And The Nominees Are 2018: Round 2

So Golden Globes and SAG nominations came out this week! And I’m actually really mad at the HFPA for their inexplicable snub of Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele, and the SAG nominations are as strange as always. No Post at all? Steve Carrell for Best Supporting Actor but no love for either of the supporting men from Call Me By Your Name? I did appreciate The Big Sick ensemble nod though. Anyway, here’s what I saw this week, and my Baby Driver thoughts since the Globes did rightfully acknowledge that Ansel Elgort is perfectly cast there.

Baby Driver

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This movie is slick, cold and dabbled with ultra violence and toxic masculinity and centers around cars. In other words, it is literally everything I hate. But, I loved this. I saw a review that said it was a musical masquerading as a car chase and that sums it up perfectly.

Yes, too many people get carelessly shot, but Baby (Ansel Elgort – perfectly cast) has enough remorse and humanity that I don’t think the movie can be read as an endorsement of that violence. Instead it’s a stylized love story, a highly choreographed dance (both of feet and tires), well cast, directed, and orchestrated. And it will make you feel like you are in your very own movie if you put your earbuds in and crank up the volume on the way home.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Although the allegations against Kevin Spacey hadn’t come to light this summer when I saw this, I have made a filmanthropy contribution to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s Relief Fund for Sexual Assault Victims

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

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I have a long history with Martin McDonagh, the Irish playwright turned filmmaker, who wrote and directed this. And that history is mostly filled with dread. I was assigned his plays in college and there are sections of The Pillowman and The Beauty Queen of Leenane that still haunt my dreams. So, I’m wary of watching his movies, my violence tolerance has grown a bit over the years, but I still don’t seek it out, but then Frances McDormand got nominated, so…I went.

And it was violent, but certainly not likely to give me nightmares. But it will certainly stick in my head. Not just because McDormand continues to be the most badass actor, who manages to convey strength and vulnerability in the same moment. But also, because the story revises really interesting questions about what grief and anger and trauma and revenge and redemption mean, and maybe more interestingly, what they require from us.

Every person in this movie is perfectly cast, but I particularly loved Woody Harrelson as the sheriff called out by Frances’s character’s billboards. But I guess at this point I just love anything Woody does (similarly Lucas Hedges and Peter Dinklage are fantastic here.)

I think it loses its bite a bit by the end, but the ensemble is amazing and the plot tight and thrilling and heartbreaking.

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Battle of the Sexes

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Firstly,  this isn’t really a comedy. But if I was going to get upset about genre classification each year then I wouldn’t have enough energy to be mad at nominating bodies for snubbing female directors and creators of color.

Anyway, what it is a well made dramatization of an episode in American cultural history that deserves to be better understood. I feel like we throw around the tag line “Battle of the Sexes” without talking much about what it actually was. This movie does a great job of telling the complex story behind the famous match. Bobby Riggs (the always great Steve Carrell – though I think his best performance this year was in Last Flag Flying), was certainly a “chauvinist pig” but his aims were more monetary than political. The filmmakers capture his situation with empathy, but without shying away from the depressing reality that for him, and men like him, women’s fight for equality can be a game or an opportunity for self-promotion, while for Billie Jean King (the really subtle and great Emma Stone) it was make or break, not just for her own career, but for women’s tennis and working women in general.

It was a stacked desk and King navigated expertly, which the movie makes clear, while not omitting how complicated her personal life, as a closed lesbian, married to a man she really cared about was at the time. In fact, the parts of this that will stay with me are about her relationships. They’re also two of the most emotional dialogue free moments for the year so far. One where she watches the woman she’s attracted to (Andrea Riseborough) dance to “Crimson and Clover” and is clearly overcome. And the other is a long shot, much later, of her husband (Austin Stowell) standing mutely in a hotel hallway holding his bags after discovering what’s going on. It crushed me. But yeah, great comedy.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

BPM (Beats Per Minute) 

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I almost wrote, “my first foreign language film nominee!” But then I remembered I endured The Square, but that’s best forgotten.

This is a beautiful film about ACT UP Paris in the 1990s. It manages the tricky balance of being about AIDS activists without preaching. It captures the way the personal is political in a really lovely and vital way. It’s told with a lose grip on time, allowing the protest to blend into the meeting room onto the dance floor into the bedroom, with a captivating fluidity.

