Tuesday, December 29, 2015


I think I am the only person I know who really hated Carol, the new movie based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. Because I loved The Talented Mr. Ripley so much, I was very excited to see another one of her novels adapted. Also it got wonderful reviews and many friends recommended it.

So, what didn't I like about it? EVERYTHING (acting, directing, plot). The pacing was just awful. Long drawn out scenes, extended silences between dialogue. I think this was intended to create a sense of sexual tension between the two main characters, and to add gravitas and tragedy to many of Blanchett's scenes. But for me every moment was flaccid. They all just fell flat.

I usually love Cate Blanchett, but here her voice and speech patterns seemed so affected and cliche that I could barely take her seriously. The love story did not compel me in the least, and I couldn't have cared less about the outcome.

John Mulaney: The Comeback Kid and New In Town

The other night I watched BOTH the John Mulaney comedy shows available on Netflix: New In Town, and The Comeback Kid.

He has an interesting dorky but engaging delivery and a wonderfully amiable way of making fun of himself. His standup weaves stories of his life as a child in a Catholic household in the 80s, with observations about contemporary life in New York City and his relationship with  a Jewish woman. His boyish open face is one of his greatest assets and his timing is wonderful. For instance, he tells an amusing story about an old guy who walks into the office from a rainstorm and says something odd about feeling like a duck. The story is totally funny; very short -- a few lines of dialogue. But then Mulaney says he wants to break it down. And he goes back over the story from start to finish. I first thought this would be tedious, but he really pulls the hilarity out of the anecdote in a great way. I also particularly loved the story of him meeting Bill Clinton when he was a kid.

Men, Women, and Children

Men, Women, and Children is a grim, somewhat pretentious morality tale about the dangers of the Internet (2014, really?).

Comprised of several narratives about teens at a suburban high school and their parents, it features a young anorexic whose obsession is partially maintained through pro-anorexia websites; a teen who is so Internet porn addicted that he can't enjoy sex IRL; one whose social life is limited to the online players in a virtual reality game he plays all the time; one who is so focuses on her "modeling" website as a means of pursuing a career as a beautiful celebrity; and finally a girl whose mother will not allow her any online autonomy and tracks all her accounts and logins etc. The adults include the modeling teens "stage" mom, who photographs her daughter's every prurient move; an estranged couple who don't have sex anymore and secretly pursue escort services and Madison Ashley hook-ups; the aforementioned helicopter mom; and others. To make things worse was this somewhat tongue-in-cheek narration by Emma Thompson that was just totally unnecessary and stupid.

The only engaging thing in this whole movie was Judy Greer's performance as the mom obsessed with her kid's career. She gradually begins to realize that she is borderline prostituting her daughter and has a relatively subtle, not over-acted, crisis of conscience and epiphany.

Another thing I kind of enjoyed was the way Men, Women, and Children integrated online and phone activity into the narrative -- if it wasn't done in such an overhanded finger-wagging way, the use of text dialogue and google searches and other web stuff added a dimension to the film that does realistically depict an important aspect of our lives.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Getting On

I watched all three (short) seasons of Getting On and think it's a brilliant show. Gallows humor. Awkward humor. It is about the workers on an extended care unit where most of the patients are elderly and dying. The main doctor on the unit is played by Laurie Metcalf who is so amazing in this role as a haggard, intense, obsessive doctor whose research interests concern stool. She is always in a state of near meltdown, just barely holding it together. She is also rude and oblivious to those around her. The episodes are riddled with small meannesses, and the characters are all flawed and somewhat tragic. But somehow it's fucking funny as hell.

Towards the end of the third season the story lines became a little too serious for me, though, and I began to lose interest.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Demetri Martin: Live (At the Time)

Last night I couldn't sleep and I streamed Demetri Martin: Live (At the Time). I was not familiar with this comedian, and I enjoyed his performance a lot. It's mainly one liners, slightly dry delivery with an amiable manner. Not the most brilliant or insightful humor, but good clean fun. Many of his jokes focus on language and quirks of vernacular which I particularly got a kick out of.

The Other Woman

The Other Woman is a really tedious melodrama about the difficulties a second wife experiences, working through the loss of a baby, a difficult relationship with her husband's son, and the resentment of his first wife. It's just not interesting at all.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Transparent (S2)

I recently finished the second season of Transparent. Although I tremendously enjoyed the first season last year, this one seemed much deeper, more nuanced, complex, and beautiful. The pacing seemed a bit slower, and the tone seemed less comedic and more focused on small moments of insight. The acting was brilliant all around.

Like last year, my favorite character is Maura, who Tambor plays with great delicacy. To me she had a somewhat haunted, lost look on her face in many scenes, but there were moments when her smile conveyed so much sweetness. The other characters all grew on me and I felt more connected to their different struggles. S2 wove several themes together throughout the season, such as explorations of sexuality and Jewish culture in the 21st century US.

Without any spoilers, a few beautiful scenes that stood out for me: The adult siblings having an underwater tea party; the mother breaking down at a family dinner; Maura hugging her friend Shay (?), and the final moment of the final scene hit me so hard I burst into tears.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

About a Boy

About a Boy is one of my all time favorite movies. I'm so glad I watched it again this weekend.

Hugh Grant plays a very clever guy who cherishes his lack of attachment to others. He finds himself reluctantly involved in the difficult life of a troubled boy, and as much as he resists participating in their problems, a true friendship grows between him and the boy, in a way that is incredibly heartwarming and heartbreaking without being cliche.

Toni Collette plays the boy's suicidal and clinically depressed mother, and this is treated with great compassion. At the same time About a Boy is enormously funny. The lines are fantastic and some of the awkward scenarios are just priceless.

Mystic Pizza

I have wanted to see Mystic Pizza forever, but it always seemed too frivolous. I finally caved and this  late-80s coming of age story is charming. Centering on three young friends in Mystic CT, a sort of summer tourist spot, where they are the working class townies, it explores their romantic struggles. The youngest, who will soon be starting as a Freshman at Yale (if she can come up with some money to help with her partial scholarship), has a deep, painful crush on a 30-year old man she babysits for. The character played by Julia Roberts is her sister, a sort of tough floozy with no direction in life, who becomes involved with a very rich law school drop out. The third character is played by Lili Taylor and she has a tremendously fulfilling relationship with her boyfriend, but is afraid of marriage and commitment.

It was so sweet seeing these actors at the very beginning of their careers. They were so young (Lili Taylor is adorable)! (It also includes Matt Damon in a very small role).

The English Teacher

The English Teacher isn't a great movie, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable. It's about a high school teacher who becomes overly invested in the production of a school play. A former student had unsuccessfully pursued a career as a playwright and Julianne Moore's character is determined to make it come to life.

As she unravels, there are many humorous but painful moments. In some ways the story reminded me of Election. But this is not as clever, nor as dark, a movie.

Working Girl

When Working Girl was released in the 80s I was a know-it-all feminist art snob and I always had a knee-jerk critical disdain for mainstream hit movies. So I hated Working Girl back then.

I watched it over the weekend and was incredibly entertained. Sure, there are many cheesy elements and crass stereotypes. But the writing was fun, the plot was engaging, the actors were committed, and I was totally 100% into it.

I posted about it on Facebook and many people distinctly remembered many great lines:

"I've got a head for business, but a bod for sin."

"Who the fuck died and made you Grace Kelly?"

"Six thousand dollars???! Are you kidding me! It isn't even leather!"

"No one wants to see the quarter back passing around the Gatorade"

"Sometimes I sing and dance in my house in my underwear. That don't make me Madonna. Never will."