Six Degrees of Cinema: Midnight in Paris

I should rewatch movies more, I had forgotten so many delightful things about this one. I remembered that it spoke directly to my English major turned ephemera obsessed aspiring archivist soul, but how could I forget that Kathy Bates played Gertrude Stein? Or how creepily wonderful Tom Cordier plays Man Ray?

OK so this is not a review so much as gush. But this movie makes me feel gushy, and I think it’s basically designed to. Although there’s a half-hearted “live in the now” speech delivered haltingly by Owen Wilson all the fun in this movie happens in the past, making it more an ode to intense nostalgia and “golden age thinking” than an antidote to it. I mean as hilarious as Michael Sheen is as the “pedantic one,” stealing Rachel McAdams away, 2010 cannot hold a candle to 1920 for excitement here. But that’s the fun of period movies, you get to visit an era you assume to be more interesting than yours, without having to give up your life and the conveniences of the modern world. Wilson’s Gil Pender just gets to actually walk around in a period piece, and then use what he learns there to pick up a delightful French girl. (Because it’s not a Woody Allen film if it doesn’t all somehow come back to that…)

I really liked Wilson as an Allen fill-in, I think something about his association with frat-boy comedy in my mind grounds the neurosis of his character. (His slight drawl doesn’t hurt either.) His charm isn’t as buried as some of Allen’s other surrogates, it’s not hard to see why Adriana (Marion Cotillard) is so taken with him.

The cameos are truly brilliant, everyone from Alison Pill as ‘all over the place’ Zelda Fitzgerald, and Tom Hiddleston as her hapless husband Scott. I’ve always had a little crush on Adrien Brody (well it’s big enough that I sat through Hollywoodland twice) and his take on Dali is wonderfully bizarre. But the star turn here is from Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemmingway, who as any member of book club can tell you, I hate. I find his prose tiring and his misogyny hard to overlook, but I adore Stoll’s loving parody of him. And he’s in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, which I’ve been meaning to see for a long time, so there’s the next link in the chain. (I did spot Gad Elmaleah by the way, he’s the detective that gets lost in time…he’s funny, though briefly visible.)

In this chain:

A Royal Affair Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky Priceless – Midnight in Paris

Weekly Adventure: Jam Packed Weekend Edition

Sometimes I need a weekend to recover from my weekend and this was one of them, but at least it was for really fun reasons. So here’s what I did…

The Sovereign Statement at the Neo-Futurists

I’ve written about the Neo-Futurists trademark show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, before, but they also do original stand alone plays as well. On Friday my boyfriend and I went to watch them as they found a micro-nation in their theater in Andersonville. In true to Neo-Futurist fashion it was funny and meta and disturbing and heart breaking and broke out into at least 2 or 3 different plays running concurrently in different rooms at one point. It’s a long discussion about what makes a country, but it’s also a puzzle and on what card you’re issued as you walk through the door determines how many clues you get to solve it.

The show runs through November 23rd at the Neo-Futurist Theater at Foster & Ashland

Wild Belle at the Metro

I first saw Wild Belle at The Hideout Block Party in 2012, and thought they were a pleasant enough festival band, but a little repetitive, then I started really listening to their music and fell in love with their vibe, so I was super excited when Julia asked me to tag along to their sold out show this Saturday at the Metro.

First up was their opener, Saint Rich, who were good (though the sound mix was a bit off and I couldn’t really here their singer) and are from new Jersey, which might explain why they are all dressed as Bruce Springsteen in different era (except the singer, mostly because Bruce wouldn’t wear that hat.)

Not to say I don't like the hat, because I do

Not to say I don’t like the hat, because I do

 

Saint rich drummer

Wild Belle themselves were amazing, we got there right at doors so we were 2 rows back, I felt like Natalie was singing right to me, and as Julia said “I just want to live on an island with them.”

natalie wild belle

Oh did I not mention the sax? He's awesome at the sax

Oh did I not mention the sax? He’s awesome at the sax

wild belle dup

Lord of the Flies at Steppenwolf (for Young Adults)

I have a lot of issues with the novel Lord of Flies, I won’t go into all of them here (this post is already long enough) but suffice to say I think an allegory of civilization that is populated exclusively by English schoolboys just isn’t very interesting or realistic to me. But, I love Steppenwolf, and I’ll go to whatever they put on.

And they do a wonderful job of bringing this story to visceral, uncomfortable life. And Spencer Curnutt as the affable, civilization minded Ralph, Dan Smeriglio as the poor Piggy, and Ty Olwin as the gleefully blood/power thirsty Jack are charismatic and wonderful.