There’s something visceral about the way director Robin Campillo shoots these lives – both public and private – that makes it feel somehow both artful and natural. His camera doesn’t flinch from pleasure or (sometimes extreme) pain. But it never veers into suffering-porn. This type of story is a tightrope, but this movie walks it almost perfectly.

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My poem for this one isn’t quite ready yet. Check back soon!

 

 

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And the Nominees Are 2018: Round 1!

Happy Awards Season!

The 2018 Critics Choice nominations have been announced! And I have already seen a bunch of the nominees (this year is already so good you guys, at one point I had 4 movies tied for my favorite film.)

Also, I’ve started a new project, combining two of my great loves, movies and poems. It’s a new site, called Poems from the Pictures. Basically I’m writing a new poem about each movie I see in the theater. I’ll link to poems for movies I review here, but I don’t just write about award nominees over there, so please go check it out! (And share it with your friends.) (The project also has a Twitter account, please follow it!)

OK, enough self-promotion, here’s what I’ve seen so far:

Gifted

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Chris Evans can act. That kid is cute. Jenny Slate is perfect. Watch this on a Saturday afternoon when you feel bad about humanity.

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The Big Sick

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This is the only movie on this list that I’ve seen twice, but I managed to not take any notes on for a post, which I feel really stupid about, because it combines a lot of my favorite things. Zoe Kazan. Indie romantic comedies. The city of Chicago. Comas. OK I don’t love comas, obviously, but I do love real life love stories and charming characters and this one has all that in spades. Sorry I’m giving short shrift in this review. Just watch it, it’ll make you angry and sad and then happy.

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Dunkirk

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I know I overuse the word remarkable, but this is really a remarkable film. It’s a quintessentially Christopher Nolan piece – sweeping, complicated, immersive, with an innovative narrative structure – but also a classic-feeling WWII picture. The casting is impeccable, even the potential stunt of casting a pop star is quickly forgotten, as each of these men inhabit the desperation of their characters so completely.

I’m not breaking any ground by saying I love this. So instead of waxing rhapsodic about Nolan and his collaborators’ expert artistry I will point out my three favorite choices he/they made.

  1. The minimal dialogue. When you are 95% sure you will die but are being told to wait in a line for a ship that even if you get on it will probably sink, what is there to say really? In a more traditional movie about this battle there are so many opportunities for bombastic Oscar reel speeches, but its much more heart-wrenching to see a tear in Kenneth Brannagh‘s eyes or three boys sitting on a beach passing around a can of water.
  2. Which, also, the casting of actors that are actually 19-20 was such a great choice. So often Hollywood shoots these stories with fully grown, “built,” action heroes. But these men were ordinary young people, and that makes the horror that they lived through (and we live a bit of with them) all the more harrowing.
  3. See this on a big screen (it’s being rereleased for a special awards season engagement). It is immersive and it’s meant to be. My mom and I both jumped and gasped our way through this, especially the sequences in the air.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

The Florida Project

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I realized weeks after seeing this that I had forgotten to write notes for a review, which sucks because its one of favorite movies of the year. But I’ll try to reconstruct why I loved it.

Firstly, it’s visually appealing. It makes rundown motels look like confections and made Florida wasteland look like a classical landscape painting. But all the artistry in the world wouldn’t matter much to me without the people at the center of it.

Sean Baker takes a story that could have been melodrama, teen mom living on the margins with her young daughter and gives us a humane, warm but not saccharine portrait of a childhood. A lot of the brilliance here is in the casting of both the little girl (Brooklyn Prince) and her mother (Bria Vinaite) both of whom weren’t actors before this, but radiate a kind of pressure. Baker’s work is remarkably naturalistic and it feels less like watching performers and more like peeking in on a life.

That life is precarious though, and as long time readers know, images of children in peril (even when they don’t seem to realize it) usually stress me our so much I can’t enjoy a film (I call this my Beasts of the Southern Wild/Lion phenomenon.) But Baker solves this problem by including Willem Dafoe as a kind, beleaguered motel manager who keeps a watchful eye out for the kids (and their parents). His empathy and sadness for his tenants’ situations never crosses a line into condescension and this movie completely changed my opinion of Dafoe as a performer. Oh, I could gush forever, just go see it.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Wonderstruck

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I wanted to like this movie. And there were sections in it, particularly the earliest sections with the young deaf actress (and Critics Choice nominee!) Millicent Simmonds journeying to 1920s NYC. I like modern takes on classic film technique, and I think I would have loved to watch just her story as a short film.

