Weekly Adventure: I’m Nobody Who Are You at the Morgan Library

I love Emily Dickinson. I didn’t always. When I first read her I found her cold and distant and overly formal. Which looks ridiculous to me now. Imagine, thinking of a poem like this as reserved:

Wild Nights

But I also love what I know about her as a person. Not the mythical figure of the ghostly pale woman upstairs in her New England attic scribbling away and never leaving her house, but the weird and wonderful, and yes unmarried (gasp!), woman that I’ve pieced together over the years. The most clues for me came not from a biography but this collection of her “Envelope Poems.” I feel like that book made it the most clear how integral writing poetry was to her daily life, but also showed that she had a life beyond poetry. She was cooking or going to a concert or reading a letter when had these flashes of inspiration.

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Poem draft on a program card

The small show of her letters and drafts on view right now at The Morgan Library does a nice job of depicting Miss Dickinson’s quiet, but not empty, life. I especially liked the way they presented her interest in botany, with a digitized version of the plant catalog she made while a student at Mt. Holyoke. (It’s really beautifully designed and lets visitors flip though the pages, which obviously could never be done with the fragile original.) I also liked the way she wrote up and down on the pages of her letters, like she simply had too many thoughts to contain them to one direction:

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I had never been to The Morgan before, and I really appreciated the design of the exhibition. There was a lot of contextual information, but it was presented in a clear, uncluttered way. Also, this was the correct paint color:

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Though it doesn’t photograph very well apparently. It’s much greener than this in person.

It’s also just a beautiful space, J.P. Morgan’s library had me swooning (as my Instagram followers can tell you), and while I was there a classical duo was playing in the central courtyard, which was a lovely addition. I highly recommend a trip as a way to pass a gray Sunday afternoon.

The exhibition is on view through May 21st at The Morgan Library & Museum at 225 Madison Ave

Weekly Adventure: Amélie on Broadway

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from Amélie as a musical. I had seen the movie it’s based on in high school, but I admit that I really only remembered the image of Audrey Tautou‘s mischievous smile from the DVD case. Oh and that it was “quirky.” While I’m ambivalent about the current musical theater trend to musical-ize every even marginally successful film, the opportunity to Phillipa Soo (otherwise known as Eliza-freaking-Schuyler-Hamilton) and my longtime love* Adam Chanler-Berat would have been inducement enough to see pretty much any show.

And this one was definitely worth the trip! As my New York godmother, and frequent theater date, put it as we were walking out this was completely “charming.” And it is quirky. (There are extended sequences involving a garden gnome.) But, mostly due to the truly great central performance from Soo, it also has a lovely emotional center about how hard it can be to allow yourself to connect to the people around you.

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This scene/song was lovely (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus for Playbill)

Obviously anyone who has listened to “Burn” already knows that Phillipa is a star, and this role lets her share all of her effervescence, but she’s backed up by a great supporting cast. The production design is also really great, Amélie lives in a daydream world, and set & costume designer David Zinn, created a world and (closet) I’ll be dreaming about for awhile.

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(Photo Credit: Instagram user alisonsimmet)

 

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*Baby (ok 19-year-old) Kath meeting Adam outside iNext to Normal (Photo Credit: Hanna Katz)

Read Harder Review: History Was All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

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I have a book buying problem. Even while I’m forcing my way through a library book that has already been renewed multiple times, and staring at the book club book from last month that I haven’t even opened, I cannot stop myself from perusing the shelves of any bookstore I pass. Which is how I stumbled upon History Is All You Left Me a couple of weeks ago on a table at the Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side, but it’s OK, because it helped me cross “A YA or middle grade novel by an author that identifies as LGTBQIA+” off my Book Riot Read Harder challenge list. 

This is the story of a high school boy, Griffin, whose first boyfriend (and first ex-boyfriend) has tragically died. The story flashes back and forth between the “history” of their relationship and the present day confusion of grief that Griff is grappling with. He’s also dealing with the dead ex-boyfriend’s current boyfriend whose claim on the dead boy makes Griffin super jealous.

It’s a heavy premise, and at times Silverberg handles it with great care and style. But the machinations of the plot – the time jumping conceit, the way he is clearly withholding information from the reader until the very last seconds – made the experience of reading it less emotional for me. The strongest sections of this book are the ones where Griffin’s emotions are allowed to take center stage, even when those emotions are petty or ill-advised. Those sections are relateable and heartbreaking, the “mystery” of why the relationship ended or even how the boyfriend died left me feeling a bit colder.

