Oh My God: Girls Episode 3

Oh Girls there’s that heartbreaking edge that I’ve been missing since the second to last episode of last season. I knew that it was unrealistic after last year’s blow up that Hannah and Marnie could just slip into best-friendom again, but did it have to be a coke induced blow up in a creepy artist’s house? Yes, of course it did, because this is Girls I’m talking about. Take the awful realistic thing and turn it up to 11.

The fight scene was even more depressing because it came after such a surreal, joyful in an almost terrifying way, episode. To recap: Hannah gets a job at blog I’m assuming is supposed to be a riff on  xoJane, her editor tells her to have a threesome or do coke to “get out of her comfort zone” to “where the magic happens.” She then enlists Elijah into doing lots and lots of cocaine with her, that he has procured from her ex-junkie, sort of stalkery downstairs neighbor Laird. (Two quick things: 1- loved the riff about how you can always hear your upstairs neighbor/2- Laird continues the trend my friend Alyssa and I were discussing last week, you can totally read how Lena wants us to think of a male character based on the name she gives him.)  

I have never done coke, Alyssa and I also once had a conversation about how I would be the least fun person on coke ever it would just make me worry and start running around trying to confiscate sharp objects from people and keep them away from the windows, but the first part of Hannah and Elijah’s adventure totally conveyed the appeal I think. Sure they were crazy, but they were alive as Hannah proclaims later. I’m not advocating for or against recreational drug use, but I love the way that Lena handled it in this episode. The complications caused by the drugs were all emotional, Elijah and Marnie’s hookup was going to break Hannah’s heart whether or not she was high when she heard about it, the cocaine just accelerated her response. I am sad that Elijah has to move out though, I really love Andrew Rannells.

And now just a few quick words on Booth Jonathan. One – that is clearly not his real name, which is aggravating and hilarious. Two – I liked it better when Marnie was calling him out for being a derivative asshole than when she was fawning all over him. Three – Forcing your partner into talking to a doll during sex is the “thing you know” because you’re a man. You’re right that would scare me, but not for the reasons you implied. (This is reference to his episode in season 1 for those of you who might be confused.) Four – his art looked awful, but he is kind of cute.

 

(Note – I didn’t mean to imply above that Alyssa does cocaine. She does not.)

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Five Star Book: Are You Somebody? by Nuala O’Faolain

The subtitle of this book is “An Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman,” and there is a spirit of spontaneity throughout Nuala O’Faolain’s reflections on her life. I got the feeling like she wasn’t sure if she should be sharing some of these stories, especially the darkness of her parent’s addictions and the tragedy of her sibling’s lives. But she tells them anyway, and we as readers are so lucky that she did.

This is a memoir about literary Dublin, and academia, but more than anything it’s the story of a woman trying to figure out her place in an Ireland that was not built to accommodate a woman without a husband. Part of this feminist awakening, a term that if it is not used explicitly in the book is implied repeatedly, came from the specific historical time that O’Faolain came of age, the 1960s and 70s, but this book feels timeless in many ways.

Nuala was a voracious reader, as was her mother, as am I. The loveliest parts of this book were essentially paeans to the beauty and comfort of books. She, who felt so disconnected from her family of origin, who spent her life searching for a community, described reading as “coming home to books,” which I completely identified with. I’ve already bought two more of her books, and I can’t wait to find home in them as well.

Award Show Round Up: SAG Awards 2013

There was a crazy rain/ice/wind/slush storm in Chicago yesterday evening, which cut out Justin and Kristin’s cable (aka my award show hook up). Fear not, we were able to find it illegally streaming on-line, with only a few hiccups – I had to catch a couple of speeches on YouTube this morning, but I was able to enjoy most of the show. And because God likes to laugh at us their cable came back right as the final credits started to roll…

Anyway my top moments:

1. The awkward “I’m an actor” openings – I love them even when they’re cheesy or trying too hard, but I think Hal Holbrook might have been one of my all time favorites.