Which isn’t to say necessarily that I didn’t like the sections set in the 1970s, because they have their own charm, and I tend to like stories that begin disparate and eventually interweave. But, I think the quiet style of director Todd Haynes (which I’ve liked in the past but never quite understood the critical community’s rapturous ton about) doesn’t lend itself will to a story with this much plot. I but this book is charming, but the film left me confused.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Lady Bird

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I don’t even know how to write about this movie. I just…love it. It’s honest and warm, well crafted and witty, with wonderfully grounded performances from everyone. (Especially my girl Saoirse Ronan and Laurie MetcalfLaurie Metcalf. Oh and Timotheé Chalamet and Lucas Hedges…and Tracy Letts, literally everyone in the movie.)

I put this in the “Movies That I Related To So Strongly I Can’t Explain Why Without Oversharing” category. (This category now has 2 entries, this and last year’s Edge of Seventeen no coincidence that they are both written and directed by women.) And in this case its even more so, because its set in 2003, the year I started high school and this protagonist left it. The cultural references, and high school theater nerd subculture is perfectly captured. Greta Gerwig clearly lived this life, as someone who lived a similar one, she totally nails it.

I will talk your ear off in person about its perfection when it comes to religion, female friendship (both its strength and fragility), mother-daughter relationships (in all their maddening-complexity), and class tensions in a culture that does not want to acknowledge that i has a class system*. But for this post I want to end with the fact that this movie has such affection for its characters, sure there’s the hindsight is 20/20 moments about how much Lady Bird has to learn, and some cringing at how dumb high schools are in general, but it never veers into mocking. It takes the life of a teenage girl seriously without making it a tragedy. It’s fantastic.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

*Seriously seek me out if you want to have these conversations. 

The Square

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I’m not sure I can coherently articulate how much I hate this film. Which was really disappointing because I loved Force Majeure (also written and directed by Ruben Östlund). But this was, to quote my boyfriend “nihilistic trash.” To avoid spiraling into the rant I have by now subjected my friends, family, coworkers, and roommate to I will just say 4 things:

  1. It’s too long. (It have Grand Beauty never ending problems.)
  2. I can’t decide if its making fun of pretentious arty people or is for pretentious arty people, but it’s condescending either way.
  3. It’s borderline exploitative of poor and homeless people.
  4. It portrays casual violence in a way that it doesn’t earn. I understand it’s supposed to be a critique of how bystanders don’t help each other, but then it also ridicules those who try for trying. If I’m going to be subjected to images of women being pulled by their hair onto the ground or children being pushed down staircases you better be making a coherent fucking point.

Or, as I emailed Tim the day after we it: “That piece of trash won the P’alme Dor?!?!? I definitely have an awards season nemesis now.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Wonder

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I had heard people rave about R.J. Palcio’s novel for young people, Wonder, seemingly endlessly since it came out in 2012. But I only got around to reading it when the trailer for this movie was released. I (as so often happens) shouldn’t have held out on the book, but I’m glad this movie exists to introduce the Pullman family to a wider audience.

If you have an issue with earnestness (no judgement a few of my favorite people do) then this tale of children learning to overcome their fear and prejudice of a little boy with a genetically malformed (differently formed? I don’t know what the preferred language is on that. I’m sorry!) face, probably isn’t for you. But if you, like me, sometimes need a well acted tear-jerker on a Friday night, you could do a lot worse than this lovely reminder that we’re all carrying burdens, some of them are just easier to hid. (Plus Broadway nerd bonus points for Mandy Patinkin and Daveed Diggs, shoring up as inspirational educators!)

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You can read my poem about this film here.

 

Thor: Ragnarok

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Not going to lie. I did not think I would have to be writing this for awards time. But it’s fun. And Taika Waititi is a really talented director who brought a unique vision to this silly world.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Mudbound

mudbound-posters-00I’m having trouble putting my feelings about this one down on paper. Director and co-writer Dee Rees has created a layered and visually stunning epic of the mid-century American South that brought to mind early Terrance Malick (in the best way.) And not only because she loves a voice over. The acting is a universally stunning. Mary J. Blige is a particular surprise.