Award Show Round Up: Oscars 2017

I’m just going to start with the elephant in the room…this happened:

The most important thing that happened here is that Moonlight won Best Picture. It’s one of the most original and best films I have ever seen. I feel so bad for everyone involved in this mistake (no it wasn’t staged, shut up with your conspiracy theories Twitter). I also don’t think it was Warren Beatty’s fault.

I have watched this video countless times this morning and the only reaction I cannot understand is Jimmy Kimmel’s. “You guys should get it anyway”??!! Obviously they should not. They didn’t win. Just shut up and let Jordan Horowitz and Warren handle this. Otherwise though, I thought he was a pretty good host. (Though the show felt long. That’s not his fault really though, it is just long. I miss being in the central time zone where it ends after 11 instead of after midnight.)

Anyway, there were hours of show before the most interesting end to an awards show ever. My highlights are:

An opening with real energy (whatever your feelings are on this song):

The first award of the night went, as it absolutely should have, to Mahershala Ali:

Viola finally has an Oscar, which is great, but I would like to state one last time for the record that she deserved to win Best Actress in a Leading Role for this film. Her studio should have had that confidence in her, but I’m happy for her all the same:

Lin-Manuel was there! And, I confess that I have yet to see Moana, but this girl just punched her ticket to Broadway if that’s where she wants to go:

(Also, Dwayne Johnson for Oscar host next year?)

I also, really liked the rearranged La La Land number. (Because, the music is good. It’s a good movie. You don’t have to hate it to love Moonlight, despite what the internet tells you.)

(I’ll post a better video of this once its available…)

Also, this happened:

Unfortunately, they then presented an Oscar to Hacksaw Ridge which is not a good film.

Good Will Hunting was formative for me, and though they are imperfect people, I will always love Matt and Ben and the little fraternity they surround themselves with and I loved that they got to have this moment of presenting an Oscar to their friend. (And this was one of the best Kimmel-Damon ‘feud’ moments of the night:

(I’m not going to rehash my take on Casey Affleck again, but I’m glad he won. And he should have combed his hair.)

I would have given my personal Oscar to Natalie Portman for Jackie, but I’m happy for Emma:

But I’m even happier for these men:

And now, dresses. There were fewer strange appliqués last night, which I appreciated. And a lot of sparkle:

 

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Ruth Negga in Valentino (Photo Credit: Jeff Kravits/FilmMagic)*

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Felicity Jones in Christian Dior (Photo Credit: Glamlog)

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Emma Stone in Givenchy Haute Couture (Photo Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

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Scarlett Johansson in Azzedine Alaïa (Photo Credit: David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock)

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Alicia Vikander in Louis Vuitton (Photo Credit: REX Shutterstock)

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Michelle Williams in Louis Vuitton (Photo Credit: Noel West)

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Taraji P. Henson in Alberta Ferretti (Photo Credit: Lionel Hahn/ABACA USA/INSTARimages.com, Getty)

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Isabelle Hupert in Armani Privé (Photo Credit: WireImage)

*The blue ribbon is to support the ACLU

And the Nominees Are 2017: Final Round

Happy Oscar Sunday! I’m going to a watch party at Q.E.D. in Astoria in a few hours, but I wanted to get my last few catch up reviews posted before the ceremony.

Toni Erdmann

Pretty much every film critic I read, listen to, and/or follow on Twitter heaped praises upon this movie. But they all also mentioned that it was almost 3 hours long…so it took me awhile to find time to go. And while I really appreciated the performances, and some of the set pieces had me laughing out loud, it was too long. No comedy, even one as emotionally layered as this, needs to be 3 hours long. (In fact, I can tell you exactly when it should have ended, and it was at least 15 minutes before the actual end, with the yeti hug in the park.)

That being said, the parts of this that are a satire of international business culture are scathingly spot on. And the central message, that we should all take ourselves a little less seriously, is a welcome one.

Also, I’ll never again be able to heat “The Greatest Love of All” without thinking of Sandra Hüller and laughing.

The Eagle Huntress

I needed this story right now. Aishlopan, a 13 year old girl living with her nomadic family in the mountains of Mongolia, wants to be an eagle hunter like her father. Her parents let her despite there never having been a female hunter before. When she tries, she’s brilliant at it.

It’s a feel good feminist story. Parents, please take your preteen children of all genders to see this (though, warning for the squeamish: Eagles are birds of prey and nature has some gruesome aspects, but they are handled tastefully.)

May we all, as we face our own versions of the old men sitting in huts saying in the same breath that woman can’t hunt eagles because they will get cold in the mountains and that Aishlopan only succeeds in competitions because she is a girl, maintain the strength and ease that she has & ride off to break those men’s records with smiles on our faces.

(Also, Mongolia looks really beautiful.)