2. DOWNTON!!! (I know last night’s episode was the worst thing ever I’m sorry.)

We all thought Homeland was going to take Best Ensemble in a Drama series right? And it’s probably actually a better show, but I adored seeing the few of them who were there (hey there, Allen Leech) be so shocked to win. I love that show, and I loved seeing the below stairs folks all glammed up. Also the fact that they have a 22 actor ensemble is insane.

3. Tina Fey is adorable.

And I’m all for a 30 Rock victory lap, though Alec Baldwin really didn’t need an 8th Actor.

4. An interesting race for Best Actress at the Oscars

After splitting the honor at the Globes (even though let’s be honest Silver Linings Playbook isn’t a comedy), Jennifer Lawrence pulled ahead of Jessica Chastain last night. I liked both of their performances, so I won’t be upset if either of them win, and I’m excited about the suspense this creates.

5. Argo clinched Best Picture for the Oscars

Obviously it’s not a sure thing, but I didn’t really think of this as an ensemble movie. I honestly figured Silver Linings would pull a Help, and take this one. But if the actors are voting for Affleck’s movie I feel like it’s the obvious favorite. But that begs the question of who is going to win that strange Best Director category?

Also I really liked Ben’s speech – it was almost like they scripted it to end the show.

Now the important thing – dresses:

Jessica Chastain in Alexander McQueen (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Amanda Seyfried in Zac Posen (Photo Credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Sophie McShera (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Jennifer Garner in Oscar de la Renta (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Kaley Cuoco in Romona Keveza (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Melanie Lynskey (Photo Credit: Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

And the Nominees Are: Round 6

So in an attempt to avoid awkwardly running into the same ticket people at my go to theaters I decided to do some non-awards season related things with my time this week. But I did manage to get in a couple of nominees from Redbox.

Marley

I am a very casual Bob Marley listener. Like I couldn’t tell you more than five songs off the top of my head. And I wasn’t sure I knew what he looked like, I was far more familiar with that backlit, outline image of his head from the Exodus poster that seems to pop up in every frat house. But the real man, at least the way he’s presented in this documentary was fascinating and inspiring and flawed and elusive. The movie itself, directed by Kevin Macdonald, does a good job of balancing archival footage and present day interviews. (The best of which in my opinion with his daughter Cedella, who refuses to participate in his canonization. She doesn’t attack him really, but manages to seem fond and disappointed.) He, like a lot of the men I seem to be writing about this year, was a wonderful public figure and a difficult private one. For example he didn’t believe in the bourgeois notion of monogamy despite being married to one of his background singers. Also Rastafarianism is a lot stranger than I ever knew, but it boils down to love each other – which is the part that Marley sang about of course. This movie is a love letter, and it converted me into just a casual Marley fan.

Hope Springs 

I wanted to like this movie. I adore Meryl Streep and have a strange affection for Tommy Lee Jones.  (I find gruffness endearing.) But I honestly could barely get through this, (OK so I might have fast forwarded it a bit.) It had more to do with my own exhaustion than anything else, but I just didn’t see the movie ending way but the way that it did and in the meantime listening to the Tommy Lee Jones talk about his sexual problems with Steve Carrell was just not that appealing to me. I did like the final scene though – it was cute.

Hatfields & McCoys 

I knew nothing about the particulars of this infamous feud until I watched this epic miniseries detailing every murder, infidelity and bar fight. It’s long, I had to take long breaks because whenever I would start to like a character I had the sense that meant something awful was going to happen to them, and at least half of the time I was right. That being said, I actually really recommend this. The acting is amazing, especially Mare LAST NAME as the matriarch of the less prosperous McCoy clan and surprisingly for me Kevin Costner, he plays stoic very well.

What elevates this above historical reenactment is the grace that all sides of the conflict are handled with. It would be very easy to have good guys and bad guys riding at each other in this kind of a story, but what we have instead are complex characters with diverse motivations, even the villains like Tom Berenger’s Jim Vance, have people they care about and real joy and sadness in their lives. The real tragedy of this is the way that they all rely so heavily on violence and guns. The first couple of deaths occurred because of petty insults and the theft of a pig. Why would you shoot someone over that? Thank God hair trigger tempers and violent retribution aren’t problems we have to deal with anymore in this country.