The story itself makes for a rough sit. It’s about the mid-century American South after all, but despite its realism about the violence that hung in the air around these characters, Rees never allows her main characters to be anything less than human. That, of course, doesn’t mean that those who aren’t poisoned to a greater and lesser extents by hatred. I’m not going to write a treatise about the original sin of American racism, others have done that better than I ever could, but I think this film does a remarkable job of showing the brutal ways that power, particularly white supremacist, patriarchal power, reasserts itself. (Often by punishing those white people (or men) who refuse to participate in the status quo. It’s a brutal watch, but a vital and important one. And it’s one Netflix, so you don’t even have to ugly cry in public like I did.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Call Me By Your Name

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Based on the trailer for this I went out and the book to fill the time before I could see the beauty that is Timothée Chalamet pining after Armie Hammer. It’s a great book, but – and I almost never say this, like I think I can think of maybe 3 other times – this movie matches and maybe even surpasses it.

A lot of its brilliance is stylistic, it’s beautifully shot and edited to make everything on screen seem sumptuous, like if you could just reach out and touch the screen then you would be able to feel everything. This sensuality was present in director, Luca Guadagnino‘s previous work, but I always felt a certain distance from his sharacters. Which is where the richness of author André Aciman and screenwriter James Ivory‘s script come in. Every person here, even those we meet only for a scene, is a fully drawn human being. Even Hammer, how I’ve always liked but often found a bit icy, melts into this world.

I won’t get started on how Chalamet’s raw desire is palpable and gorgeous because I don’t want to cry at my desk. But, speaking of crying, Michael Stuhlbarg (as Chalamet’s father) delivers a monologue at the end of this film that should go down in history as one of the great tear jerker moments in acting history. So glad he’s getting recognition for it.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

The Disaster Artist

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I should start with 2 facts:

  1. I’ve seen The Room once, 10ish years ago and I wasn’t sober. I saw that appeal, but re-watching something just because its awful isn’t that interesting to me.
  2. I love James Franco. I hear your reasons that you find him insufferable, and I hear you and love him more because of them. Dude goes for things. I admire that, (Hell, he’s sort of the reason I have a blog.)

OK, not that all of that has been disclosed, I…liked this fine. I appreciated that it didn’t feel like one long joke at Tommy Wiseau, when the first trailed made it seem it might be. But, despite good performances from both Franco brothersbrothers and surrounding cast I couldn’t quite get on the level of love for him (and Greg Sestero) the movie clearly has. Instead of being appreciative of the commitment these two had to their dreams (and the Francoian drive to do the thing you want to do, no matter how unlikely or strange) I came away mostly sad. Not for Wiseau, I’m not convinced that he’s not an alien, at the very least he doesn’t seem to take in others’ criticism of his work. But for Sestero who, as far as I can tell has basically been trapped by Wiseau into a very strange life. I’m overthink this I know, but while parts are very  funny, the movie just left me a bit deflated.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Weekly Adventure: After the Blast at the Claire Tow Theater

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I’m not usually a huge fan of dystopias. I know that might seem odd given that the last time I actually got around to writing a theater review was when I went to 1984, but it’s true. So the premise of After the Blast, generations after an ecological disaster people live in highly regulated underground compounds where they rely on chips in their brains to taste food or experience the outside world, wouldn’t have exactly grabbed me on its own. But the name Zoe Kazan almost always will. I love her as an actor, and her debut film as a screenwriter (Ruby Sparks) as always stuck with me.  So I was very excited when I got an email from Lincoln Center Theater that I could get LincTix to her new play.

And I am so glad that I did! Despite it’s extremely high concept premise, this is really a character study, or maybe a relationship study. The main female character, played wonderfully by Cristin Milloti, is a woman struggling with depression and Vitamin D deficiency (hard to image that they all wouldn’t be), who wants to start a family with her husband, the charming William Jackson Harper, but hasn’t yet passed the mental health evaluation to be allowed. So, naturally, he sets her up with a companion robot.

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Photo Credit: TheaterMania/Jeremy Daniel

It should be hokey, but it isn’t. It’s emotional and funny and raw. It’s both a glimpse at a possible (maybe uncomfortably so) future and a meditation on why it is important to keep fighting for hope in the present. It’s really good and I want a copy of it to read and underline and think about for a long time. If you’re in New York you should go.

