Sunday, December 30, 2012


Silence! The Musical was really great. When it was over the first thing I said was, "That was perfect".

It's a musical parody of the horror movie Silence of the Lambs -- I wasn't sure what to expect. Maybe I was concerned it would be too kitschy, too odd, too strained. But, like I said, it was just perfect.

From the second the actors entered the stage till the end of the play, I was utterly entertained. The singing and dancing were terrific, and the humor, mocking the over-serious movie, was sustained throughout. I don't remember liking the film, and Silence! really exposes its absurdities. One of the standout musical numbers was "If I Could Smell Her Cunt", sung with deadpan serious longing. As one of my friends said, it offered a comedic corrective to some of the more problematic aspects (such as gender roles) of the original.

The cast seemed to be having a great time, and all the performances were excellent and spot on.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Les Miserables

For Christmas day I saw the movie Les Miserables, which just opened. The lines were crazy.

I actually liked it! Yes, it's over the top sentimental. Yes, it's drawn out melodrama. And yes, the singing dialogue could at times be a bit much (but I never found that embarrassing or awkward).

The fact is, the 157 minutes flew by. I was swept up in the story, and some of the songs were incredibly emotional. In particular, Anne Hathaway had me bawling during her wrenching "I Dreamed a Dream". The audience applauded enthusiastically. The male leads had weaker voices. Jackman had a beautiful song or too, but I thought his voice was kind of straining and thin for much of it. Russel Crowe as Javert was pretty lame. His singing I mean. Also, his acting wasn't particularly compelling, in a film where the caliber of the acting was pretty high all around. The woman playing Eponine was great too.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Queen of Versailles

Yesterday I streamed The Queen of Versailles from Netflix. This documentary is about an extremely wealthy couple who are working on building the largest home in the US, modeled on Versailles. It follows their opulent and excessive lifestyle, with more focus on the wife, Jackie, who came from a modest upbringing and married the wealthy and 30 years older man after she won a Mrs. Florida competition (or was it Mrs. America?).

She comes across as good-natured but clueless, and utterly absorbed in consumerism. Her seven kids and niece are wondering around in the backdrop. The documentary also devotes time to the people who work for them, the nannies and the housekeeper, who almost always are wearing a grim humorless expression as they pick up after these nonchalantly, self-absorbed people.

The mood shifts after the 2008 economic crisis, when David loses all his credit. They have to stop work on Versailles and lay off many (I think they said thousands) of employees. Traveling to her hometown, Jackie is reduced to flying commercial and renting a car (at Hertz when they give her the keys she asks "What's my driver's name?" without a hint of irony). At this point David comes across as curmudgeonly and obsessed with work, and you sense deep discord in the Seigel family. In fact, I wonder if they remained married after the documentary ended.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Les Troyens

I saw Les Troyens at the Met last night! I had been rather intimidated by this five hour (and fifteen minutes) opera by Berlioz, but it turned out to be amazing.

The epic drama is basically two operas in one. The first two acts concern the end of the Trojan War and focus on Cassandra and her prophecies. The last three acts concern Aeneas and Dido in Carthage. The grand production included long segments of ballet that were gorgeous and interestingly choreographed (more like contemporary dance). And a very large chorus. The sets and lighting were wonderfully evocative.

I had tried to read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, but found it impossible to follow, however, I had no trouble during the actual opera, with the help of course of the Met titles. It was thoroughly engrossing. The music was lush, and the singing, particularly Susan Graham as Dido, was amazing. Other performers included the mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill as Dido's sister, who had a lovely, deep voice, Deborah Voigt as Cassandra, who carried the whole first and second acts, Dwayne Croft who sang Coroebus, beautifully in the first and second acts, and Marcello Giordani (who I've now seen in a number of roles) as Aeneas. Most of his performance was pretty good but not really charismatic, but he had one aria that was incredible. As I said, the stand out performance was Susan Graham. Stunning.

This was a real treat. Thank you Met Varis Weekend Lottery!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Room with a View

Last night I watched the beautiful and surprisingly quirky A Room with a View.

I had seen this movie a long time ago, around when it first came out, and I had read and enjoyed the Forster novel. Watching it again, I found it charming and pleasant. The acting was terrific, and I particularly appreciated the young Helena Bonham Carter and Daniel Day Lewis.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


I really hated Skyfall. I'm just not a Bond girl I guess. Hadn't seen one since I was a kid (The Spy Who Loved Me), and now I know I haven't been missing anything all these years.

Life of Pi

Last night I saw Life of Pi in 3D. I had read the book years ago and was tremendously moved my it.

The movie, directed by Ang Lee, is incredibly beautiful. Lush, vibrant colors and haunting images.

Although I feel that they did a good job, a very good job, at translating the book, somehow something was missing. In the book, the elements of survival and the intense loneliness of being a castaway are explored in great detail, and I felt intensely gripped by the story. In addition, the bond between the boy and the tiger, Richard Parker, was more complex and moving in the novel. Last night I left the theater dry-eyed, like I did in Anna K, and these are both stories that to be fully successful must hit you in the gut.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bad Santa

I just watched my favorite Christmas movie. In fact the only Christmas movie that I really care for. Bad Santa is fantastic.

Billy Bob Thorton plays an over-the top hostile drunk who works as Santa in department stores each year waiting to steal from the safe on Christmas Eve. He works with a sober dwarf who cases the store, and who constantly has to shove Santa into shape. The story involves the people that Santa meets on a particular heist in Arizona, which includes a relationship with a woman who has a Santa fetish, and a strange, deadpan, chubby boy. Santa's unapologetic bad cheer never wavers, and yet, of course, in the end it's a heartwarming movie with a sweetness that isn't at all gooey.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Anna Karenina

Last night I saw Anna Karenina. This lush, highly stylized, beautifully and imaginatively rendered drama ultimately left me dry-eyed and unmoved.

The action was all set on an elaborate stage, which sounds hokey, but it really had an intense and surreal effect.

The acting was all very good, but I didn't feel any kind of emotional investment. When I read the novel, I remember being very drawn in and crying and having trouble putting it down. Perhaps the ultra stylized presentation, the artifice of the theater, was what created that distance. I think in particular the disintegration of the core love story and Anna's unraveling were somewhat glossed over, and this had been one of the most interesting parts of the book.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Just watched Diner -- wow, what a great little movie.

I had seen it years and years and years ago (it came out in 82), and I was nervous that it wouldn't hold up.

But, being a period piece, and being inherently steeped in nostalgia, it didn't just hold up, but got better with age.

The actors, Guttenberg, Bacon, Rourke, Reiser, and Barkin, were all so young -- their youth is almost painful to look at. Something I of course couldn't appreciate at the time because they were all older than me. But now they seem like just kids.

And that's what Diner is about, a group of boys, arrested adolescents in modern parlance, who are floundering in their young adulthood, unable to really thrive or pick up any traction with their lives, so they gravitate around each other in what has become known as a bromance.

The movie has a few plot strands, but really it's about the hanging out, the bonding, the feel of the group. Each of the characters is looking for more, perhaps, than the diner crowd, but at the moment they are content with where they are. The bittersweet thing is that the viewer knows that the eventually, sooner rather than later, life will sweep them up, that this charmed time will not last.

Back to the Future

The other night I watched Back to the Future on an HBO channel. I missed the beginning, and came in right where Marty and the scientist are being chased by "Libyans". Right before he lands in the past.

I had of course seen this in 85 when it came out and thought it was a very fun well-done movie back then. And actually it holds up. Silly and broad in ways, and cliche, it still has an engaging plot and moves at a good pace, so I never got bored or irritated. I was always uncomfortable about the sexual attraction between Marty and his mother in the 50s, but other than that, it's a sweet fun flick.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Wizard of Oz

I caught The Wizard of Oz on TBS last night. I missed the first twenty minutes, the black and white part in Kansas, and tuned in just as Dorothy was first stepping in Oz.

It is such a wonderful kids movie. I remember loving it so much as a child. It was fascinating, and gorgeous, and really scary and intense and sad. The scenes with the witch were so, so scary, and it was so disappointing the times that Oz let them down.

Of course, after seeing it so many times and being an adult and all, it doesn't have the same hold on me. But it's still a great story, and I was sorry I missed the beginning.

I wonder if kids today like it as much as my generation did. I remember I had a wonderful toy Emerald City, that closed into a box and had dolls of all the main characters.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Public Speaking

Last night I watched Public Speaking, a documentary by Martin Scorsese about Fran Lebowitz, that consists primarily of an extended interview with her spliced with segments of her, well, public speaking.

I had not known much about Lebowitz. Was aware of her as a NYC public figure, a hip figure, a literary figure. But I didn't know anything specifically.

Wow, is she a formidable woman. So fucking smart, so wry and cutting. So refreshingly and unapologetically elitist. I came away from the documentary really impressed with her and interested in reading her two main books of essays. Also, I would love the opportunity to some day see her speak.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Game Change

I thought Game Change was just okay. It is interesting and engaging, but not really anything that leaves you thinking.

It follows the decision to choose Sarah Palin as the vice presidential candidate on McCain's ticket, and focuses on her during that campaign. It's crazy how little knowledge she had, and at times you even feel sorry for her.

The acting -- Ed Harris, Julianne Moore, and Woody Harrelson -- was impeccable. Ed Harris's McCain was a true statesman and gentleman, and Julianne Moore's Palin was spot on.

Game Change touched on how she vitalized the far right fringe of the Republican party, but didn't really go into that aspect, how she roused the wing-nuts...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Descendants

Alexander Payne's The Descendants is a warm, slightly quirky, mildly funny, definitely poignant drama about a man trying to bring his family together at a time of grief.

The wife of the character played by George Clooney is in a coma and it is time to pull the plug. At this time, Clooney discovers that she had been having an affair. He has to deal with the mixed feelings of loss and rage and betrayal, and the narrative arc of the movie centers on him trying to find her lover to let him know that she is dying.

The pacing and acting of The Descendants is breezy and relaxed. The action takes place on the Hawaiian islands, where the family owns land, and the music and beauty of the surroundings seep into the sorrow of melodrama, keeping it from reaching any kind of screeching or overwrought notes. This was a good thing. However, sometimes the actors seemed too casual for the circumstances, and there was something strange about the lack of intense crying (one character had a moment at the end that was pretty amazing).

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Storm King

I spent the day at Storm King Art Center in Moutainville, NY. Two hours leisurely strolling the extensive grounds allowed us to see a lot of wonderful sculpture, but only a fraction of the total work. 

The art worked wonderfully with the landscape, which gave majesty to many of the pieces. I enjoyed the iconic di Suvero pieces, as well as some of the modest Calder works. There was a Buddha whose face was submerged in the ground with suspended giant feet (Three Legged Buddha, by Zhang Huan) that was a lot of fun, and a couple of interesting pieces low to the ground by Nam June Paik called Waiting for UFO. Indoors there was a wonderful Louise Bourgeois made of small pieces of granite spread on the floor. But I decided that my favorite work of the day was two sculptures by Chakaia Booker, each made of black rubber. I think what I enjoyed about it so much was the thick, feathery texture of the pieces.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Greenberg is a tense movie by the director of Margot at the Wedding, another movie about difficult people struggling to connect.

Greenberg stars Ben Stiller as an angry, frustrated 40 year old man whose life hasn't worked out as he had hoped. He is house-sitting for his wealthy brother, and reconnects with friends from his past. He also develops a relationship with his brother's assistant. But he pushes everyone away with his self absorption, his irritability, and his hostile outbursts. Most intriguing, disturbing, and somehow charming, was the connection between Greenberg and the assistant, Florence. Although he was abusive toward her, and you don't really want her to be with them, there was something sweet and promising there as well.

Although the movie includes some amusing moments, for the most part I found it too uncomfortable and unsettling to really laugh.

Death by Fire

Today I watched the Frontline episode, Death by Fire, about the Cameron Todd Willingham case. Willingham was executed in Texas for the arson-murder of his three baby daughters. The forensic evidence at the time of the deaths was apparently conclusive, but years later, as he was on death row, other more sophisticated arson experts scrutinized the case and concluded that there was no evidence of arson.

He was executed anyway, and his case has been used by death penalty opponents as proof that an innocent man was executed.

I had been familiar with this story because a few years ago I read an excellent article in the New Yorker about him, and the documentary didn't add too much to it, although it presented interviews with people that remained convinced of his guilt...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Plea

This week I watched The Plea, a Frontline documentary about the plea bargaining process in the criminal justice system.

With 90% of all criminal cases plea bargained, and only the remaining 10% going to trial, it is important for people to be aware of the injustices in this process, and the institutionally acceptable forms of bullying and coercion that are rampant. The Plea looks at several specific cases, all of them people who are innocent of the crimes they ultimately plead guilty to. This was compelling. However, it would be interesting to explore cases of guilt as well -- which would be a more difficult documentary, really getting at the complexities of the issue.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Schindler's List

Although at first I was a bit bored with the pacing, I soon became fully engaged in Schindler's List, Steven Spielberg's 1990s film about the Holocaust.

Filmed beautifully in black and white, Schindler's List is about a German industrialist who starts off exploiting Jewish labor during the Nazi regime, and ends up so deeply affected by the brutal, brutal treatment and eventually extermination of the Jews that he uses his entire fortune to save them.

It is a moving and memorable and important story. In many ways Spielberg did a brilliant job rendering it. But in spite of the subject matter I couldn't help but feel there was something schmaltzy about it, overly sentimental. The artistic cinematography worked against gritty realism, and sentimentalized or stylized the content. Other than the three leads (Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley) who were outstanding, the characters and the acting was rather two-dimensional and even corny.

I know it's kind of sacrilegious to criticize Schindler's List... I admit I'm dehydrated from crying throughout the entire last hour.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Heavenly Creatures

This morning I watched Heavenly Creatures, a movie from the 90s which I LOVED when it came out. I'm pleased to say it holds up.

Heavenly Creatures is about two teenage girls who develop an extremely intense friendship built on a shared, symbiotic fantasy life. The friendship is all-consuming and sexual, and each girls' family is concerned.
When the family of one of the pair decides to relocate out of the country, the girls, immersed in fantasy, decide to kill the other's mother (this isn't a spoiler -- the murder is plain at the beginning). As Pauline writes in her diary, she understands why she and Juliette are not understood by those around them: "it's because we are both stark, raving mad!"

The director did a brilliant job rendering the fantasies, and the acting by the entire cast was terrific. The film features a very young Kate Winslet (one of my favorite actresses), who is the charismatic one, and the actress playing the sullen and odd Pauline was wonderfully creepy.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My Awesome Place: The Autobiography of Cheryl B

I just finished My Awesome Place: The Autobiography of Cheryl B.

This warm, wry, upsetting memoir focuses on Cheryl Burke's late teens in New Jersey and her twenties in downtown NYC. Corny to say, but it's a coming of age story, about a young woman from a brutal home finding her awesome place in the downtown arts scene. Most moving is the way she rebels against the limitations of her family milieu (her guidance counselor suggested she be a toll booth collector) and insists on being an independent artist.

Her memoir ends at the moment when she chooses sobriety, when she takes a step away from the exciting social chaos of her life, and turns toward the future. Unfortunately, Cheryl Burke's future was tragically short. She died at 38 of "medical malpractice" as it states in the forward, or, complications for Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The afterward by her girlfriend was beautiful and I feel lucky to have had a glimpse into this remarkable woman's life and art.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Every Mother's Son POV

Today I watched Every Mother's Son (POV), a documentary telling the story of three different men who were murdered by NYC police officers, the most famous being Amadou Diallo. The film focuses on the perspective of the victims' mothers, while drawing attention to the issue of police brutality, and the lack of accountability for officers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My Awesome Place: Book Release

I went to a terrific reading tonight at Bluestockings celebrating the publication of My Awesome Place: The Autobiography of Cheryl B.

Several writers read selections of the book, which chronicles Cheryl Burke's difficult teen years, struggling with obesity and suicidality, abusive parents, and terrible alienation. The autobiography tells the story of her finding a home in the downtown arts scene of the 1990s, and her finding her own voice and becoming the spoken word artist Cheryl B.

The writing was very touching and funny and I can't wait to read the book (I got the very last copy they had!).

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

Last night I saw the Pina Bausch company (Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch) perform at BAM.

The program was "... como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si..." (Like moss on a stone).

The dance was a series of bleak, disturbing, and beautiful vignettes. The dancers often let themselves be manipulated by other dancers in an uncomfortable and wooden passivity, and then would often erupt in bursts of anger and injustice. Particularly salient was the relationship between men and women, fraught with longing, inability to connect, obstacles, and, at times, violence and intrusion.

A number of the segments were portrayed in the astounding Wim Wenders documentary, Pina.

A very dramatic, strange, and narrative form of dance, it was haunting, thoroughly engaging, and mesmerizing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sister My Sister

I don't know what I think about Sister My Sister, an other movie about the Papin sisters. A few years ago I watched Murderous Maids, so I was very familiar with the story. Like that film, Sister My Sister is claustrophobic and slow.

Although the incestuous relationship is kind of fascinating, I felt that the intense, murderous, insane rage was somehow not quite developed. They gauged the eyes out of their employer and violently murdered her and her daughter. Yet I didn't feel a build up to this. Yes, they were intense and crazy and weird. But the violence didn't seem to fit with the rest of the mood, and I felt more perplexed at the end than anything else.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is a fabulous documentary focusing on an amazing woman.

Joan Rivers' humor is showcased, and I don't think I ever appreciated how funny she is. She is brilliant.

But what made this documentary so riveting is the force of her personality: she is powerfully driven to perform, and puts absolutely all of herself into her career. And its an incredible self. She is wise, angry, truthful, self-aware, and unafraid. These qualities, combined with a genuine vulnerability, made this feel like an important and touching film about a fiercely unique artist.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The House I Live In

Eugene Jarecki's The House I Live In is a sprawling indictment of the war on drugs.

I saw it the other night in the movie theater, and was riveted the entire time. I was familiar with many of the arguments and issues presented, but still thought this is a very important documentary for Americans to see. It exposes the alarming crisis of mass incarceration and places blame on draconian drug policies which have destroyed many communities, particularly lower income African American communities.

The talking heads included David Simon, Michele Alexander, David Kennedy, and a fascinating (though wooden) historian who made an interesting argument comparing the war on drugs to Nazi policies.

The House I Live In explores damaging and problematic drug usage, however it focused on the use of poor minorities, rather than looking at the widespread use of drugs, including legal pharmaceuticals, throughout society, which would have altered the story he was telling a bit.

Monday, October 8, 2012


I was very disappointed in Hysteria, a movie starring Maggie Gyllenhaal about the invention of the vibrator in 19th Century London.

I'm fascinated by this era, and the history of the medico-psychiatric treatment neurotic and repressed women, in particular, the practice of bringing women to orgasm in a clinical setting...

This movie was comical and took too light a touch. In spite of the subject matter, it seemed like a PG-13 made-for-TV-movie. I didn't enjoy it at all.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Real CSI

The other day I watched a Frontline documentary, The Real CSI, which examines all the quackery involved in forensic evidence (other than DNA). Particularly shocking was the critical look at fingerprint analysis, which is flawed and has lead to misidentifications. In spite of this, the public is still more easily persuaded by spurious physical evidence than they are by other forms of evidence.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenco

Last night was amazing. I saw Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenco at the Joyce.

Every aspect of the performance was passionate and soulful. The singers were so emotional and gut wrenching, and the dancers, while being impeccably controlled, were wild and pushed to the limit.

There is nothing both so raw and dignified, so virile and vulnerable.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Crips and Bloods: Made in America

Crips and Bloods: Made in America is a concise documentary that explores the origins of the gangs in South Central Los Angeles, providing a social history of the violence that has so seriously impacted these communities.

The film includes interviews with former gang members, as well as a lot of footage of South Central during the 60s and 70s, such as the Watts riot. It brings attention to the consequences of social inequality and the larger society's abandonment of minority communities. It makes a clear argument about race and explores the changes in African American communities after the Civil Rights era.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The David Ricard Big Band!

On Monday night I saw the David Ricard Big Band with Lucy Woodward perform at Typhoon in Santa Monica. The music was so exciting and invigorating. New, complex takes on pop music as well as more standard jazz numbers such as Pass the Peas. The 18 piece (?) band was stellar, and was joined with singer Lucy Woodward for about a third of the numbers. Her sultry vocals and energy were fantastic. And band leader David Ricard was funny, gracious and entertaining. A wonderfully energetic evening.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I saw an amazing group show today, Word at Corridor Gallery.

Curated by Meridith McNeal, Word presents the visual work of 17 artists whose images incorporate text, all in unique and magical ways. The pieces all worked exceedingly well with each other and it was a fantastic show. 

All were wonderful, but some standouts: Hawley Hussey's "And all the old romances, retold in exactly the ancient way" -- small shadow boxes with phrases from Treasure Island, and evocative gold paint on the glass; David Camacho's colorful mixed media sculpture boxes, "La Semilla (The Seed)"; Meg Hitchcock-Steger's works (detail pictured) made from letters cut from the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Bible); Sameeh Alderazi's prints depicting ancient poetry; and Guiseppe Di Lelio & Meridith McNeal's collaborative drawings inspired by Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities.

Other artists included Dennis Buonagura, John Casey, Cecile Chong, Ernest Concepcion, Carrie Cooperrider, Yolanda Gonzalez, Damond Haynes, Glenn Ligon, Iviva Olenick, Gabriel Pacheco, and Marie Roberts.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Willian Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe

I just finished watching William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, a documentary about an impassioned, successful, committed, civil rights attorney who ended his career as a criminal defense lawyer on heinous cases. The documentary was made by his daughters who try to piece together his career and make sense of the choices he made toward the end of it.

The footage of the civil rights movement, anti-war protests, Attica riots and massacre, and the Wounded Knee standoff were wonderful, and he emerges as an intense fighter for justice. His daughters don't do a great job explaining his transformation to criminal cases, and I didn't feel I got much insight into it. Except that I think part of it has to do with how the times had changed from the 60s and 70s into the 80s and 90s.

It was rewarding to learn that the rapist in the Central Park jogger case who he defended was years later exonerated. It sort of vindicates Kunstler, and it was a good note to end the documentary on, as if he always had right on his side.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Queer Memoir

Last night I went to a wonderful event at Queers for Economic Justice, Queer Memoir.

This was a reading event featuring several different storytellers, who each told poignant and humorous tales, and each had a unique and charming presentation style.

Readers included Allison Grillo, Andre Azevedo, DW Shanley, Jade Foster, Lenny Zenith, M. Tauret Davis, Sarah Schulman, and Kelli Dunham.

I was moved and entertained by the whole event.

Friday, August 31, 2012

An American Tragedy

I am so glad to be done with Dreiser's An American Tragedy!

In spite of an over-written and plodding prose, this novel is very engaging for the first two thirds (about 600 pages I believe). Although I was familiar with the story and knew the ending, I was sucked into the conflicted and yearning mentality of the protagonist, Clyde, and was interested in the plot.

However, once the "main event" happens, the climax the narrative had been building up to, the book takes a serious downturn. There is an incredibly drawn out courtroom section which repeats, in great detail, all the events I had already read about. Towards the very, very end I found myself again interested, but really, a giant chunk of this book was a major drag.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Girls, Visions and Everything

I just finished Girls, Visions and Everything by Sarah Schulman. What an exciting, crackling book!

It's about a group of cool young theater dykes in the East Village in 1984, and, while exploring intimate relationships and sexuality it captures the distinct -- at times disturbing -- energy of New York City at that point in time.

The writing is terrific, propelling you forward with wit and humor, and the relationship at the core of the novel is sexy, tough, and touching.

It made me feel nostalgic for New York in the 80s, when there was still grit and tension in the city, still places to be poor and young. Although not safe. The dangerousness and bravery of being openly gay permeates. Anyway, it really captures a specific period of time, the early gentrification of downtown while there was simultaneously a thriving arts scene. It gave me a similar feeling as the Keith Haring show I saw recently, documenting a sliver of a moment.

A quote from Girls, Visions and Everything:

"There were so many feelings going around at the same time. There was the global plane, where, frankly, things looked bad and nobody wanted to face it. Like the neighborhood changing. Everybody knew it was going to happen and then that it was happening. Now it had finally happened. Just like the grotesque certainty of Ronald Reagan's re-election, no one could really accept how much more cruelty they'd have to see. But summer also brought new dimensions of feeling on the street, with different kinds of love and sex for each person. You saw someone and you wanted to touch them because you loved them, or because you didn't know them and they're pretty. Because they had a way of wearing an earring, or turning and smiling, or long special fingers. Your heart would just melt for that second and you'd want to kiss her breasts or suck his cock, the way Sal did. The air was murky and think enough to hide anybody's shyness. Because, even when the shit is hitting the fan, people still have good times."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lyle Lovett at Celebrate

Lyle Lovett and the Lyle Lovett Acoustic Group performed last night at Celebrate and it was an AWESOME concert. Really energized me and exhilarated me. I was so impressed by the musicianship, the talent, the professionalism, and the generosity of everyone on stage.

The set included a number of songs I wasn't familiar with, as well as hits from the albums Pontiac and Joshua Judges Ruth.

Lovett brought out a guest singer, who's name I forget, who added jazzy warmth to the songs. He was generous with his musicians' solos, and he gave his musicians a lot of solo time. They were all so great, particularly the fiddler, who did the most amazing fiddling solo I have ever heard. It's hard to categorize Lovett's music, because it isn't straight country. It's very bluesy as well.

The opening act was Aoife O'Donovan who performed original work, as well as a cover of one of my favorite Paul Simon songs, Hearts and Bones.  She has a very pretty voice, and Lovett brought her into his set to do backup vocals.

It was a fabulous night, a terrific concert, and Celebrate Brooklyn is just a fantastic performing arts series, every year a great season.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Complexions at Celebrate

The dance company Complexions presented a wonderful, exuberant, eclectic, and rousing performance at Celebrate last night.

The first piece used a kind of music I can't quite describe, like religious organ music meets house. That doesn't really capture it, but it worked well with the complexly beautiful moves.  There wasn't a program for the evening, so I don't know much about the music. Except that the whole last act used U2 music and it was enthralling and fun and really a great way to spend a slightly humid, slightly balmy night in Brooklyn.

Statement from the Celebrate website:
Inspired by artistic directors Dwight Rhoden, “one of the most sought out choreographers of the day,” (NY Times) and Desmond Richardson, “one of the great modern dancers of his time,” (NY Times) and their pronounced appreciation for the multicultural, COMPLEXIONS’ unique mix of methods, styles, and cultures has created an entirely new and exciting vision of human movement. The company’s foremost innovation is that dance should be about removing boundaries, not reinforcing them. Whether it be the limiting traditions of a single style, period, venue, or culture, Complexions transcends them all, creating an open, continually evolving form of dance that reflects the movement of our world—and all its constituent cultures—as an interrelated whole. At Celebrate Brooklyn! the company performs excerpts from a selection of recent works, including Moonlight, Choke, Testament, Rise, and What Come, Thereafer, and Mercy, which is dedicated to the memory of Patrick Swayze.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Straight Man

Richard Russo's Straight Man is a wonderful novel! A very entertaining, clever, layered send up of life in academia. Laugh out loud humor. Excellent satire, the characters are richly drawn with both affection and disdain.  Although it takes place in a short period of time, the story has many different narrative strands -- all of which get tied up at the end, perhaps a little too neatly.

Although a lighter read than Empire Falls, Straight Man has an emotional center that makes for a moving ending and a satisfying read.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hannah and Her Sisters

I watched Hannah and Her Sisters last night, a Woody Allen movie about the intertwined lives of three sisters. There are several narrative strands, but the central story line concerns an affair between Lee (played by Barbara Hershey) and Hannah's husband (Michael Caine).

The tempo, dialogue, dramatic focus, and look of the movie were all excellent. Woody Allen really captured New York in the mid 80s. The film included internal monologues of the main characters, which really helped draw me in and feel connected. The tension around the central affair was also very well done.

I guess I was left wondering how we were supposed to feel about the adulterous couple, particularly Lee, who seemed very sweet and reasonable, and yet did such a despicable thing.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Metropolitan Opera Recital in Brooklyn Bridge Park

Last night, in 90 degree humidity, I made the awkward trek to the lovely and tucked away Brooklyn Bridge Park to hear a Metropolitan Opera recital.

The singers were Danielle de Niese, Dimitri Pittas, and John Del Carlo.  They were all wonderful! In addition to having beautiful voices, they were all charismatic light-hearted performers, with a very welcoming and friendly stage presence.

The program was very full, about two hours long, with an intermission. The first act featured several arias and duets from Don Pasquale, as well as selections from Le Nozze di Figaro and La Boheme, among others. The second act was fabulous, but they changed the program from what's listed, and I can't remember what they performed.

The view behind the stage was beautiful. Right on the East River, we were treated to a stunning New York skyline. This picture of us was snapped by Pittas and posted on facebook. Meridita, Rachel and I are in there somewhere!

Friday, July 27, 2012


Last night I watched Manhattan, a Woody Allen movie I had originally seen when it first came out, when I was a kid.

Manhattan is beautiful. Filmed in black and white, and an ode to the city, it is, like Annie Hall, a bittersweet and wistful love story. Allen's character has two love interests, a sweet and lovely 17 year old, played by Muriel Hemingway, and his best friend's neurotic mistress, played by Diane Keaton.

The movie focuses on the relationships of New York intellectuals, flawed, self-absorbed characters stumbling and fumbling forward. Like Annie Hall, this story isn't just humorously cerebral -- Manhattan also has real heart, and, also like Annie Hall, a very touching final scene.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Louis CK Chewed Up

The other night I watched Louis CK's Chewed Up on Watch Instantly.

I had seen some of his bits before, and recently there was some controversy about him, so I felt like checking him out.

He was very funny! The beginning routine about the "faggot" word was offensive to me, and totally oblivious to how hateful the word can be when used by certain people, and how homophobic it is even when it is used in more benign settings.

But after that segment I began to really like his work. Particularly the parts about being overweight and overeating!

Since watching this I've started watching episodes of his TV show (on Netflix), Louie, which is funny and also pretty dark and awkward.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Annie Hall

Last night I watched Annie Hall, and I LOVED it.  

All the things that sometimes bug me about Woody Allen -- his nervous skittishness, his self-absorption, etc. -- were there. But they weren't as overwhelming and they seemed less like a superficial form of shtick and more like a genuine, sincere, conflicted and struggling sensibility that I was capable of sympathizing with.

Annie Hall is a love story. It starts out with Allen's character trying to figure out what went wrong with his relationship with the quirky Annie, and the movie is a set of flashbacks that explore his childhood and other relationships while telling the story of how he they met, how they connected, and how their problems emerged.  There were a lot of cute devices, like people stepping out of the fourth wall and talking to the camera, etc, which I found effective and charming.

The last lines of the film were really poignant. After running into Annie at some point after their relationship has ended, he reflects: 

It was great seeing Annie again and I realized what a terrific person she was and how much fun it was just knowing her and I thought of that old joke, you know, the, this, this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, 'Doc, uh, my brother's crazy, he thinks he's a chicken,' and uh, the doctor says, 'well why don't you turn him in?' And the guy says, 'I would, but I need the eggs.' Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships. You know, they're totally irrational and crazy and absurd and, but uh, I guess we keep going through it...because...most of us need the eggs.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Yesterday morning I streamed Sleeper from Netflix and was thoroughly delighted. What a fun, decadent way to spend the morning on a day off!

Sleeper is his 73 comedy about a man who was frozen and wakes up 200 years in the future. He is wanted as an "alien" and hilarity ensues as he poses as a robot, captures and later befriends a ditsy woman (Diane Keaton) and the two of them try to elude the evil but inept security agents.

It's really broad comedy, which I don't really like, but every word that came out of Woody Allen's mouth was clever and funny and endearing.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Woody Allen: A Documentary

Last night I watched the two part Woody Allen: A Documentary, available on Watch Instantly.

This film includes lots of wonderful footage from the early days of Allen's career, as well as interviews with him now and interviews with people who have worked with him, some who have worked with him his entire career.  Mostly it focused on his artistic process and development, and chronologically covered the majority of his films. It spent more time chronicling his creative transitions and choices in his early works, and moved more quickly through the 80s and after. It did a good job bringing out the unique strengths of some of these movies, and I am soon going to have to see again: Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Match Point (some of my favorites, not to forget Love and Death, Zelig and Stardust Memories).

Some things that stood out was his constant engagement with new work and his devoted writing process. He has been using the same manual typewriter his entire career, and has stacks of notes that include sketches and ideas. Very old school. As for his obsession with death, he stated: "We all know the same truth, and our lives consist of how we distort it."

I would have liked the documentary to explore his personal life more, and the relationship between that and his creative live; particularly, of course, I wanted to hear what he had to say about the Soon Yi thing, but the short section devoted to that focused on his reaction to the publicity at the time the scandal broke.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Empire Falls

Last night I finished Russo's Empire Falls, a novel I have been meaning to read for about a decade.

I very much enjoyed the first half or two thirds of the book. It centers on the manager of a diner in an economically depressed small town in Maine. The cast of characters is richly developed, with both compassion and humor on the author's part, and the interior struggles of Miles, the protagonist, are touchingly rendered. This history of the once booming town based on one family's industry was also interesting.

But toward the end it sped up in a way that felt almost like a different book. Although I was deeply moved by the plot surrounding Miles' working through his relationship with his mother, I felt that most of the plot strands were hastily wrapped up or in some ways left unresolved.

Still, I was very engrossed in this, and particularly enjoyed the humor; so at some point I'll definitely read another of his books.

Oh, and I only JUST NOW got the quasi-pun in the title of the book, and the name of the town...(fallen empire...)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

To Rome, with Love

Last night I saw To Rome, with Love, the latest Woody Allen movie.

It was pleasant to watch, but really kind of nothingish in the end. Four separate stories set in the city, centering on love, fame and folly. As always in his movies, there was an excellent cast, but unfortunately no performance really stood out, and no character was particularly interesting. Alec Baldwin was fun, as was Roberto Begnini. But the rest of the actors didn't seem to bring much to the fairly thin material they had to work with.

I guess I thought it had a rushed, unserious quality. Like I said, it was pleasant to watch, but there just wasn't much depth or anything really to respond to or think about. All surface..