Weekly Adventure: It’s A Wonderful Life at the IFC Center

A few years ago I was lucky enough to see It’s A Wonderful Life on the big screen at the Music Box in Chicago. I had always liked the movie, and associated it with Christmas time and my mom (more on that in a second), but that was about it. But something about being in the old theater in the darkness of a Chicago winter and seeing Jimmy Stewart’s face up on the big screen larger than life, made the movie sing for me in a way it hadn’t before.

I meant to make it an annual tradition to find it showing in a theater every year. And then I went to grad school. There are showings in Austin (at the Paramount I think), but I worked evenings and could never seem to make it work while I lived there. Which is I was extra excited to get my IFC Member newsletter (thanks again for my gift membership Jules!) announcing their annual showtimes of the movie.

One of the great things about living in NYC has been how close I live to my parents. If you’ve read this blog for awhile you know that while I lived in Chicago and Texas I would try to make it back east a couple of times a year and torture them by making them pose for ridiculous photos, or even better capturing candid shots of them unaware and then publishing them here. But now, I get to go on adventures with them much more frequently, and I get to include them in exploring my new city. And last night I got the extra treat of inviting my mom to see her favorite movie of all time on a big screen. (Well, I put an open invitation of Facebook, and she guilt tripped me for not inviting her directly first, but the end result is the same.)

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Always festive in her Santa hat

After meeting her at the clock at Grand Central, where she was almost recruited into a group called the “Raging Grannies,” we headed downtown. In search of quick dinner, instead we found Rocco’s, where my mom declared it “smelled like Heaven,” and we had a very nutritious pre-movie meal:

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And then of course we got popcorn at the theater to add some salt to counteract the sugar.

An added bonus to last night’s screening was the presence of Donna Reed’s daughter, Mary Owen, to introduce the movie and answer questions about her mom.

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She pointed out little details I hadn’t noticed before, like the little lasso hanging down between George and Mary in the scene where she tells him she’s pregnant. But more than trivia, she set the tone very well for the movie by talking about how powerful it was for her to see a movie about the community spirit. And how luminous her mom was:

And she really was.

I even liked the Q&A (which almost never happens). Mostly because she answered my mom’s question. (After some guy in the crowd said, “the woman in the Santa hat has a question,” which pretty much made out night.

The movie itself somehow gets better every time I see it. Or, more likely, I understand it more every time. The last time I saw it in the theater I brought my boyfriend at the time, who was highly skeptical. He didn’t like Christmas movies, and he didn’t like sentimental things. But even he came out of the theater loving George Bailey’s story. Because it earns it’s sentimental ending by showing the real hardship and frustration it takes to be a decent man. Especially when fighting against forces more powerful then you will ever be. (It’s really hard not to read Mr. Potter as analogous to certain people officially granted power yesterday.) But, as Clarence’s inscription says:

I don’t have some grand conclusion really. I just woke up today, tired but happy I got to share this night with my mom. And then motivated by seeing she had already posted about going for a run this morning, because she is insane, but I love her.

And the Nominees Are 2017: Round 3

This time of year I basically schedule the rest of my life around movie showtimes, and this week that has made me really happy. But first a catch up review:

Deadpool

Much like my review of Spy last year, I saw this near when it came out and didn’t take any notes, because it didn’t occur to me that it would be considered one of the best movies of the year. Also, I went to this after a grad school happy hour and under the influence of an Alamo Drafthouse alcoholic milkshake. Which I think is probably the best way to see this. Ryan Reynolds is very funny. The film in general is incredibly crude. And that’s really all I remember.

Captain Fantastic

What a strange, beautiful little movie. When I heard the premise, a man (Viggo Mortensen) raises his kids (there are 6 of them) out in the wilderness of Oregon, homeschooling them and training them to survive (complete with gifts of boning knives and cliff face climbing.) I was sure I going to have a Beasts of the Southern Wild reaction, where the rest of the film gets obscured by my obsessive worry over the well-being of the children. But 1. I truly believe these kids could take care of themselves 2. I actually really understood appeal of the life this father (and his recently deceased wife) had created for their family. I wouldn’t personally choose to forego Christmas in honor of Noam Chomsky’s birthday, but reading by a campfire only stopping to all play music together totally worked on me.