The show runs through November 19th at the Claire Bow Theater at Lincoln Center 

 

 

Awards Show Round Up: Emmys 2017

So with the notable (and frankly disturbing) exception of the inexplicable inclusion of Sean Spicer, last night’s Emmys were one of the best I can remember. Usually the show starts to drag around hour 3, but last night’s combination of skilled (but not overly intrusive) hosting and genuinely surprising/deserved wins made for a fun few hours. Here are my highlights:

I love a musical number and Stephen Colbert did not disappoint (love that Chance interlude too!):

(As always these videos will probably go away with copyright claims…)

I love John Lithgow, though I would have given this one to Ron Cephas Jones…

I want to give Kate McKinnon all of the awards always:

The SNL sweep continued, and I will never be surprised at Lorne Michaels’s ability to appear on the edge of falling asleep at all times:

(Also Anna Farris and Allison Janney are just the best.)

Also pretty happy to see this stunt casting lead to this:

I have always, and will always want to be these women when I grow up:

John Oliver is pretty great:

I LOVE ANN DOWD:

On a serious note,”Thanksgiving” is once of the best episodes of any show ever, and this speech was amazing:

Riz Ahmed is amazing:

Reese Witherspoon for entertainment president:

STERLING!!!!

It is BS that they played him off, Laura Dern and Nicole Kidman (both of whom I love) talked forever…

And then right at the end there, Margaret Atwood was there:

Other notes: I really need to watch Atlanta; It’s time to put JLD in an Emmy pantheon and spread the comedy actress love around a bit. It was a fucking fantastic year for women. (I need to watch Big Little Lies too.

Fashion wise, it was a mixed bag. Weird flowy skirts over leotards and strange feather duster fringe bottoms, but there were some great looks:

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Jane Fonda in Brandon Maxwell (Photo Credit: Getty)

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Millie Bobby Brown in Calvin Klein (Photo Credit: Getty)

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Nicole Kidman in Calvin Klein (Photo Credit: Getty/Jason Merritt)

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Kate McKinnon in Narcisco Rodriguez (Photo Credit: Rob Latour/Variety/Shutterstock)

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Reed Marano (Photo Credit: Strauss/Invision/AP)

(BTW I may design my future wedding dress based on this gown. I’m in love with it.)

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Jessica Biel in Ralph & Russo Couture (Photo Credit: J. Merritt/Getty Images)

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Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Boss (Photo Credit: Getty/Frazer Harrison)

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Susan Kelechi Watson in Cristina Ottaviano (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Things I’ve Been Meaning to Blog About

I think at this point I should just admit that I take the month of August off from blogging and stop promising that I will write about things I do during that month. Anyway, here are some things I meant to blog about:

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

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Based mostly on watching this trailer about 20 times the week it came out, I went and got this book out of the library, and I loved it. Miró and I discussed on a couple of episodes of our podcast, that one of the things that we love about Rainbow Rowell’s books (which are very different from this, but stay with me), is that she captures the sense of adolescent longing incredibly well. Well if you’re into that, but you wish it were more explicit, gay, and heartbreaking? Well I have a book for you. It’s consuming, much like the central character’s obsession with his father’s graduate student, who inconveniently (or maybe conveniently?) is staying a door down from his room for the summer. I cannot wait for this movie. (Though you should all read this book.

Prince of Broadway 

Look, revues are tough, but Hal Prince’s career is so varied and spectacular that this evening didn’t drag for me until the very end. (And that wasn’t so much a function of the show as the fact that that I have no patience for The Phantom of the Opera.) You need to be the highest level of musical theater nerd to love it I think, but if you are, it’s fun.

HAIM cover of That Don’t Impress Me Much” 

And bonus:

And one more (can you tell I went down a YouTube rabbit hole with this one?):

Buffering the Vampire Slayer 

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Are you craving a fun feminist on-line community that also loves puns about vampires and making fun of cheap werewolf costumes? Well do I have the podcast for you. Obviously, you need to have watched (and probably rewatched) Buffy to get it, but c’mon, you should have watched Buffy by now.

There’s probably more that I meant to write about over the past month or so, including a trip to Chicago for my dear friend’s bachelorette party (and a Kelly Hogan show at The Hideout!) and my 28th birthday. But this is what I got right now.

