Sunday, May 29, 2011


I had some mixed feelings about Transamerica. On one hand it's a very solid film. On the other it seems off in several moments, and many of the characters were sort of two dimensional.

Transamerica stars Felicity Huffman as Bree, a pre-op trans woman. Her performance is excellent. She conveys a range of emotions, such as fear, hope, and insecurity, with an awkward dignity that makes her a real, full character. Some of the fussy mannerisms seemed like an odd choice to me. Bree's chosen style of womanhood seemed old fashioned and caricature-ish, but it created a tension that was important to the film.

The narrative centers around Bree connecting to a son she never knew she had. He is a sullen fuck up and lost soul, and although there was a lot of potential there, I felt this character was thinly drawn. As was Bree's family members. Particularly her mother who was monstrous in an unreal way that seemed almost cartoonish.

It's sounding like I didn't like Transamerica, but I did. Felicity Huffman was amazing, there were some great scenes, and it's an interesting (if contrived) story.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Panic in Needle Park

The Panic in Needle Park is a gritty, depressing, unsentimental movie from 1971 with Al Pacino and Kitty Winn. They play heroin users who are in love, and the film is like an extreme close-up of their relationship.

It is rather slow, and is much more character-driven than plot driven. The directing was strong in a claustrophobic, disturbing way that I appreciate. And the acting was excellent.

I usually don't care for junkie movies, but this takes place in 1970 in "Needle Park" on 72nd and Broadway. I grew up on West 78th, and was curious about whether I'd recognize the neighborhood (I didn't). For some reason I was also drawn to the title. And vintage Pacino...

The screenplay, surprisingly, is by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne and it is directed by Jerry Schatzberg. There were many acutely tense moments, and the ending was powerful (and had an understated pathos to it... very moving.)

Barnacle Bill and The Major Toms

I had a great time last night at The Bowery Electric. I saw Barnacle Bill, a pop-rock band that was really fun and had a lot of great songs. There was something vaguely eighties, without being campy in any way, that I particularly liked about them.

The The Major Toms, a band that performed all Bowie songs. The first couple were unfamiliar to me, and they were fucking great. The songs, the band, the lead singer in particular. They totally rocked, hard. And the sound was terrific.

All in all a great night of excellent music.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lady Gaga The Monster Ball Tour

Last night at my mother's house I watched the HBO special, Lady Gaga: The Monster Ball Tour.

I missed the first 20 minutes, but what I saw was really fabulous. She rocks very hard and has terrific energy and a strong voice. I love her wild, aggressive aesthetic and really enjoy her hit pop numbers. I was only aware of about four or five songs: Bad Romance, Poker Face, Alejandro... so most of the numbers I was not familiar with, but I was riveted by her, her clothes, the choreography, the music.

When she talked to the audience she was slightly insipid, but it wasn't that annoying. Her message is, don't ever not feel like a star.

Anyway, I might have to make my mother rewind the DVR so I can watch the beginning of the concert. Also, think I'm going to have download those Gaga hits.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Registered Sex Offender

Last night I watched an indie mockumentary, Registered Sex Offender, on Watch Instantly. I had never heard of it and it was recommended to me by Netflix.

Directed by Bob Byington, this is a snarky, irreverent, dark comedy following an obnoxious (but funny), recalcitrant, and lazy sex offender as he reenters the community after a prison sentence. He and the filmmakers make a mockery of the system and the absurdity of policies like forcing people to go door to door and introduce themselves as registered sex offenders.

True to the style of mockumentaries and the new aesthetic of the awkward, there were many subtly amusing, tense scenes that I confess I enjoyed watching. Particularly the scenes of group therapy, individual therapy, and community service. However, the difficulty of the subject matter and the fuck-you-attitude of the anti-hero made me uncomfortable, and I'm not sure over all how I felt about Registered Sex Offender. The ending in particular kind of confounded me; it didn't seem in the spirit of the whole piece. Also, at times I was aware of the actors acting, which was slightly distracting. Although for the most part I think they did a great job.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Toy Story 3

Totally enjoyed Toy Story 3!

Cried like a baby at the end.

(Skipped Toy Story 2)

This one is about the fate of the toys after their owner, Andy, grows up and prepares to leave for college. The adventure parts of the movie were kind of scary, and I wondered if it was too scary for kids. Then I remembered how good it felt as a child to be scared by an animated movie, and realized that the resolution makes up for the intense fear, and that the experience can be cathartic.

The ending, sentimental as it was, was very moving and satisfying. Totally had me in tears.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Toy Story

I watched Toy Story because I have heard such good things about Toy Story 3 and feel like I have to watch all of them to watch the third one. It's stupid, I know. But people have told me they're all good.

And Toy Story was pretty damn good. Not amazing or anything, but totally engaging. The animation was excellent. The narrative and characters were a bit of one-dimensional (and I realize it's really for kids), but the writing was good enough that I wasn't bored at any time. So I guess I liked it.

My favorite part were the creepy toys that the bad kid made. It was scary when Woody and Buzz were trapped in the room with them, and I bet it must have been terrifying for children.

One thing I thought was interesting was a sort of implied class thing with the bad kid. His home environment was physically decrepit. He slept on a bare mattress and his carpet was threadbare and holey. I don't know what to make of that. It's just something I noticed and feel kind of critical of, but I haven't really unpacked that criticism.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Rigoletto at the Met (encore)

I won tickets to the Met AGAIN. This time was for Rigoletto, which I had seen earlier this year with Meridita. It is such a powerful opera with such great music that I was very excited to see it again.

And I'm very glad I did! It was wonderful! Possibly one of my favorite operas. The characters are very interesting (though none quite likable). I thought last night's Rigoletto, played by Zeljko Lucic was incredible. His emotion was so strong, and his singing powerful in this dreadfully good intense way. Also amazing was Nino Machaidze who sang Gilda. Her voice was just incredible, and, as my friend Leah pointed out, the duets with Lucic had a terrific musical and artistic chemistry. The entire second act was a delight, with one terrific musical moment after another.

I was also very taken by Giuseppe Filianoti as the Duke, and Stefan Kocan as Sparafucile, the assassin (I think I've seen Kocan perform before).

Okay, confession time: Friday nights are hard for me after a long week of work, and the glass of wine at Tout Va Bien in Hell's kitchen didn't help: I fell asleep! During the scene in the inn in the third act; it wasn't that I was bored, it was just that I was so tired. And the long intermissions really drain your steam. It was embarrassing though. I snored and Leah had to jab me!!!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Billy the Kid

I just watched a very sweet, fascinating, intimate documentary. Billy the Kid, directed by Jennifer Venditti follows a fifteen year old boy over the course of a few weeks (I think). Billy is a social outcast in his high school, and he has a very earnest, odd manner that is endearing in this complex way.

The filmmaker zeros in on him, and it becomes this wonderful window into a very special vulnerable soul. Billy has something "wrong" with him. He is an odd kid. In the interview with the director on the DVD -- which is very much worth watching -- it emerges that he has Aspergers. But the director didn't want to label him, she wanted the viewer to experience him and experience his viewpoint. This was a great choice, because it removes an intrusive and facile clinical perspective and instead opens up the story-telling and exploration of character.

Billy the Kid kind of centers on an awkward romantic narrative, where Billy gets his first girlfriend. It's very tender, and silly, and just kind of amazing to watch. His relationship with his mother is also very touching. He asks her these straight-forward honest questions, like : "why is it when I'm attracted to her my heart beats like it's about to burst?"

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad is breathtaking! It's an incredible work of fiction, beautifully and intelligently rendered.

It's a series of stories with interconnected characters, told from all different points of view and going back and forth in time. Each chapter brought me really into the characters, because the writing was so detailed and rich and every scene was so real. Each worked wonderfully on its own. But what was amazing was how it came together, how you got a panoramic view of contemporary life, at the same time that there was so much intimacy.

I was deeply moved at many points, and by the end I was simply blown away.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Murder of Emmett Till

Just watched a 2003 PBS American Experience program, The Murder of Emmett Till.

I hadn't known much about this case, not much more than it was a famous lynching of a black boy who whistled at a white woman in the South. The Murder of Emmett Till tells the story very well, in a pretty basic, straight-forward narrative. Because it was so high profile at the time, there was plenty of footage. It seemed even as the events unfolded that people realized something historical was happening.

This is a well done 53 minute piece. Not a ton of analysis or anything, but it gives a strong sense of the ugly and pervasive racism of the South in the 1950s, as well as of the significance of this event for the civil rights movement.


Last night I watched Sybil -- I hadn't seen it since I was a kid. (I can't believe my parents let me watch it!) It is so creepy and actually surprisingly well done. I don't quite know what I had expected, but I really got into it. Yes, it's got a little of a cheesy/dated quality to it, but it was totally engrossing.

The story is well known (in fact I read the book when I was a kid too), about a woman with multiple personalities who was horribly tortured by her sadistic and crazy mother as a child.

Sally Field plays the part so well that it was painful to watch, and Joanne Woodward was calm and warm and nurturing and patient as the psychiatrist/good mother who helps her get well.

The ending comes on kind of quickly, and it's wrapped up a little too neatly with a cathartic scene at the end. But it was still satisfying.

I feel like I should be critical of the doctor-as-savior thing (and really it was kind of unbelievable that this woman spent all her time and personal energy on one patient who never pays her), but I couldn't help being sucked into the ideal therapeutic relationship and I kind of bought it hook line and sinker...