The only happy scene in the whole show…also the first one

If you like the original story at all I’m sure you would love it.

The show runs through November 15th at the upstairs theater at Steppenwolf at 1650 N. Halsted

Six Degrees of Cinema: Priceless

Well I guess when you use the set dresser as a link in a chain to try to get you away from a shallow French movie about adultery it’s inevitable that you end up in a farce about casual prostitution. OK, prostitution is too strong, but I don’t really know the one word verb for “dating older people casually for their money while falling in love with someone doing the same thing, and shaking people down for hotel rooms and scooters.” Conning? Whatever, it’s not important.

That opening makes it seem like I don’t like Priceless, which isn’t true. It was light and peppy, the definition of a ‘romp,’ which isn’t a word I generally like, but seems particularly apropos here. The set-up should be really sleazy, and at times this movie veers kind of close to that, especially in one heart-wrenching scene where our hapless hero (Gad Elmaleh) gives his last Euro for ten more seconds of Audrey Tautou’s time, but ultimately the cartoonishly charming Elmaleh and Tautou bounce around in a ridiculously luxurious world that in no way seems real. So I easily turned off the scrupulous part of my brain and just enjoyed the happy ride.

Elmaleh in particular exudes a delightful innocence throughout the first half of the movie, so even when he starts scheming it seems like it comes from a good place. I loved all of his hangdog facial expressions. So I’m going to use him as the link, and re watch Midnight in Paris. (I know I said that I was going to use this Six Degrees thing as a way to watch new things, but I recently read A Moveable Feast, and I don’t remember Elmaleh in that at all which given how distinctive he seems in Priceless  is shocking to me. Plus I make the rules, so I get to break them…)

Side note – I now have this great version of “Whatever Lola Wants” stuck in my head, which I’m sure my neighbors are excited about:

In this chain:

A Royal AffairCoco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky – Priceless

Five Star Book: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I felt like I had been in a bit of reading rut, I know that must be frustrating to hear from people who follow me on Goodreads and see that I’ve finished a bunch of books in the last few months. But that is mostly a product of my 30-40 minutes each way on the brown line every day to work than anything else. I’ve loved books I’ve read (obviously) but I haven’t felt the compulsion to read lately, until I picked up The Song of Achilles on a whim from the library last week.

I stayed up way too late the first night reading it and then spent the whole next day at work whining to my friend Lindsey that I just wanted to be reading my book.

The Song of Achilles is a retelling of The Iliad, in modern language but in the original setting, from the point of view of Patroclus, Achilles “companion,” but Miller dispenses with euphemism and tells their story as a love story. This could have been a cheesy gay romance novel, complete with ‘classical costumes’ and stilted dialogue, but instead it’s a gorgeous, heartbreaking story of dealing with preordained fate. Because that’s the thing about these Greek stories, they tell you the ending on the first page, and you know you’ll be crying by the last chapter (and believe me I was…). But Miller has made Patroclus into such a full, relatable and lovely character that I just wanted to spend as much time with him as possible, which I guess is sort of the trajectory of his relationship with Achilles in this telling too.

I haven’t ever finished the full Iliad, but I know that Miller has filled in a lot blanks, but she does so in a way that makes the gods and heroes relatable and very human – especially Achilles’ mother the sea-nymph who’s ambition and disappointment for her mortal son are expertly portrayed. If any of this sounds at all intriguing you should read this book, if you’re anything like me it’ll be a quick read.

Best Picture Baking Project: All Quiet on the Western Front

Picture of the cake unfortunately missing (except it was smushed so not that unfortunate)

I read the book of All Quiet on the Western Front when I was in high school (I think, it might have been freshman year of college) so I knew going in that it was a bleak look at life in the German trenches in WWI, which of course made it a bit awkward to try and choose a dessert to pair with it. So with the help of Alyssa, I settled on making a generic German dessert, as the movie follows the story of ordinary German school boys-turned-soldiers. So…apple cake!

Had I seen this one before?

Nope, but as I said I read the book, and I had seen the last sequence with the butterfly, but I had misremembered it as a flower, which would have made no sense.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. It was funnier than I expected it to be. Obviously the most powerful/most referenced scenes are about the horrors of war, but there are some wonderful comic relief scenes, particularly with Louis Wolheim, who plays the fatherly Kat, and has a lovely gnome-like face that mugs very well.

2. You can totally tell that this was made very close to the silent era (it won Best Picture in 1929), there are no real scene transitions it just fades to black, and a lot of the actors act more with their facial expressions than their dialogue.