13th 

This movie should be required viewing for all Americans. Ava DuVernay (who you may recognize as the Oscar-snubbed director of Selma) lays out the devastating history that leads directly from slavery, through the dismantling of Radical Reconstruction through Jim Crow to today’s mass incarceration and police brutality. It isn’t an easy watch, but we are never going to make progress if we ignore the reality of the history that informs out current debates and tragedies.

Although she clearly has a point of view, DuVernay does a good job of including voices from across the political spectrum. I was pleasantly surprised by the nuance that Newt Gingrich brought to his interview. And if you need a definition of unhelpful white nonsense you can play a compilation of all the times that Grover Norquist reduced complicated political grievances to complaints about “mean people.” She also doesn’t let Democrats off the hook, because racism isn’t a Republican issue, it is a human issue and we all need to acknowledge this in able to fix it.

Just watch it. It’s on Netflix. Go now.

I Am Not Your Negro

I’ve loved James Baldwin since I was assigned Giovanni’s Room in a class in college. (I had read Go Tell It On the Mountain before that but it had gone over my head.) So, I knew I was in for brilliance when I went to see Raoul Peck‘s new documentary that uses only Baldwin’s words to examine the lives of MLK, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers and through them the story of the mistreatment of black people in America.

A Facebook friend of mine called this “required viewing” and it certainly is. It’s well crafted and edited and well-deserving of its Oscar nomination. I found it to be very emotional and distressingly relevant to our current moment. I hope that it inspires people to read Baldwin, and more history in general, because its beautiful, but there are gaps that may need filling in for an uninformed viewer. (Such as the fact that Malcolm X was not murdered by a white man, but a member of the Nation of Islam.)

Overall, this is a remarkable documentary, worth waiting in the lines I’ve seen at every independent movie theater showing this in NYC.

 

 

Best Picture Baking Project: Chariots of Fire

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Happy President’s Day! I don’t think I’ve ever celebrated this particular strange American holiday, and I’m certainly not going to start under the current administration, but I did take the opportunity to head home to New Haven for a bit of rest and relaxation. And for me that means movies and baking (though the baking was not my best effort…more on that later.) First, the film:

Had I seen this one before?

Nope. Which was surprising to both of my parents. All I knew was the opening sequence with the team running down the beach.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. This movie is so incredibly British. Which means, it’s charming, incredibly well acted, and obsessed with questions of whether it is acceptable to focus on individual excellence over a “feeling of esprit de corps.” Which as an American is hilarious to me.
  2. The depiction of Americans as professional, running machines that are borderline evil or Bible thumpers. It’s always funny to me (especially in later Richard Curtis movies), but here it is particularly pronounced.

    I mean, look at him with his hat on backwards, how gauche.
  3. I love a good sports movie, and this is one of the best. It’s a classic for a reason. And I like that it takes on other issues, anti-Semitism and commitment to faith, without getting too preachy or overreaching for metaphors. These men are more than just runners, but true Olympians, then as now, are a unique breed motivated by physical challenge, which, as I am very much not, will always be fascinating to me. 

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

Atlantic City –  Never heard of it.

On Golden Pond – I really only know of this, because of Jane Fonda accepting her dad‘s Oscar for it, which is a nice awards history moment, but doesn’t really help me judge the film

Raiders of the Lost Ark – I love that this was nominated, but of course it didn’t win.

Reds – Oh, I love this one so so much.

This is tough. Reds is one of my favorite movies of all time, but Chariots is pretty fantastic too. I’m going to go with, I would have voted for Reds but I’m not mad that Chariots of Fire won.

Bechdel Test Pass?

Nope. There are two named women, they are both reluctantly supportive partners to their respective champions. They never meet. (This is one of those cases where this didn’t bother me that much. Cambridge, where most of this narrative takes place, was an overwhelmingly male environment. It would be strange and forced to shoehorn women into this particular narrative.)

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Sybil (Alice Krige) seeing Harold off at port – in a shot later echoed in a future Best Picture, Titanic

OK, dessert time, I wanted to do a flaming dessert for obvious reasons, but…that turns out to be trickier than I thought…

Flaming Baked Alaska Cupcakes

Ingredients for cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 cups of your favorite ice cream, I used strawberry field

Ingredients for meringue and flambe

  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2-2 cups brandy

Directions 

Prepare the cupcakes

  • Heat oven to 350F and line cupcake pan with papers
  • Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt
  • In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  • Add eggs one at a time, mixing well between additions
  • Beat in vanilla extract
  • Add flour mixture and milk alternately, beginning and ending with flour
  • Divide batter evenly into liners, filling them about 2/3 full
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes (*check them at 15, mine took 18 minutes)
  • Remove from oven and let cool
  • Peel away cupcake liners and discard
  • Cut a small divot out of the top of each cupcake, large enough to hold ice cream
  • Fill each divot with ice cream
  • Put filled cupcakes in freezer