Weekly Adventure: The Coming World from The Poor Theater

Sometimes the simplest things are the best. This show is two actors in a room at a storefront theater with the audience sitting in rows of folding chairs. In many ways it felt like theater in the black box shack at Northwestern used to feel at its best. (Full disclosure this might have been because the director Will Crouse and the producer Michael Medford, were at NU with me making theater that I watched a lot of.) But beyond the personal connection this play was so powerful in its humanity. The actors Abbey Smith and Dillon Kelleher completely embody their poor lost characters. And special praise to Kelleher for playing twin brothers – he created two characters so separate that, physical similarity of course not withstanding, you wouldn’t guess that they were played by the same guy.

Photo Credit – Justin Barbin

I was trying to write a synopsis that doesn’t ruin the plot, and I can’t. Just know that the show is heartbreaking and wonderful and so so real. Please if you’re in Chicago, it’s running for one more weekend at the Strawdog Theater on North Broadway (near West Sheridan) you should go. Click here for tickets. (They’re cheap too!)

Bonus Adventure: In Bed with Ulysses at the Gene Siskel Film Center

I am about to brag: I recently finished Ulysses. The whole thing, I read every page. I understood probably about 25% of them (and I’m being generous). It took me nine months. I took a class at the Newberry, taught by an amazing woman who seemed to be almost in love with the novel. Her enthusiasm inspired me to try to get past my anger at James Joyce. Why can’t he just say what he means? Just tell me the story. It’s not that I’m against poetic language and symbolic story telling. I can even respect the nonlinear narrative, but so many of the stylistic choices just feel like Joyce showing off how smart he is, and how dumb he thinks his readers must be. Without that class I know I would have given up on this book, and I am glad I pushed through. Molly’s last chapter is a masterpiece of psychological writing. And I really did feel compassion for poor hapless Bloom by the end.

A couple of weeks ago, coincidently the day I finished the book, that professor sent out an e-mail to her former students that a new documentary In Bed with Ulysses would be showing at the Gene Siskel Film Center in the loop. The movie, directed by Kate Taverna and Alan Adelson, traces Adelson’s love of the book and the staged reading of the entire story that he staged for a Bloom’s day. The actors from the reading do a wonderful job and the film has wonderful historical trivia. I especially loved the portrait it painted of Nora Barnacle Joyce, James’ long suffering wife and the interview with Bennett Cerf’s son about how they finally got the book published in America. The movie suffers though from Adelson’s narration, I know this might be a harsh thing to say, but the tone of his voice was so grating that it took me out of even the beauty of Ireland and Paris.

I think if you’re going to read Ulysses you have to decide that for yourself and give yourself time and let yourself take long breaks (my longest was 2 months long without even thinking about reading it.) This movie, or my blog, isn’t going to make you but I can suggest that if you’re in Chicago and want to give it a try (or a second try, or a fifth) you should give the Newberry seminar a look, it’s worth taking.

 

It’s A Little More Complicated Than That: Girls Episode 2

For years my go-to line about why I’m single is that “I have a bad habit of dating gay guys or Republicans” one time I dated a gay Republican. (I obviously only knew about his politics – and most of these relationships were in college.) So I identified with Hannah’s break up with black young Republican Sandy (bye-bye Donald Glover I hope you pop up in some random awkward way later in the season like my beloved Chris O’Dowd – though please not in a surprise wedding) to a cringe worthy degree. I was discussing their conversation with a friend this week, who was frustrated that Lena didn’t let Sandy stand up for his beliefs or defend himself against the automatic conflation of Republicanism and homophobia. I completely understand those complaints, but I also, having been the bratty Democrat girlfriend, know that Hannah didn’t want to hear his actual arguments. (This is not to say there aren’t open minded people on both sides of the aisle totally willing to listen to each other in an even-handed reasoned way, my friend is one of them I really admire that about her.  I’m really not one of them, and I don’t think Hannah would be either.) And they were actually fighting about the fact that Sandy didn’t like her essay anyway, she only brought up politics because she thought it was argument she could win. (Because don’t we all on some level think we can win that argument?)

On to the other girls: Poor, poor Jessa, thinking she has everything figured out married to an idiot who can’t remember her friends names and buys her puppies for no reason. This will explode, probably soon. And once again this week, poor Marnie! I really enjoyed reading Emily Bazelon’s defense of being “the uptight friend” on Slate this week. Yes Marnie can be a bitch, but it’s really hard to see this girl who has built her whole self-worth around being “together” flounder. I think it will ultimately be good for her, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

I loved the moment where she came back to her apartment to find Shoshanna and Ray being moony eyed and happy in bed, and declared that she didn’t want to be around people who aren’t miserable. The hardest thing when you’re having a hard time is to have to be around your happy friends (especially when they are inexplicably discussing the sensation of bathing a pig.) Also do Marnie and Shoshanna share a room? Because that seems awful. My friends and I all pretty much agreed when we graduated college we wouldn’t be sharing rooms with anyone we weren’t in relationships with ever again.

I also just want to praise Adam Driver for his amazing work in the final scene with Hannah this week. You could see on his face the second he went to from playing at fighting with Hannah to realizing the situation he was really in. My first reaction to that scene was to scoff at Hannah, I mean who dials 911, but then I really thought about it. Sure, they have both mistreated each other, but Adam had really crossed a line. Not so much by coming into the apartment, he did have a key, but by not listening to her when she repeatedly, and emphatically told him to leave. I can see being scared in that situation, I would be scare in that situation. I don’t know that I would call the police, but I don’t know that choosing not to is any smarter than pressing dial.

Weekly Adventure: Emily King and Emeli Sande

Going to a concert knowing only about 4 songs from the artist is always a gamble, but last night it really paid off. Julia knew of Emeli Sandé because she’s from Scotland and apparently famous in the UK. I had heard her new album reviewed on Sound Opinions once and thought this song was catchy.

 

 

Well her show was AMAZING. Starting with her opening act, Emily King, who neither of us had ever heard of before, but was fantastic. And a sweetheart, we met her, no big deal.

 

SAM_0686

 For some reason it isn’t letting my embed a youtube video of her amazing music, but click here for a sample of how awesome she is.

Emily King was so much fun that I got a little worried that Emeli wouldn’t outshine, but she was – to borrow one of her favorite words – wonderful.

SAM_0704

She made me cry, dance, attempt to clap.

 

The youtube difficulty I’m having is sort of ruining this post, but I want to direct you towards one more song – she said she wrote it for her sister, and it’s such a wonderful anthem for friendship:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w39K9CY4MHQ

And the Nominees Are Round 5

So I sort of went crazy with my movie watching this week. The weather has been crazy and I really want to actually watch all the movies on my list this year. (I also reviewed a couple of catch up movies here.) It was not unfortunately a cheery week as you shall see, but it was filled with really compelling stories…

Zero Dark Thirty

I’m still not sure how I felt about this movie. It was incredibly well put together, and I adore adore adore Jessica Chastain – I would watch her read a phone book. I also really appreciated that this was a film about women that wasn’t about their femaleness, because that is very rare. But I’ve also never sat through anything that made me as supremely uncomfortable as this movie. Part of that stems from Kathryn Bigelow’s masterful direction (seriously Academy no nomination?) which creates an environment where you can literally see an explosion driving towards you and it will still make you jump out of your chair. The rest of my discomfort has to do with the torture. I guess I don’t really have anything to say about it that hasn’t already been said, by people smarter and better informed than I, but it made me sad as an American that the CIA operatives portrayed in this movie seemed to mainly complain about how they couldn’t torture detainees in illegal black sites anymore.

But on a positive note, this film like Argo, has a wonderful supporting cast filled with wonderful character actors, including my favorite Mark Duplass, and Jason Clarke, who I have never seen before, but he is amazing in this – sadistic but somehow likeable.

Brave

So I saw when it came out in theaters, and haven’t seen it since, but as I’m writing about depictions of femaleness I thought I would say a few words about how refreshing this movie was. Princess Merida is the first Disney Princess who gets her happy ending without getting a marriage proposal, which would have been awesome enough, but it’s also about mothers and daughters. Which is significant because 1-the mom is not dead (that happens sooo often) 2-she is not evil. Julia and I were talking during the Globes on Sunday about this movie made us cry and then call our moms. Also she has awesome hair.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Speaking of fairy tales with dead mothers…I present Hushpuppy, female Prince of the Bathtub, aka the area below the levee in Louisiana. Before I really delve into my complicated feelings about this movie, let me just say unequivocally that Quvenzhane Wallis was fabulous in this film. She has a remarkable presence and conveys so many varied emotions and an astounding strength. This performance would be impressive from an adult, let alone an eight year old girl.

All summer long I was told by various people who I had to see this movie. (Side note there generally isn’t an easier way to keep me from seeing something than to gush about it too much to me, I suffer a lot from the disappointment of inflated expectations.) I wasn’t disappointed by the quality of this film, the non-actors perform admirably, and the natural world so exalted by the characters is captured in all its glory and destruction. My problem was that I was expecting to be charmed, that’s how it was sold to me, that it would somehow be uplifting. It was not. It was heartbreaking. What is inspiring about a nine-year old who is left to fend for herself and then take care of the people who are meant to be taking care of her? I know this is magical realism, it is a fairy tale, but just like the Hans Christian Anderson versions of the classics, this is a story of someone tortured by their environment yet tethered to it. I know so many people who watched this movie over and over again. I don’t even know if I could sit through it again.

The Hunger Games

While we’re talking about strong girl movies, I might as well say I’ve also seen The Hunger Games. I saw it last summer, so I admit that I don’t really remember all of my feelings about it, except that it has a lot thematically in common with Beasts, in that they are both stories about societies that pay no mind to the lives of children. (OK I might be being too harsh on Hushpuppy’s dad, but that movie was really hard on me.) This is one of those book adaptations of movies that vindicates that snub attitude literary people have about Hollywood. The book (this first one at least) is really remarkable, this movie is standard summer fare. But I do really like the song Taylor Swift got nominated for:

Bernie

This movie is not about a strong female character. Well, I guess it’s sort of about the strength of Shirley MacLaine’s character’s bitchiness, but not really. This is a movie based on an incredibly bizarre true story about when the most decent man you have ever met murders the bitchiest woman in town. I have no way of explaining how twisted and charming this movie is without telling the whole story – which I have already subjected a couple of friends to. Jack Black does a wonderful job as the titular assistant funeral director/community theater star/companion to old women/murderer and Matthew McConaughey proves once again that he does strange so very well, but the real heart of this movie is the people of Carthage, TX. Richard Linklater, already one of my favorite directors, made the excellent decision to simply include actual townspeople as narrators in the movie. Making it sort of half documentary reenactment. Really, I know the premise is weird, but you have to see this movie.

Life of Pi

 

Full disclosure: I am not a fan of the novel that this movie is based on, so my issues with the film are not actually with the film, but with Yan Martel’s original premise. I get the whole idea, “we tell each other stories in order to survive” as Joan Didion so wonderfully put it, but I think Martel implies too strongly that we get to choose the stories we prefer rather than grappling with reality. That being said Ang Lee has made a visually stunning film out of a lot of hanging out in the doldrums of the Pacific Ocean.

Amour

I was terrified to go see this movie. I had heard horror stories about Michael Haneke, and his antagonistic relationship to the viewer of his films. I have no desire to watch a movie designed to torture me. That being said, after listening to the team on the Slate Culture Gabfest explain the power of this film and the departure that it was for Hanake, I decided to go. And I’m very glad I did. It might be the most powerful film I’ve seen, like ever. Emmanuelle Riva, apparently a French film legend, does an amazing job of essentially playing two characters, the lucid version of Anne and the childlike dying version. This may be a departure for the director, but it is certainly not an easy movie to watch, and I don’t think I could ever sit through it again. But for all its heartbreak it is a testament to what human beings can withstand. There is one nightmare dream sequence in this that made me jump out of my skin, and then I spent the rest of the time afraid that each bump was going to be the signal of another nightmare, which was a signal of course to wake me up and realize that I was watching this man’s slow motion nightmare unfold. But it is unfolding in a beautiful apartment. Also pigeons are awful.

Rust and Bone

I thought this was going to be an inspiration story about Marion Cotillard overcoming a devastating injury and learning to be a person again, and it partly is, but it is really a story about Matthias Schoenaerts being an awful father, and sometimes a great guy, and sometimes a criminal, and sometimes a wonderful person carrying Cotillard’s Stephanie into the ocean. There are parts of this movie that were really heartwarming and parts that were really confusing to me, but I think that comes mostly from the fact that I don’t really understand the appeal of wanting to be a fighter for a living. This wasn’t a typical Hollywood “hero overcomes adversity film” but I felt like at points it kept trying to be. The two leads did have really nice chemistry though.

West of Memphis

My first documentary of the year! (It was nominated for the BAFTA but not the Oscar, which is odd because it is such an American story, even if it is a story of American failure.) I have never seen any of the other three documentaries about Damien Echolls, Jason Baldwin, and Jesse Misskelly, better known as the West Memphis Three, wrongly convicted as teenagers for the heinous murder of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. So I don’t know how this movie compares to earlier iterations of the story, but I do know that this film is a compelling wonder of documentary storytelling. This movie easily could have been a sensationalist screed against the broken Arkansas justice system, the news media, or the man who evidence suggests actually committed the crime, but instead it uses old news footage, new evidence and wonderful interviews to slowly and convincingly lay out a case for the truth. I’m very glad that these men are out of prison, and after seeing this I hope that they will eventually get the exoneration they deserve. Also Lori Davis is an incredibly inspiring woman.

Not Devalued: Season 2 Premiere of Girls

That’s right, my favorite TV show that makes me uncomfortable about I must come across to the outside world is back, and I have a lot of feelings about it, but that’s probably not surprising.

Let’s start with Shoshanna, because she made me so happy in this episode. Not only was that hat she was wearing the most ridiculous things ever, but I adored the way she was the first one at the party, bearing cheese plate, just so she could unload to Hannah and Elijah about how OK she was with seeing Ray, which of course meant she was so not OK with seeing Ray. The awkward way that they floated around each other at the party was wonderfully done though. It is one of the struggles of my life, how to avoid people when your friend’s have tiny tiny apartments. When he did finally confront/compliment-insult her, I was really happy with the way that she stood up for herself, but I hope he learns his lesson and is nice to her. I have faith in Ray, I think this can be good for both of them.

Things that will not be going well include: the continued fallout from Adam’s truck crash incident. Hannah you cannot just be hanging around and helping out of a sense of guilt. Although their fight scene, complete with Adam balancing on his not broken leg trying to stop her from leaving his apartment, was harsh, I fully support her decision to go hook up with Donald Glover. (Full disclosure this support stems mostly from a love of Donald Glover.) That being said, I hate-love Adam, and from her Golden Globes speech I know Lena does too (well I think she actually loves him), so I’m sure I’ll be seeing him again.

Speaking of people we are seeing again I just want to gush a little about Elijah. He is such a wonderful addition to the main group. His one liners about party themes (a French salon because he saw Midnight in Paris and thought “I could do that”) and his attempt to blame his failed go at bisexuality with Marine on the fact that she rolled her eyes were endearing and awful and wonderful – everything that I love about this show.

Of course from Marnie’s perspective that scene was far less entertaining. My guys over on Slate were talking about how this episode was more sitcom-y than last season. I wonder if this is just because Hannah’s “sort of kind of getting it together” as the Girls Facebook cover photo says, because poor Marnie having to inform her mother to stop telling her about her sex life, hooking up with Elijah, and crawling contritely into Charlie’s bed is clearly broken, and not something I remember seeing on any network lately.

And just a quick note on Marnie’s mom and Elijah’s older boyfriend I thought it was so brilliant how in their own ways they were each obsessed with telling the younger people around them that they are boring. In subtler ways I feel like I get this message from people older than me all the time. I think people have a myth of what their youth was like, or could have been like, and they project that onto people my age, fairly or not. I’m also really excited to see how the fact that Elijah let’s Paul pay his bills plays out.