (Elle Fanning), and renter Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and while her plan doesn’t quite work out they all do their best along with Crudup to form a family.

And its beautiful, and at times absurd, and I’m a little concerned about how much I want to wear all of Annette Bening’s costumes considering she’s  a fifty something women in this, but whatever, the 70s are in. Anyway, this is a beautiful film, filled with empathy, and you should all see it.

Don’t Think Twice

Mike Birbiglia is one of my favorite artists in any medium, his stand up and radio stories are like comfort food to me. And this movie has a lot of the qualities that I about about his work: wry, observational comedy, self-deprecation that doesn’t wallow its way into self-pity, and a deep empathy for the frailty of its characters.

This movie, Birbiblia’s second as writer-director, follows an improv group that starts the move as a family of lovable losers and tracks the changes that occur hen one of them gets hired on a (very thinly veiled) stand in for Saturday Night Live. 

I find improv very hard to watch. (I get so nervous for the performers!) but the performance scenes here act as great illustrations of the group dynamic. The whole cast is great and the story is realistic, painful and warm, and brutal and lovely. It’s an insightful depiction of how people define success differently for themselves and how that can be impossible to describe.

A Monster Calls

I wasn’t going to see this. I feel like the darkness of the trailer made me think it was going to be creepy, but it wasn’t at all. It was a lovely little fable about anger and loss and love.

I bet it was probably a children’s book (it was!) and the movies felt like walking through a fairy tale. The young boy at the center (Lewis MacDougall) has a great “British orphan” face, even though he doesn’t play an orphan. What I mean is he looks like a kid out of a Dickens adaptation. And this feels like it will take its rightful place in the long tradition of British children’s stories.

And, like a lot of those stories, this is pretty bleak. Connor has had to grow up very quickly, because his mother (the always lovely Felicity Jones) is dying of cancer, he’s bullied at school, and his dad, though generally kind, lives in a far away land (Los Angeles). His relief comes in the form of a Yew tree monster, delightfully voiced by Liam Neeson, who comes to help him come to terms with all of his conflicting emotions. It’s a tear jerker, and the animation is gorgeous. I feel like this isn’t getting the buzz it deserves. It’s definitely worth seeking out.

Julieta

Film nerd confession: until last night I don’t think I had ever actually seen a Pedro Almodóvar film. I knew all about him, knew I should probably watch Volver at some point, and had even seen the very underrated musical adaptation of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown during its brief Broadway run, but I hadn’t ever just sat down and watched one.

Well, I don’t know how Julieta fits in with his work obviously, but I can say that I liked it a great deal. Based on a few Alice Munro short stories, the film follows the title character backwards and forwards through her life, slowly solving the emotional mystery of how bright, young Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) becomes the secretly sad, middle aged woman (Emma Suárez).

Almodóvar paces melodrama like a thriller, suspense heightening score by (Alberto Iglesias) and all. I love stories about complicated women that still feel real and this is a good one. I’m definitely going to catch up with more of his work now.