These are characters completely committed to the counter culture, and rather than treating them like a joke* like it would have been easy to, writer-director Matt Ross, lovingly portrays the pitfalls and joys of that choice. The kids can all quote the entire Western cannon, but have real trouble talking to people their own age, which is wonderfully dramatized through the oldest son Bo (George MacKay)’s story. He wants to honor his father and the life he clearly loves, but is heartbreakingly uncomfortable around girls and knows his discomfort is because of the choices his parents made.

I think this is one I’ll be thinking about for a long time, particularly when my periodic, fleeting urge to go be a hermit in the mountains hits me.

*Hello, Critics’ Choice – this is not a comedy. Thankfully the HFPA got that right for the Globes.

Miss Sloane

I went into this movie pretty blind. In all of the movies that I’ve been going to recently I never saw one trailer for this and only remember a few tweets from Jessica Chastain the week before it opened. But she got nominated for a Golden Globe, so I went.

And I honestly can’t figure out why no one is talking about this movie. It follows a high powered lobbyist (Chastain) who switches sides to work on behalf of passing common sense gun legislation. But this is less Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and more Ides of March.  Miss Sloane is ruthless, unethical, and cold. She never sleeps and has no life. For the first half of the film I kept waiting for her weeping moment of missing out on family life. Or the story to punish her in some way for being too masculine, because that is what usually happens to female characters with too much power.

But then this movie completely surprised me and turned out to be a story about a ruthless, powerful woman who is in control of her own narrative. She isn’t likeable, but she’s not a robot. She has a backstory, but the writer Jonathan Perera and director John Madden don’t feel the need to “soften” her by giving us all the details of how she “got so cold.”

At the end I was reminded of the conversation around Sandra Bullock’s character in Our Brand Is Crisis (which I haven’t seen) and how it was originally written for a man. Miss Sloane felt like the writer created a compelling story and then thought Chastain was the best actor to fill the part (and she is) rather than setting out to create “a strong female character.”

Sadly, probably due to terrible marketing, this movie didn’t do very well at the box office, which has led a lot of right wing press and idiots on Twitter, to declare that “feminist, gun control propaganda” doesn’t sell. So, if you live somewhere that this is in theaters, I urge you to go see it, one because it’s good and two to show the studio that we will pay for stories about complex women and “liberal causes.

(Side note: This movie is a somewhat depressing picture of what it will take for liberals to win in Washington. we’re gonna need to fight like the other guys do…even when we don’t like it.)

Also Jake Lacy plays a hooker with a heart of gold….

 

Lion

The fact that Dev Patel is being submitted as a supporting actor for this film is insane. Just wanted to get that on record right away. Although he doesn’t show up until half way through, he and his performance are the soul of this movie. Also, I have a new appreciation for his face. I’ve always thought of him as a quirky and charming presence, but damn he has a two hour face. (Side note: He and Rooney Mara have great chemistry. Their love story is really just a side narrative in this, as it should be, but I would love to see them do something else together.)

This tells the true story of Saroo Brierley, a man who, as a young boy, got separated from his family in rural India by horrible misadventure (he accidentally got on a decommissioned train) and survived the slums of Calcutta until he is adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman – who gives great performance despite terrible hair, is that a wig? A horrible perm? and David Wenham). He grows up to the a successful hotel manager but becomes consumed by the search for his birth family, using the earliest versions of Google Earth.

The story is emotional and the imagery beautiful. And the only things keeping it from being in my list of best of the year are totally personal preferences:

  1. In this post Boyhood and Moonlight world  could really do without the titles on the screen telling me how much time has past and where we are. Just tell the story, the audience will figure it out.
  2. The sequences with young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) are so heart wrenching to watch. Pawar is so young and so small and I just wanted to gather him up in my arms and protect him. I know this is based on the real man’s recollections, but I really don’t understand how no one tried to help him. I guess this is actually a point in favor of the film – that it got to me so emotionally, but it makes it a little harder to recommend.

Neruda

My first foreign language nominee this year!

Based on this and Jackie I now want to see everything Pablo Larraín has made or will make in the future. Both of these films take on subjects that could have been straightforward awards season fare (JFK’s assassination, Pablo Neruda’s flight to exile from fascist persecution in Chile) and instead present idiosyncratic portraits of these larger than life figures ass humans.

Neruda is a weird film. Walking out of the IFC last night I overheard at least three people admit that they “didn’t get it.” And I’m not sure that I entirely did either, but I’m not sure we’re meant to “get it” completely. Larraín and screenwriter Guillermo Calderón have crafted a movie that feels like a Latin American novel filled with rich characterization, beautiful imagery, and a heavy dose of magical realism.

In the end, I don’t think it really matters if Gael García Bernal‘s film noir policeman literally stamped through the Andes after Neruda (played by the perfectly cast Luis Gnecco) because the story isn’t about literal truth. It’s about poetry, and how it can create real feeling without making any literal sense, especially given the right circumstances.

This film makes the argument that art matters, and that fascist regimes know this, its why they persecute artists. This movie manages to convey that without too much preaching, and while holding onto a sense of the absurd in the face of real darkness.

Also, Sing Street got nominated for Best Musical/Comedy! You can read my thoughts here.

 

Songs That Hit Me Harder Now

I started working on this playlist a couple of days after the election. I was an emotional wreck. Like not sure I was capable of pulling myself out of bed levels of despair. I’m still very sad and angry, but I’ve begun to channel that energy in more productive directions. But certain songs have been making me cry that never did before. Some of their lyrics made a new kind of sense, and some I can’t really explain, but they listening to them and letting myself cry has been cathartic for me so I thought I would share them with you all:

Second Nature – Original Broadway Cast of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson 

I understand why people have issues with this show. It definitely can be read as glorifying Jackson, and parts of it are really just dumb. But I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and how American populism is often such a dangerous, violent thing. I think it’s, unfortunately, worth a revisit in our current climate.

My Shot – Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton 

Just as a corrective.

Truth No. 2– Dixie Chicks

Bread & Roses– Judy Collins
I know I’ve shared the Joan Baez and Mimi Farina version of this before, but literally every version has always made me cry and especially now…

Pompeii – Bastille 

Ghosts That We Knew – Mumford and Sons 

He Thinks He’ll Keep Her – Mary Chapin Carpenter 

OK this one doesn’t make me cry, but I don’t think I had listened to it before this weekend since I was like 10. And I really didn’t understand it before. Also, this video is such a find. Look at all of those powerhouses! (And all that 90s hair..)

If We Make It Through December – Merle Haggard 
Thanks to Stu-Bot on TBTL for this one.

Make Them Hear You – Brian Stokes Mitchell from Ragtime 

Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes

Award Show Round Up: Critics’ Choice Awards 2017

It feels weird to title this post with 2017, as it is still 2016, but like I said yesterday, the Broadcast Critics Association apparently decided they needed to be first out of the gate this year. Critics’ Choice is always sort of an odd show, big stars show up so it feels legit, but they are in an airplane hangar broadcasting on A&E so it’s got a bit of a ramshackle vibe as well. And T.J. Miller, though very funny, continued his trend from last year of trying to be as absurd as possible. Like I always appreciate an A Chorus Line reference, but what exactly was this opening:

The show being early does mean that Moonlight won the first award of the season so that’s pretty exciting:

Lucas Hedges (Best Young Actor for Manchester By the Sea is pretty earnest and adorable:

I’ve always liked John Lithgow, and I guess this means I have to watch The Crown now:

Rachel Bloom is always “one Bustle article away from unemployment:

And I guess I need to watch Atlanta now too.

Supporting Actor to Mahershala Ali from Moonlight!

Ryan Reynolds won a bunch of things, he’s very charming and Deadpool was funny, so yay, I guess:

I love this new #SeeHer award, and there is no better first recipient than Viola Davis:

(She also won Best Supporting Actress for Fences which is awesome.)

Damien Chazelle should get used to giving this speech:

I won’t watch Wesstworld, but I will always love Evan Rachel Wood:

Natalie Portman won best actress, and I hope she continues to do so. Yes, it’s a crime that Amy Adams doesn’t have an Oscar yet, but Natalie is better in Jackie than Amy is in Arrival sorry…

Casey Affleck is a beautiful weirdo:

(I saw your tweets about how he is a sexual harasser and that means we shouldn’t give him prizes. I think you know by now that I think we need to separate how we judge people from how we judge art. He’s probably a shitty person, but he is a fantastic artist.)