3. Although I couldn’t keep all the boys straight at the beginning, I think that the fact the main character, Paul (Lewis Ayers), only emerges as the center of the film as his friends fall around him is an incredibly powerful way to show the way that WWI decimated the young male population of Europe. This message holds up, as do almost all the special effects, which is kind of cool given how old this movie is.

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

The Big House I’ve never seen it.

Disraeli Never seen it.

The Divorcee See above

The Love ParadeI legitimately didn’t know this existed till right now.

So clearly I can’t really speak to whether or not this should have won, but I can say that it holds up.

Bechdel Test Pass?

Nope I can only think of one female character with a name, and the only women who talk to each other are Paul’s mother and sister who discuss cooking for him when he comes home, or the French women the soldier’s bring bread (which is as euphemistic as the movie is about this scene. But honestly in this context that’s OK with me, this is a story about a very male environment, and the weird dreamlike interactions with the women who do show up are a part of the general disconnection that the soldiers deal with on and away from the front.

But enough deep thoughts about war – I made an apple bunt cake, and though I had a lot of trouble getting it out of the pan. It turned out tasting very well:

German Apple Cake

Ingredients for Cake

–          3 cups all-purpose flour

–          1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder

–          ½ teaspoon salt

–          1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

–          1 ¾ cups sugar

–          3 large eggs, separated

–          ½ cup milk

–          8 medium cooking apple (I used Honey Crisp, but Granny Smith would work well too)

Ingredients for Glaze

–          1 cup confectioner’s sugar

–          ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

–          2 tablespoons water or milk

Directions

–          Preheat oven to 350F

–          Grease a 10in Bundt pan (note from experience – grease it a lot and flour it a bit too)

–          Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

–          In a large bowl beat the butter until smooth (about 1 min.)

–          Gradually add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about 4 min.)

–          Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time.

–          Stir in the flour mixture and milk

–          Beat the egg whites until they are stiff, but not dry.

–          Fold one fourth of the whites into the batter, then gently fold in the remaining whites.

–          Pour half of the better into the bundt pan

–          Spread with half of the apples

–          Top with the remaining better, then the remaining apples

–          Bake until golden, 50 to 60 min (it took more like 70-80 in my oven)

–          Let cool in the pan, then transfer to a rack and let cool completely

–          To make the glaze: Combine all the ingredients and stir until smooth and of pouring consistency. Drizzle over the cake, and let stand until set

Classics from the Queue: Thelma & Louise

I considered putting a spoiler warning on this post, but then I realized that the ending of Thelma & Louise is referenced so often that it’s really not my fault if I ruin it for you. Also I knew the general plot and still am totally glad I watched this so I think that warning is unnecessary.

That being said, the “Thelma and Louise drive off a cliff in a blaze of glory” cultural conversation that surrounds this movie actually put me off from watching this from a long time. I’m a feminist, without apology, and I get really upset about stories about ‘strong female characters’ that end with ‘necessary’ suicide. (Please forgive the sarcastic quotes and political commentary, sometimes I can’t keep it in.) This isn’t just a Hollywood problem, it goes all the way back to Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and beyond and I’ve always found it frustrating.

What’s actually great about this movie, which at times I found pretty hard to watch, is that the final decision in no way feels arbitrary. These women are not tragic figures that “got what they settled for” and then could see no way out. They are women victimized, in explicit and implicit ways by men who claim to love them and men who somehow feel entitled to them because they (to borrow one of my favorite phrases from this brilliant blogger) “occupy a space marked female.” This isn’t a movie that is meant to be realistic, it’s a fable of what would happen if women stopped putting up with the bullshit that they are subjected to whenever they want to let their hair (and their guards) down.

Vintage selfie

Which means at time it’s almost gratingly hyperbolic, but Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon pull it back from the brink with the depth they give these women, who could easily have come across as cartoon characters. It’s also saved from pedantic pretension by the fact that these women have flaws, and get annoyed with each other, but truly love each other. They are female friends who fight over things other than jealousy and that it so rarely seen in a Hollywood movie. I also loved how protective Harvy Keitel’s detective was of them, even though that’s technically just another form of patriarchy.

OK I promise I’m done with the critical theory talk. A final side note: Christopher McDonald is hilarious and a young Brad Pitt is beguiling beautiful – even when they are both playing assholes.

Six Degrees of Cinema: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

This movie threw me for a loop, and had me thinking about big philosophical questions. That’s not to say that it’s good, because I don’t actually think that it was. I was trying to figure out how I could love the characters in A Royal Affair and hate the heroine of Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky even though technically both movies are portraits of adultery. Why was I cheering for Queen Caroline Malthide and screaming at Coco Chanel (Anna Mouglais)?

The easy answer is of course that the King of Denmark was a mentally ill man who was at best indifferent to his wife by the time of her affair with the doctor, and Stravinsky’s wife (Elena Morozova) is upstairs dying slowly of TB and copying his music over by hand while he’s having sex with Chanel in his music room.

I guess that speaks to my main problem with this as a movie, I felt like it was being sold to me like a grand romance. I was clearly supposed to see Igor and Coco as equally talented artists whose passion couldn’t be denied or something, but really what I saw was a seemingly staid and decent man (Mads Milkensen does a wonderful job at brooding sullenly post Rites of Spring riot) who out of nowhere gives into temptation with a driven, talented, glamorous, seemingly devoid of compassion woman who inexplicably peruses him despite the fact that he is trying really hard just to keep a roof over his four children’s head.

What I’m saying is I didn’t believe this as a love story, and that was presumably the whole point. I was relieved to read later that it is actually unlikely that this affair actually took place.

All that said, it was a beautiful movie visually, everything from the kaleidoscope opening credits to Chanel’s art deco bed frame was wonderfully designed and shot, so I’m going to use the set decorator as my next link in this chain (a stretch I know, but it really was my favorite part…) So onto Priceless (because it was the only other one of Philippe Cord’homme movies that I could find any way to access in this country.)

In this chain:

A Royal Affair – Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

Five Star Book: Cheerful Money by Tad Friend

I seem to be continuing my trend of loving books with long subtitles.

One of my parents (there is dispute over which) sent me this book almost a year ago, I laughed at the portrait on the front and the fact that either my WASPy father or my Catholic mother was looking around the house one day and thought “Oh Kath would probably enjoy this book about the houses, schools, and insecurities of East Coast WASPs, I should send it to her.” And they were right.

This book could have been simple, either a sneering or nostalgic look at a subculture defined by their privilege and tendency to be out of touch with reality, but in Tad Friend’s hands it’s a wry look at the dysfunction of his own family and the world that created them.

As a fellow prep-school graduate who spent summers at “the lake” and can trace her family back to the Puritans that founded New England, without ever having the luxury of actual inherited wealth, there are parts of this book that felt like looking in a mirror. The personal narrative is a pretty run of the mill memoir of a guy that had commitment issues until he met his, seemingly lovely wife Amanda Hesser, but the extra layer of almost anthropological insights into the insular community, which seems to be tied to academia now.

I of course can’t know what it would be like to read this as a non-WASP, but I do think it might be a fun peek into a world that is disappearing. (As it should, as lovely as it seems to have been it was built on exclusivity and casual anti-Semitism/racism/classism.) Friend has a lot of theories as to what happened to the “Old Boy Network” that he describes, but my favorite his is observation that because WASPs saw themselves as the original Americans they forgot to do the one thing that every immigrant group had to “assimilate.”

Six Degrees of Cinema: A Royal Affair

I meant to see A Royal Affair during award’s season last year, not just because it was nominated for an Oscar, but also because I absolutely fell in love with Alicia Vikander in Anna Karenina, and was so excited that there was another awards movie starring her, but for one reason or another I didn’t get around to it. I should have tried harder – this movie is stunning.

Visually it’s everything a sixteenth century period piece should be: beautiful costumes, disgustingly decadent sets, contrasted with grit and grime out where “the people are.” But the real power lies in the surprisingly true story of the Queen of Denmark (Vikander) who, fed up with her clearly insane husband King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), begins an affair with his personal physician Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), who convinces the King to begin radical reforms, essentially legislating the Enlightenment, which of course doesn’t sit well with the nobility at court…

This could easily be a melodrama, and let’s be real if this movie had been made in Hollywood it probably would have been, but in the hands of Danish director Nikolaj Arcel, it’s a wonderful political story and a heart wrenching portrait of the strange entanglements that monarchy created back in the days when they were all expected to marry their cousins.

Even the King’s madness, which could easily have been over the top and led to tons of scenery chewing, was handled with great sensitivity by Følsgaard. After awhile he seems like nothing more harmless than a child, manipulated by whoever happens to be flattering him at the time. At times he’s cruel, but you can see that it comes from the fact he doesn’t understand why he isn’t like everyone else. Følsgaard’s complex performance is remarkable, and astounding considering according to IMDB he was still in drama school when the movie was made.

Vikander was just as beautiful as I expected her to be, and she had wonderful chemistry with Mikkelsen, though I think she would probably have chemistry with a brick wall. I guess I’ll see if this is true of him as well, because I’m using him as the next link in my chain (mostly because the other stars are so young that almost all their other movies are in Swedish or Danish and I don’t really want to get stuck with a chain full of movies I can’t find anywhere in this country.) So it’s on to another historical romance Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky.