Sunday, July 28, 2013

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine is wonderful. Woody Allen's most recent movie is his darkest and most focused. This tight character study stars Kate Blanchett as Jasmine, an excessively wealthy woman whose crooked Madoff-esque husband loses all their money and is imprisoned. She moves to stay with her sister in San Francisco while she tries to get her life in order.

She is emotionally disturbed (talks to herself, pops pills and swigs booze constantly), and there is a long history of animosity between her and her sister, Ginger. The conflict between them as well as between tertiary characters is less superficial than conflict in other Allen movies. It is gripping and tangled conflict that can't be easily resolved. Or easily laughed at.

There were definitely laugh out loud moments in Blue Jasmine, but for the most part this is a serious and sad drama about an isolated, self-deceived woman. Her neurosis and narcissism are less charming than the qualities are in other Woody Allen heroines, and are instead disturbing and sad. This is a haunting movie that I've been thinking about and will continue to think about for quite some time.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Gone Girl

In spite of it being annoying in many parts, I gobbled up Gone Girl, the thriller by Gillian Flynn.

The narrative goes back and forth between a husband and a wife, giving the reader both perspectives on the troubled marriage, and the much more troubled psyches of the spouses. The wife, Amy, disappears at the beginning of the novel, and the husband, Nick, is the main suspect.

The segments of Amy's diary really grated on me, and I had trouble getting into the book because of that, but eventually I felt invested in the story, which picked up momentum, and paints an eerie portrait of a disturbed mind.

Gone Girl isn't great, but it was an enjoyable read. And I'm looking forward to seeing the movie when it's released...

Orange is the New Black

This week I watched the entire first season of the Netflix series, Orange is the New Black. It's about a naive WASPy yuppie woman who a decade before was involved in a drug ring, as part of her relationship with her lesbian lover. The crime catches up with her and she has to do 15 months in federal prison.

The first two episodes or so rubbed me the wrong way. They seemed to sensationalize lesbianism behind bars, making the threat of either being forced into or succumbing to homosexual activity the most menacing part of prison life. This salacious aspect seemed to calm down, or I got used to it as I got drawn into the myriad plots.

The main storyline involves Piper (the lead) and her former lover, Alex, as well as her ongoing relationship with her male fiance on the outside. But the cast of characters is rich, and there are many interesting subplots concerning the other women as well as the corrections officers. It is pretty soap-opera-y, and in ways lacking in subtlety and replete with cliches, but I got very invested. The ending of the final episode shocked me and I am looking forward to the release of the second season.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Freak of Nurture

I just finished reading Freak of Nurture, a collection of smart, funny, and poignant essays by Kelli Dunham.

Freak of Nurture is written in a warm, conversational style that makes the personality of the writer feel really accessible, like she is just talking to you. The essays concern different periods in her life, from living in a convent in the Bronx, volunteering in post-earthquake Haiti, and caring for her dying partners (not at the same time -- she had two girlfriends in a row who died of cancer). Dunham's life and personality are so interesting -- and she has such a unique perspective on modern life, and modern death -- a self-aware cheerfulness that does not negate or minimize or capitalize on suffering but that is truly generous, warm-hearted, and wise.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


I finally saw Pilobolus! I've been wanting to see this company for years, and last night at The Joyce my dreams came true.

This is a very dynamic, athletic, enigmatic company. The dances are acrobatic, often slow, with awe-inspiring feats of grace and strength. Very mesmerizing effects.

As much as I enjoyed all of the pieces, I confess my favorites were the faster, more dancy ones. I was particularly enthralled and entertained by "Skyscrapers" -- where the dancers performed in pairs, moving fast across the stage to different backdrops coordinated with the colors of their costumes. It was wonderful.

I was also very much taken with the aggressive and rocking "Licks", the final dance with the company, using rope as props in a way that was both circus-y and S&M-y.

The slower, more ethereal and haunting dances included "Molly's Not Dead", "Azimuth", and "Symbiosis". In all three of these the dancers worked together, holding and balancing each others weight in ways that were beautiful and impossible seeming.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tootsie, again

After this video went viral on Facebook, where Dustin Hoffman is talking about his tendency to dismiss unattractive women, I was curious to see Tootsie again. I hadn't realized I had seen it as recently as 2007 until I happened to check this blog.

As I did in '07, I thought this was a cute movie that holds up. There is a naive homophobia and transphobia at work, but I didn't feel offended by it. It just felt old-fashioned. Not hostile.

As for the feminism in the movie, that seemed old-fashioned and simplistic as well. But I guess you have to put it in the context of the times, the early 80s, when women were still new to the workforce... All in all, an enjoyable romp down memory lane.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Woman Upstairs

The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud, is just not a good novel. I read it based on a very good review in either The New York Times or The New Yorker, and I was disappointed.

It's a fast read, with an angry, obsessive narrator. A schoolteacher with thwarted ambitions who falls in love with a sophisticated and artistic family. Her internal state revolves around the mother, a successful artist with whom she shares a studio, the father, a Lebanese intellectual, and the beautiful, mild son who is her student.

There is very little plot there, just the wasted energy of this uninteresting woman -- not uninteresting because she is a schoolteacher, but uninteresting because she lacks dimension. Her back story about her parents is helpful in fleshing her out, but basically there isn't a lot there. The ultimate, and somewhat shocking betrayal at the end fell flat.

One thought, this might have worked better as a short story. There wasn't enough plot or tension to sustain an entire novel.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Bling Ring

I really liked The Bling Ring. It was a focused, small movie about a group of teenagers in LA who regularly burglarized celebrity homes, stealing high end luxury accessories and clothing.

The characters were all vapid and empty and two dimensional, but that coincided with their lame, materialistic, limited desires. The film was sort of an ethnography of excess, and it was beautifully filmed in a way that held my attention, even if none of the characters did.

Of note was the family of two of the girls, a new-age, Secret-devoted mother who was oblivious to and complicit with the shallow narcissism of her daughter.