John Travolta’s fake hair presented best picture to La La Land which I really can’t wait to see:

Fashion wise there were a lot of cut outs, a lot of cleavage and a lot of black, but here were my favorites:

Mandy Moore in Solace London (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Lily Collins in Elie Saab (Photo Credit: Getty)

Amy Adams in Atelier Versace (Photo Credit Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Emmy Rossum in Giorgio Armani (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Janelle Monáe (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Jessa Biel in Elie Saab with Justin Timberlake in Tom Ford (Photo Credit: Getty/Frazer Harrison)

Constance Zimmer (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Hailee Steinfeld in Jason Wu (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

And the Nominees Are 2017: Round 2

Apparently, the Critics Choice Awards are tonight. I have no idea why they would move them this early in the year. Did they want fewer people to show up/be aware of it? Or was the airline hangar (no joke) where it’s held get books for some other event in early January?

Whatever, it gives me something to do tonight without leaving my house. (It’s finally actually feeling like winter in NYC.) And I have managed to catch up with a lot of their nominees. Here are the ones I saw in the past couple of weeks:

The Edge of Seventeen

I’m finding it hard to write about The Edge of Seventeen, I had an incredibly emotional and intensely personal reaction to it that 1: I’m not sure I can completely articulate and 2: would require me to share a lot of details of my life that I’m not comfortable publishing on the internet. (Plus, this blog isn’t therapy.)

So leaving aside uncomfortable questions about how completely I identified with an unlikable 16 year old girl, I’ll try to focus on the film. Which is fantastic. It’s being marketed as a “teen comedy,” and I did laugh out loud a couple of times (usually at Erwin [Hayden Szeto]’s stumbling, charming shyness or Woody Harrelson‘s bored teacher’s one liners), but I also cried (and not just because of aforementioned personal issues).

This is the realest look at what it is like to be a 16 year old girl that I have ever seen. The fact that its written and directed by a woman (Kelly Fremon Craig) probably has a lot to do with that. The central character, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) isn’t a cool girl archetype, or an ugly duckling, or a misunderstood nerd. She’s a person who is often difficult and hard to empathize with at times, but also witty and trying so hard to deal with the circumstances she finds herself in, even those she created for herself. (You see that – she creates her own problems – she has agency! Like a real girl!)

The movie sticks closely to Nadine’s POV, but all the characters, even those one doesn’t like, all feel like real people too. Like you could imagine a movie surrounding them would be equally compelling. Basically what I’m saying is I didn’t want this movie to be over and I would like an Edge of Seventeen expanded universe so I could spend more time with these people.

Hacksaw Ridge

I almost didn’t go to this. I give myself 3 outs each year and the prevailing tone in every review of this was, “Holy Shit that was violent.” But I love Andrew Garfield and Braveheart is still one of my favorite movies. So, I gave it a shot. And…

Holy Shit that was violent.

But that’s reductive, a lot of this movie is actually a fairly straight forward, well shot, watchable biopic about Desmond Doss, a real Seventh Day Adventist pacifist who refused to touch a gun, but served as an army medic in  WWII and single handed saved 75 men in one battle. Sounds like a compelling story right?

But Mel Gibson couldn’t just tell it. He had to let his own pet obsessions with violence and blood take over for long stretches we lose sight of Doss to watch countless bodies be ripped apart, melted by flames, eaten by rats and worse. There’s an argument to be made that showing these images is the only way to get the true horror of war across on screen and if Gibson had stuck with Doss’s point of view and showed the audience only what he was reacting to then I would buy it. But the way he lingers and repeats the scenes of carnage betrays that he’s really only interested in Doss as a way to get to the battle. Which is a shame because Andrew Garfield is really good, and Doss seems like he was a uniquely thoughtful and faithful man.

So for this, and just generally, I’m disappointed in you Mel Gibson. Be better or go away.

It’s hard to chose a filmanthropy recipient for Gibson, as broadly awful as he he has been in the past, but as this film depicts domestic violence and Gibson (allegedly) beat the mother of at least one of his children, I’ve donated double what I paid to Safe Horizons which operates shelters and provides  other services for women escaping intimate partner violence and their children. 

Jackie

Long time readers of this blog know that one of my slightly unhealthy obsessions is with the Kennedy family. I have sat through truly awful TV movies about various stages in the lives of JFK, Bobby, and the rest.

And I realized while watching this that although she is an icon (I mean I dressed as her for my 4th grade history costume day and kids knew who I was) most tales of the Kennedy saga aren’t very interested in Jackie’s perspective. At best she’s the “stand by your man” stoic spurned wife turned grieving widow and at worst she’s window dressing.

This is partly a product of the fact that she was an intensely private person, who none the less had a remarkable affinity for public relations and image creation. Which this film gives her full credit for. So much of the myth of the Kennedys that  have been fascinated by my whole life was created and maintained by Jackie during JFK’s presidency her cultivation of the arts and her restoration of the White House (lots of great speeches about the importance of objects for the appreciation of history for the museum nerd in me) brought a sense of glamour to the capital. And after his death she understood that her husband’s legacy was at stake with every more. The funeral procession may have been, as Billy Crudup‘s reporter character puts it disapprovingly, “a spectacle,” but it cemented the image of JFK as a great man worthy of such pomp in the visual memory of this country.

OK, enough Kennedy-nerd rambling. This is also a good movie. Natalie Portman should and will get nominated (at least) nominated for everything. I appreciated director Pablo Larraín‘s choice to tell the story non-linearly through conversation and flashback, though I would have liked more with the priest (John Hurt) and less with the reporter. (Nothing against Crudup, he gives a fine performance, I guess I just prefer her private face to her public one.) The standout for me though was Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby (and not just because he’s my favorite Kennedy.) He managed to get the physicality perfectly without falling into caricature (thank God he didn’t go full Back Bay accent – it would have been so distracting.) He doesn’t steal focus from Jackie, but his grief and disappointment are as palpable as hers.

Also, and this is a little thing, but this is the best depiction I’ve ever seen of what a sniveling ass Jack Valenti was. (Or as my man put it, “I believe the term you’re looking for is political whore.”)

Arrival

I get into spoiler talk in this review.

I don’t really believe in spoilers. Well, I mean, I believe that they exist, and I understand, especially for TV, why people try to avoid them. But I personally don’t really do anything to keep from hearing plot details before I consumer a story. I figure that if all something has going for it is a shocking twist than it probably isn’t very interesting as a piece of art.

I think this comes mostly from listening to a lot of film podcasts and being a creature of routine who doesn’t want to wait to watch a film and not listen to an episode when I normally would.

Long preamble, sorry! I explain all this to say that I went into Arrival already knowing the “twist” that the scenes of Amy Adams‘s daughter that read initially as flashbacks are actually her characters brain being rewired by the alien language to perceive the past and present and future as the same. (Or something like that. I have trouble conceptualizing how it would work, but I’m just a lowly human.)

This movie is definitely more than its twist, and Adams gives a seamless performance, but I’m still not sure if I liked it or not. Director Denis Villeneuve has crafted a complex world visually in addition to conceptually and the allegory of world politics, complete with dangerous radicalization of white men via You Tube conspiracy theorists is timely enough. But I can’t figure out exactly what this movie is trying to say: Globalism is dangerous but also the key to our survival? Don’t trust the CIA? China 7 Russia will always choose war? Choose life? Enjoy pain because its the price we pay for pleasure? Jeremy Renner looks good in glasses. (That one’s not a question.) Language is more important than science? Language is science?

I’m not saying I want every movie to spell out its message – God how dull that would be. But I can’t help but feel that beyond the conceit this movie is a bit of a muddle.

Bonus Adventure: The Met at Night

If you follow me on Instagram then you know that I spent my Friday night with my friend Alex and her husband Zach were in town from Austin last night. It was so much fun to see them, and I didn’t know until she told me that the Met stays open until 9. I’ve been there a bunch of times since I was a kid, but it was sort of magical to see it at night, and with fewer people in it.

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Selfie with Alex in an antique mirror

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Zach felt at home with the bears

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I found my armor for the battles to come, complete with flower!

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Alex found her helmet

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Hair goals…literally flower

Weekly Adventure: La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera

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I carried 4 main facts into last night’s performance of La Bohème at Lincoln Center last night:

  1. I have only recently (read in the last 2 years thanks to the Austin Opera) gotten over a baseless belief that I hated opera
  2. La Bohème is the source material for RENT, which is one of my favorite pieces of art of all time
  3. It’s also the opera that Nic Cage brings Cher to in Moonstruck
  4. The role of Colline was going to be sung by Ryan Speedo Green, who has a really interesting back story. I recommend listening to his Fresh Air interview

In other words, I still feel like too much of an opera newbie to write real reviews, but I was really excited when Claire invited me to go to Lincoln Center for the first time. And it was a really wonderful evening.

Firstly, the building itself is gorgeous, or as I said on Instagram stories last night:

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We also got our own box! Mostly, because the seats were partial view and there were some major scenes (including Green’s coat aria) that were completely obscured for us, but for the most part that didn’t interfere with my enjoyment, and it felt very fancy.

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Obnoxious intermission selfie

The performance itself was also great. As someone raised on musical theater, I’m astounded by the sheer scale of opera. In addition to a huge chorus, including a bunch of children, there were also a donkey and a horse that each did nothing more than walk across the stage once. (Is this traditional? Where do those animals come from? Where do they live?)

Having RENT memorized actually really helped me to follow the plot, especially in the first act when it’s basically the exact same story minus some drugs, which allowed me to not rely too heavily on the subtitles (though I loved my nifty little personal screen), and really allow myself to follow the emotion of the music. I particularly loved Massimo Cavalletti as Marcello, he was funny when he needed to be and had a wonderful quality to his voice.

Our Mimi, Hei-Kyung Hong, was also really excellent, and at the first intermission we learned it was her 30th anniversary singing at the Met! Though I found it odd that they presented the plaque in the middle of the show. But maybe that’s just another opera tradition I didn’t know about before.

Overall I loved the production, and found the story and relationships remarkably modern. (Musetta’s independence particularly, her line “I hate lovers who act like husbands” could still shock some people today.) And the atmosphere of the building and all the lights on the plaza made for a night that was somehow grand and cozy at the same time. It was the first thing this year to truly put me into the holiday spirit. (Let’s ignore that it’s a story about a woman dying tragically OK?)

Five Star Book: The First Collection by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper

I know, two 5 Star book posts in as many weeks! But I couldn’t let a book that made me grab a pen and underline things as often as this one did go unrecommended.

I saw Jessica Hopper speak about this book at the Texas Book Festival last year and bought it based on her & (frankly) a sense of feminist obligation. If the title is true, which it seems to be, then we have to buy this one to ensure there will be more.

Reading it didn’t feel at all like a chore though. Hopper is insightful and witty, hard hitting when she needs to be (like in her interview with Jim DeRogatis about R.Kelly’s very disturbing [alleged] obsession with underage girls) and compassionate always (even in the sections titled “Bad Reviews”).

It’s actually sort of intimidating to even write a review of her book, because she has mastered the form. So instead here are 5 of my underlined favorite lines:

“Girls in emo songs today do not have names. We are not identified beyond our absence, our shape drawn by the pain we’ve caused. Out lives, our day-to-day-to-day does not exist, we do not get colored in.”

From “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t” Punk Planet #56, July 2003

“It’s often uncool to be the person who gives a shit.”

This is from her conversation about R. Kelly, but it also speaks to the book as a whole. One of my favorite writers, Rob Sheffield, wrote a blurb for the back of this book that says, “She concedes nothing to the idea that it is dumb to care so much.”

“lord alive, there is not a more earnest and tenderhearted person in rock n’ roll than Eddie Vedder, in case you doubting just how sensitacho he rolls.”

I’ve always suspected this to be true. from “Vedderan: Notes on Pearl Jam’s 20th Anniversary Concert” TinyLuckyGenius, September 2011

“They stand for hope and big ideas as well as simple ones: have fun, include everyone, be positive, do good work. It’s an active rejection of adult cynicism. You could call it anti-capitalist, but there’s no indication anyone involved has given it that much thought.”

From “Will the Stink of Success Ruin the Smell?” LA Weekly, February 2009

“It’s subtler than patriotism; the abstraction is a nostalgic ruing for that old=-fashioned American freedom (not the 2012 GOP’s hijacked late-stage-capitalism-amok-in-you-uterus version), the sort that might entice a young girl to move up from Georgia with just a lamp, a chair and her guitar.”

From “Cat Power: Sun” SPIN magazine, September 2012 

I’ll probably put together a playlist sometime soon of songs this book introduced me to. But though its about music, its really about not being afraid to give a shit, to care too much about something other people call trivial, which i think you can tell from the name of this blog is a sentiment I can get behind.

And the Nominees Are 2017: Round 1

I can’t believe it’s already this time of year again, but the Critic’s Choice Awards nominations came out this week (and I went to the movies twice this weekend) so its officially awards season! Here’s what I’ve seen so far from their nominees:

Hail, Caesar!

My notes for this movie are on the same notebook page as my Oscars dress list from last year, so I guess this awards season started super early. I don’t really understand why they didn’t put this up for Golden Globes at least in 2016.

It’s interesting, I loved parts of it – anything involving Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle, the tap number with screaming gay (sub)text, Scarlett Johansson trash talking mermaid.

And, as a Best Picture person, I loved all the winks and nods at Ben Hur, but I’m having trouble with the Communist subplot. Is their point that the Hollywood 10 were a bunch of treasonous yet ineffectual criminals? Or that gay people in Hollywood in the 1940s were all closted communists ready to turn over their country, because that’s what they said here. (With hindsight, I think I may have been taking things a bit too literally…)

The Jesus stuff was interesting though (& the scene with the faith leaders was great.)

Sully

My response to Sully is sort of paradoxical. I found it to be both memorable and forgettable. First the memorable stuff: Tom Hanks gives a wonderfully quiet portrait of a man silently questioning himself in the face of adulation and defensive criticism. (Not surprising to anyone who saw in Captain Phillips a few years ago.) Aaron Eckhart and the supporting cast of everyone you saw in a supporting role in a TV show in the last few years are also good.

The very memorable bits are what you would expect: The sequences off the actual water landing, particularly of the passengers as they brace for impact are truly terrifying. I found myself involuntarily bracing in my seat. I fully expect to have nightmares that feature flight attendants chanting “Brace. Brace. Heads Down, Stay Down.” (And this is the first movie since Titanic to make me feel physically cold while watching it. I had forgotten that this landing happened in December.)

Now on to the less than memorable:

  • It breaks my heart to say this, but there is no point to including Laura Linney in this film. (Another Captain Phillips parallel to Catherine Keener as a pointless wife on the phone.)
  • As interesting as Sully’s psychological journey is. I was never in doubt that he was in the right. (Not just because I remember the actual events.) There just wasn’t much dramatic tension outside of the crash scenes.

This, overall,  is a portrait of a group of people who were good at their jobs and saved a lot of people. Which is great and should be celebrated, but celebration isn’t really Clint Eastwood‘s thing. So, instead we get the cinematic equivalent of a terse, proud nod.

Because during the press tour for this, Clint said some truly stupid things about race, women, and Trump. I donated twice the ticket price to the Hillary for America campaign.

Moonlight

I’ve never seen anything like this before. Not just because it tells a story of a gay, African-American man and Hollywood’s attitude towards race is a well documented disaster. But also formally and visually Moonlight is a wholly original piece of work. The way director Barry Jenkins, uses light alone had me crying at certain moments.

The use of three actors to tell Chiron’s story at different points in his life could have been jarring, especially because the actors don’t particularly look alike, but there is an emotional continuity that runs through each segment, helped by Naomie Harris‘s remarkably raw performance as his addict mother.

The plot summary could read like a movie of the week, or a cautionary tale about drugs and violence or even bullying, but Jenkins makes it into poetry. No gesture, laugh, or ocean sound effect is misplaced here and it all adds up to a piece of art totally grounded in compassion for its characters. To bring back my refrain from a few awards seasons ago, this movie is incredibly human it hurts.

Loving

I saw this movie the Friday after Trump was elected, I was planning on going the day after the election, but that was before my worldview collapsed around me. I’m glad I waited until my tears subsided, because this movie is gorgeous and important but I don’t think it would have made for great catharsis.

Although it deals with the couple whose court case brought down miscegenation  laws, this movie is very subtle and deals with the details of Mildred & Richard Loving’s domestic life rather than the courtroom drama or political rhetoric surrounding them. This is surprising for an awards season historical drama, but not a Jeff Nichols film. (Which by the way is my way of asking for more Nichols awards season films.)

In other hands this story would be sweeping, culminating in the dramatic day at the Supreme Court (see the pretty terrible Showtime version starring my eternal talent crush Timothy Hutton), but that’s not who the Lovings were. They were just two people who wanted to live together in their rural Virginia home. The closest this movie comes to speechifying if Joel Edgerton (as amazing here as he has been in everything I’ve seen him in) stumbling over telling his lawyer that he loves his wife.

Don’t take this to mean I wish it were more bombastic, I think its important to tell the stories of quiet lives and how they can also be revolutionary acts.

Mildred’s determination, portrayed gracefully by new to me Ruth Negga, is just as inspiring to me as a firebrand. She has a vision of the life her family is entitled to and she refuses to let the backwards hatred of those around her change that. And I think that’s a powerful message for our current dark day.

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Incidentally, the ACLU helped the Lovings pro-bono. I have no moral objection to Jeff Nichols, but if you want to practice some extra filmanthropy you can click here to donate to their continuing crusade against institutionalized bigotry. 

Manchester By the Sea

I let out an audible sigh at the end of this movie. I’m not sure I’ve done that since Blue ValentineBut other than a wonderful performance from Michelle Williams, and the copious amount of tears I shed, I wouldn’t exactly say this is similar to BV. In fact, I’m not sure I can think of a film that I would call a direct corollary to Manchester By the Sea (though I haven’t seen writer/director Kenneth Lonergan other work yet, so who knows?)

The plot, a man (my love Casey Affleck) has to return to his small New England hometown after the death of his brother (Kyle Chandler in flashbacks), could be a predictable melodrama, but instead its measured and real.

Grief is hard to describe and therefore hard to dramatize, but this is a remarkable depiction. Due in large part to Affleck’s astounding, layered performance, his Lee is mostly taciturn and angry, but he’s not a cliche hyper masculine man who lashes out (though he could be in less talented hands.) Instead, he’s a human being who has been dealt cards he is simply not equipped to play.

In the review of Loving on Filmspotting, Michael Philips said he wished a plate had slipped in a few of the domestic scenes so they felt less curated and more realistically captured. Though I don’t completely agree on that film (see above), I kept thinking of that while watching this film, cars don’t start and freezers don’t close even when you really need them to. But just as importantly even when the worst (seriously the fucking worst) has happened your nephew may still be juggling two girlfriends and the wind will still come off the ocean on your boat (it’s a very New England movie OK?) and that doesn’t make everything better. Some things you can’t beat, but life goes on, and that’s enough.

I’ve since learned that Casey Affleck has a disturbing past of allegedly sexually harassing female coworkers on the crew of his mockumentary I’m Still Here (which I actually appreciated). It’s hard when artists whose work I truly love are found to be less than stellar humans, but to honor the struggle of those women to be believed I’ve practiced filmanthropy and donated twice this ticket price to the National Organization for Women, who among other things help women sue companies for harassment and discrimination.

 

 

Five Star Book: Last Night at the Viper Room

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I picked this up because I wandered into a bookstore in my neighborhood and I had just finished listening to the Next Picture Show‘s My Own Private Idaho episode and I was intrigued by their discussion of River Phoenix’s method acting (and I’m pathologically incapable of leaving bookstores without buying something.)

I thought it would be a pretty straightforward Hollywood biography (a genre I enjoy), but it is actually a really finely crafted exploration of Phoenix’s complicated, brief life, the truly eccentric (at times twisted) family background he came from, and the pop culture landscape he helped create, yet also struggled with.

I have been vaguely aware of who River Phoenix was for a long time. I admire his brother’s work; I had heard of Idaho; I knew he died really young of a heroine overdose. So the first thing this book gave me was an introduction to the myth of River Phoenix. Yes, he was an actor, but he was also an idol, and a vegan, and a hippie, and a symbol of freedom. But a lot of what he was revered for come from his family’s involvement with the Children of God cult. (Check out this documentary for what that means – warning its disturbing, about children especially.) And even after they left the cult the Phoenix family (originally Bottom) never rejoined or approved fully of mainstream culture. (Except, they were happy to let River go earn money to support the family.)

OK, I’m not going to recap the whole book, but it’s a fast read, and you should check it out. But the best part of the way the book is constructed is it explains this myth of River Phoenix, and celebrates his talent and passion for the causes that were important to him, without letting readers forget that at the end of the day, River was just a kid (he was 23 when he died) and romanticizing his death – as even his own family did – does the human being he was a disservice.

As his first love Martha Plimpton said right after he died:

He’s already being made into a martyr. He’s become a metaphor for a fallen angel, a messiah. He was just a boy, a very good-hearted boy who was very fucked up and had no idea how to implement his good intentions.

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River and Martha

The book also puts River’s life and career in context, giving us glimpses of his contemporaries from Tom Cruise & Brad Pitt to Leonardo DiCaprio & Johnny Depp (who was there when River died). This strategy works not just to add color, but to allow for speculation about what Phoenix’s career may have looked like if he hadn’t died without it feeling forced.

Bottom Line: Great read about cults, Hollywood, & pretty boys with substance. What else could you want?