Weekly Adventure: Colm Tóibín at the Paula Cooper Gallery

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Almost 8 years ago (!), when I was studying abroad at University College Cork, my contemporary Irish literature professor assigned Blackwater Lightship, and since then I have been mildly obsessed with its author Colm Tóibín. I’ve been working my way through all of his books (and they range in genre including short stories, novels, memoirs, and literary criticism.) I’ve loved all of them. Many of them fall into the category of “things that are too important to me for me to write about in any coherent fashion.”

So instead, I will just give you my three favorite quotes from last night, remind you that sometimes it is great to meet your heroes (he was so kind and I’m inspired to write for the first time in ages), and tell you all to go buy his new book, or any of his old books.

“A novel loves money, it loves disappointment, it loves a marriage, it loves a marriage that does not happen.” – On novels as secular spaces

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Follow up: “So on page 6, I rid of the gods.” 

“If you’re a novelist, the most interesting part of a story is the blurred figure in the photograph.”

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Related: The Story of Night (a beautiful book about a gay man in Argentina) is “about someone who has not spoken before but must now speak”

Where I’m from the men didn’t say much, but the women would all be talking all at the same time.” – on why he writes with such power (to borrow a phrase from a question asker) in the voices of women

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A Whole String of Adventures

Full disclosure, this is a super lazy post. I’m tired…I’ve been doing a lot…

It’s been an eventful week for me, filled with theater and movies. And I’ve been really bad about blogging about them. I’m not going to write long reviews of everything, mostly because I don’t want to, but here were some highlights:

The Golden Apple from ENCORES! at City Center

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I didn’t know anything about this show going when my New York godmother invited me to take her extra ticket last Thursday. But after reading this wonderful article, I was intrigued. I’ve always wanted to go to an Encores show, and this was a really fun discovery all around. The show is a lighthearted retelling of Homer, and I loved the choice to recreate Paris (Barton Cowperthwaite) as a silent ballet dancer. One because I love ballet and two because it allows the show to sidestep taking any stance on the character’s culpability.

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Lindsay Mendez as Helen with Cowperthwaite (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

Badlands at Videology Bar and Cinema

I’ve written before about how much I love this dark, weird little fable. So for now I’ll just share my friend Arely’s thought at from some angles young Martin Sheen looks exactly like Charlie and from others exactly like Emilio Esteves. It’s sort of crazy.

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An Emilio moment

Also, the queso hot dog at Videology was a pretty tasty way to end a week.

Six Degrees of Separation (with Allison Janney!) 

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Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

It was raining a lot on Saturday. So I almost refused my lotto win ticket to Six Degrees of Separation. But I’m so glad I didn’t. Obivously the biggest draw is Janney and she is as fabulous as you expect her to be. But the play in general, which I had only ever read before, is surprisingly funny and heartwarming. It’s sad how relevant the racial issues (and CATS hatred) still are 26 years on, but the 1990 setting does lend a delightful pre-Google detective story element to the plot.

Also on Saturday I met an actress in the audience whom I’m a big fan of and she was very sweet. 

Mother’s Day trip to Beautiful – The Carole King Musical

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I’ve wanted to see this show for a long time. I love Carole King, and so I was so excited to get to share it with my mom on Sunday. And it was the perfect Mother’s Day show. (I’m pretty sure the entire audience was there celebrating the holiday.) We were unable to stop ourselved from singing along. We briefly felt bad but everyone else was also clapping and dancing. Highly recommend it. Bring your mom, or your most mom like friend. (I’m happy to play the role of mom like friend in your life for this occasion.)

Wakefield at the IFC Center

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A perk of my membership at the IFC is monthly free screenings. I generally go to all of these, even when I know nothing about the film (obvious caveat for avoiding horror/extreme violence), which was the case with this one. It’s…strange. Adapted from an E.L. Doctorow short story by writer/director Robin Swicord, it tells the story of a man (Bryan Cranston) who abandons his wife and family, only to live above the garage and spy on them. It works more as a conceit than it has any right to, but it also has some really icky undertones I’ll be processing for awhile. Cranston is great though.

 

Coming Clean about Purple Rain*

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Can anyone in this movie act? — No.

Is the dialogue straight up awful? — Yes.

Are the sexual politics at best questionable? — Well, there’s a scene where a woman is literally thrown in a dumpster for daring to ask something of a man…so, yeah. (It is done by the villain, but it’s played for laughs, so…)

Is it still, somehow, a masterpiece? Absolutely.