Prepare the meringues

  • In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites until foamy
  • Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form
  • Gradually beat in the sugar until the meringue is stiff and glossy
  • Preheat oven to the hottest setting
  • Remove the cupcakes from freezer
  • Set each cupcake on their own small place
  • Place the plates onto a baking sheet
  • Cover each cupcake with meringue using an offset spatula
  • Place the sheet into the oven until lightly browned (*pay close attention and take them out exactly when they are browned) 
  • Remove from oven
  • Pour tablespoons of brandy over each cupcake
  • Ignite the brandy and let burn until the flame subsides
  • When the flame dies down serve immediately

Or…this could happen:

We did try them, they tasted like cheap brandy… But the unlit ones (ie the ones I didn’t put in the oven/douse with brandy tasted good…)

Six Degrees of Cinema: Silence

I’m not sure how to write about SilenceAs a film fan I was struck by the beauty of the cinematography and the ambition of telling a story that in many ways is very internal, in a visual medium. As a person who, while admiring of his obvious genius, has a really complicated relationship with Martin Scorsese, I must say that I appreciate his contemplative side much more than whatever you want to call The Wolf of Wall Street

But, despite fantastic performances all around, not much of this movie stuck with me when I left the theater as I expected it to. Well, nothing artistic at least. As an exploration of religion and the nature of belief, I cannot stop thinking about it. It raised so many deep questions about martyrdom and apostasy and what faith in the face of the actual persecution looks like, and why governments engage in it. (I think it has something to do with fear of a power greater than themselves.) It’s an exploration of evangelism, and when its more dangerous for converts than liberating, what then is asked of a believer?

I don’t have answers, but its been a very long time since a movie made me think this deeply about spiritual things. So, let’s see if 1980s era Scorsese will pull that off as well with the next link, his The Last Temptation of Christ.

In this chain: Paterson – Silence

Award Show Round Up: BAFTAs 2017

So, once again, the BAFTAs and the Grammys were on the same night, and I made the totally in character decision to skip the Grammys in favor of a rather subdued, very British film award show. (Don’t worry, I’ve seen the important Adele, Beyonce, and Chance the Rapper highlights from the other show. Gotta love YouTube.)

It really was a very calm night in London. A few surprises, but no love for Moonlight at all, which is sad, but a few lovely speeches (and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were there!):

After, an inexplicable Cirque du Soleil performance, Ken Loach, director of I Daniel Blake, which I missed in theaters here and still need to see, started the night off strong with the political theme:

Then Viola, rightfully won. I unfortunately couldn’t find a clip with Hugh Grant’s little intro to this, which was very charming. But this is also time for your reminder that Ms. Davis was the leading actress in this film, and she should be winning Leading Actress awards for it:

I used to say that the BAFTAs could always be predicted by guessing who in the category is the “Most British.” In the fast few years that hasn’t really been true, but I’m going to say that’s why Dev Patel beat out Mahershela Ali last night. (Because Dev is great don’t get me wrong, but c’mon…):

I will never complain when Kenneth Lonergan wins awards:

(Also, I love how excitedly his wife claps at the beginning of this clip.)

And, once again, I agree the best performance was rewarded. (Though I do not feel like praising him is uncomplicated.)

I wish I could find a video of Sir Mark Rylance’s beautiful speech on the importance of art in dark times, but I can’t. (He gave the Best Director award to Damien Chazelle.)

This was a pretty great Lifetime Achievement award presentation:

Although I still think Natalie Portman (or Viola Davis) gave the best Leading Actress performance this year, I do love an Emma Stone speech:

I do love La La Land and I knew it was going to win, but still think Moonlight being completely shut out is really sad:

So, not the most groundbreaking show ever, and the dresses were pretty subdued, a lot of black and white with some glitter thrown in. (There’s was also strange embroidery, but I didn’t love any of those.) Here were my favorites:

The Duchess of Cambridge in Alexander McQueen (Photo Credit: Tim Rooke/REX/Shutterstock) 

Emma Stone in Chanel Couture (Photo Credit: Telegraph)

Sam Taylor-Johnson with Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Tom Ford (Photo Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Viola Davis in Jenny Packham (Photo Credit: David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock)

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Bryce Dallas Howard in Solace London (Photo Credit: Got Celeb)

Felicity Jones in Christian Dior (Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

Weekly Adventure:The Glass Menagerie

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Six Degrees of Cinema: Paterson

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

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

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

In this chain: Paterson –