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I’ve been trying to piece together why this movie is so magical since the minute I walked out of a free screening at the Brooklyn Bazaar Wednesday night. It’s obviously a lot to do with the music, and I’ll always be thankful for the experience of singing along to “Purple Rain” with a ballroom filled with tipsy strangers. But, that can’t be all of it, because then I would just want this to be a concert film, and that’s not how I feel at all.

It may be that for all its soppy melodrama, and petrified-wooded performances, the film does have a unique and striking (if a bit dated) visual style. The lighting design and cinematography (by Donald E. Thorin) do a lot to elevate the action.

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But, lets be real, the magic here is Prince himself. Not just in his musical performances (though goddamn), but as a presence onscreen. That mad had a two hour face, and the ability to simultaneously be winking at the audience and be completely vulnerable and in the moment. Sure, the world of this movie is absurd, but his emotion was real and so its easy to get swept up with him for the ride.

 

*This series used to be called “Classics from the Queue, but no one has a Netflix Queue anymore, and that title never really got across this idea that these were movie I had lied about seeing so these posts will now be called “Coming Clean” reviews.

Weekly Adventure: Present Laughter at the St. James (with Kevin Kline!)

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I won a Broadway lotto this weekend! That hasn’t happened in such a long time. (To be fair, I haven’t been entering as obsessively lately, but still.)

I have loved Kevin Kline for a long time. I can probably pin point it to either this scene or literally any moment he is onscreen in The Big Chill. (Side noteL I’m going to rewatch The Big Chill tonight I think,) So when I saw super excited to get to see him up close, (from a box seat!) in Present Laughter on Saturday.

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Photo Credit: Emilio Madrid-Kuser/Broadway.com 

I know this is theater-nerd and anglophile sacrilege, but I’ve never completely connected to Noël Coward. Sure, he’s witty, but I have always had a hard time with farce. But, Present Laughter has enough of a sense of humor about itself that I was able to shut off the (overly) analytical part of my brain for a couple of hours and just laugh at Kline’s character’s preening insecurity. He is as fantastic in the role as I expected, and his supporting cast, especially Ellen Harvey as the eccentric “Spiritualist Swedish” housekeeper and Kate Burton as his semi-estranged wife, are excellent.

The sets (David Zinn) and costumes (Susan Hilferty) are as extravagant and beautiful as Coward’s rich world demand. And the play zips along with seductions and lies and “lost latch keys” but never gets so complicated that its frustrating. A delightful way to spend a Saturday evening.

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Kline with Cobie Smulders (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

Thing I Love – Joe Cocker: Mad Dog With Soul

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I’ve been on a documentary kick lately, which luckily seems to be the genre of movie that Netflix has decided to continue paying to keep on their platform. The all knowing “you might like” algorithm got it completely right last night when it suggested that I watch Mad Dog with Soulwhich I had previously never heard of (apparently it’s going to air on Sky TV in Britain, I don’t know if it was produced for that purpose or what the deal it.)

Like any 90s child, I grew up knowing Joe Cocker’s voice from this:

And then a few years ago (while watching another documentary) I saw this clip of him singing “Space Captain” live on stage and I fell in love:

Many of the talking heads in this documentary talk about Cocker’s unique (to say the least) performance style. At least one referred to it as someone in a trance, and I’ve always felt listening to him sing that he is channeling something raw and beyond himself. I would be tempted to say it’s almost supernatural, but that would grandiose, and would also discount the deep humanity you can hear in that gravel (particularly in the ballads):

There’s nothing incredibly inventive about this as a film, or particularly revelatory about Cocker as an artist or a man. He was a kid form Sheffield England who fell in love with Ray Charles music, and skyrocketed to fame. Once there he was uncomfortable with the attention, and predictably found chemicals that could help him deal. (Though on the scale of rockstar excess he seemed to veer more to the side of “difficult to work with” rather than “force for destruction.”) But it is a lovely portrait of an incredibly talented man, who seems like he was, by nature, gentle and sensitive and dear. (There’s a long section about their life in Colorado, where he enjoyed gardening and hanging out at the local pool hall that I found particularly endearing.)

It’s mostly just an excuse to listen to him sing, which is a pretty great way to spend a Sunday evening:

Also this: