Friday, December 30, 2016

Of Human Bondage

For a month or so I have slowly been reading Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. I started just reading a little a night. I had read this before in my teens or twenties, but do not remember much of it from then, and probably didn't get it.

I loved this book. Reading it slowly works well, as it's an in-depth coming of age story, starting with the death of Phillip's mother when he was around 8, and ending when he is 30. He is introspective and isolated in his childhood, largely unhappy and friendless, and has a club foot which separates him from his peers and others. It is a source of shame but also provides an opportunity for him to see the people around him from a unique, at times painful, perspective.

There is an unrequited masochistic love story that is central to the plot, but to me Of Human Bondage is more about someone who thinks and feels deeply exploring different ways of living in the world, and his meditations on love, art, human nature, suffering, religion, etc were not dry and pretentious, but earnest and heart-wrenching.

Unfortunately the ending was rushed and I thought a bit too pat. I was disappointed. Also, I would have liked to continue to read about Philip. I wish Maugham had pulled a "Rabbit" a la John Updike.

Beth Orton at Carnegie Hall

At the beginning of this month I saw Beth Orton perform at Carnegie Hall. I have loved her for years (decades?). Central Reservation was a very important album for me at the time; I listened to it obsessively. I have also very much enjoyed Trailer Park. Her ethereal, emotional voice combined with her tempos and synthetic sound create such a haunting, intimate landscape.

This was the second time I've seen her and in both concerts she seemed shy and self-deprecating. She performed with a backdrop of visuals that I thought were nice but unnecessary. As for songs, I was totally into her newer ones that I was not familiar with, but of course really loved most the old favorites.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Office

 In October I binge watched all 9 seasons of The Office.  I started watching it just as something entertaining to have on while I did other things, but the particular humor of this show was not something I could only half pay attention to.

The Office depicts a mundane world of unexciting characters doing boring, almost pointless, work while held hostage by their self-absorbed, performance oriented boss. The interactions are awkward and uncomfortable, but also incredibly hilarious and even surreal. The characters have seemingly little in common, yet they must co-exist in a small depressing space hour after hour. The antics are largely based on situations where dominant aspects of one character clash with another, and in an amazing and special way, it is through these juxtapositions of flaws that a unique joy emerges. Dunder Mifflin is really fun. In small and silly ways, like when they all get swept up in betting about every little thing.  And The Office is often touching, as unlikely friendships form and awful behaviors are seen from a more compassionate perspective.

Steve Carell is incredible as Michael Scott, and the last seasons when he was gone seemed unfocussed and disappointing, but it was also during these seasons that the characters' narratives really took off. It became less about the office and more about their lives. I was shocked by how moved I was by the final few episodes, where the documentary about them over all theses years is finally aired. They get to see themselves, and, beautifully, while the viewer expected them to be exposed as petty and sad and crazy, their lives are instead shown as meaningful, and they get the unique opportunity to watch their past unfold before them.  As much as I laughed out loud during 8 and a half seasons, I was totally crying during those final episodes. I was caught off guard by how moving it was. Something that particularly touched me was the friendship that formed between Oscar and Angela.

I liked it so much it is possible I will soon start it again from the beginning!

Monday, October 31, 2016

American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst

Jeffery Toobin's book about Patty Hearst is fascinating. Incredibly detailed and well-researched, it is also a page-turner.

I knew so little about this story -- I only knew it as an example of Stockholm syndrome (which Toobin shows is not a thing, and even if it were, this case is not an example of it). Toobin's American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst puts the strange events in the historical context of the 70s, where middle class young people were setting off bombs right and left -- there were far more terrorist incidents then than there have been since 9/11. He provides rich information about the members of the Symbionese Liberation Army -- their backgrounds, and characters, and love lives -- as well as the six months Patty spent with most of them, and her year as a fugitive. I had no idea she was involved in so much violence, but I also did not understand the violence and rage of that decade.

Toobin provides information about the all the players, other than the radicals, so you have a strong sense of the emotion of the drama: Patty's parents, her fiance (who fled the kidnapping immediately), a number of detectives, etc.

The most powerful part is the Afterward. I was so immersed in the detailed, blow-by-blow account of the main action in the 70s, that when he pulls back and jumps into the present I was jolted by the sense of the passage of time, of the history I have lived through, of how different the world is now.

The 13th

The 13th is an incredible documentary structural, systemic, and political racism. It looks at how policy since slavery has served to control and oppress black people. It is a powerful companion piece to Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness, a book I teach every semester. Both the documentary and the book detail how criminal justice policy, particularly since Nixon, and through to Clinton's crime bill, has made it legal and acceptable to designate black communities to secondary social status. The laws that serve to lock up disproportionate numbers of black americans, and the social policies that allow for discrimination against felons in housing, employment, education, and voting. Many black Americans today face the same obstacles that they did during Jim Crow.

The 13th offers powerful and disturbing visual parallels about violence against black people between the 20th and 21st centuries, and earlier eras of slavery and the KKK.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

La Boheme

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to see La Boheme at the Met. I had only seen this opera before on DVD, the same Met production, I think. The live performance was so rich and lovely. On one hand the story is very simple, and almost cliche. But the music, and the music, and the deep commitment to romance made this an incredible experience. And, once again, I cried when Mimi died.

This performance featured David Bizic as Marcello; Dmytro Popov as Rudolpho; Ailyn Perez as Mimi; and, my favorite, Susanna Philips as Musetta. It also included a pony and a horse!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Pride and Prejudice

As much as I love Jane Austen, and adaptations of her novels, I never saw the much-loved 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley (who is a favorite of mine).

It is really charming and perfect. It's been decades since I read Austen, but her novels made enough of an impression on me that everything in the movie seemed straight out of the book. I swear I remembered specific bits of dialogue. At the same time I think I forgot how many elements to the plot there are. I kind of just remembered it as Lizzie forms an initial negative impression of a gentleman that gets in the way of her seeing his good side and slows down her falling in love. Which is true, but that happens through a series of incidents and relationships and mistakes which are all very entertaining and at times quite moving.

I think that because of the charm of much of Austen's work, and Pride and Prejudice in particular, people don't totally see the grim underside of the issues. At few times Mrs. Bennet says something dramatic-seeming about her daughters ending up destitute. This is to comical effect, but in fact the Bennet girls situation was dire. None of them stood to inherit the estate and they would likely be destitute if they did not marry. It is lovely when Lizzie's father does not insist she marry the cousin who will get their home, but this sentimental moment obscures what the intense and real pressure there would be for her to marry him and secure the family's economic stability.

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game, about Alan Turing who cracked Nazi military code for the Allies, is okay. There is a lot of interesting elements, like the secret formation of the code cracking team, the undiagnosed but definitely present spectrum type disorder that Turing had, the criminalization of homosexuality... And in the movie each of these held my attention enough to keep watching.  But ultimately I didn't find the whole of The Imitation Game to be that compelling.


Over the past several weeks I watched I all 11 seasons of the 90s sitcom, Frasier.

I think I started it because I wanted something mindless and non addicting to watch now that school has started. But, because the episodes are only 22 minutes, it was quite easy to gobble up many episodes an evening.

At first I was incredibly put off by the laugh track, which seemed so jarring and disruptive. I eventually got used to it. So much so that by the end I really didn't notice it at all. I also remember that I used to find Kelsey Grammer's overacting in this show to be insufferable, but not only did I get used to it now, I began to see how it was effective.

I really like Frasier. I love how it mixes a bit of wry, verbal humor with very traditional broad physical humor, and classic wacky plot structures.  Niles and Frasier are great together. I was shocked to learn that they added Niles' character at the last minute, that he wasn't part of the original concept. I cannot see the show working without him. The PAIR of comically ostentatious snobs is somehow hilarious. And their similarities serve to enhance their individual characters by bringing their differences into focus.

There is also something sweet and endearing about the family dynamic -- The grouchy father and the two competitive grown boys. The other characters are good, and most of the episodes are pretty tight with many, many funny moments. The last three seasons are not as good, as Niles and Daphne get together, and some of the storylines wrap up. Oh well, it happens to the best of them.


Last month I watched Amadeus, a movie I have seen several times and always love (I realize I watched it last in 2010).

It tells the story of Mozart and Salieri, through the eyes of the latter who is deeply bitter and jealous of Mozart's talent. Although Salieri has worked assiduously his whole life to create great music, when the young musical genius arrives on the scene in Vienna, Salieri soon realizes that he himself is a mediocre talent. His bitterness is made of unfathomable depths, as he rails against God who cursed his with desire and love for music, but not enough talent. He cannot let go of his bitterness and devises a plan to ruin Mozart's reputation and regard in Vienna (and in so doing inspires Don Giovanni).

Amadeus is wonderfully lush, beautiful, and in Salieri kind of camp. Really good stuff.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Making of a Lady

The Making of a Lady is a HORRIBLE movie!

It is about a well-educated but poor secretary in a wealthy home who marries the one of the possible heirs. It's at first a marriage of convenience, and then they fall in love. This part of the movie is so-so.

Then the tone shifts in a weird way. The husband leaves for a military operation and his new bride is left alone in a creepy estate. She is soon visited by his odd and mentally ill brother and his wife from India. Somehow she doesn't notice how creepy and crazy he is, and she becomes friends with the wife and the wife's older mother (?). But the movie makes is super clear that there is something sinister about this crazy man and the Indian women. It is blatantly racist.

From here it becomes kind of a horror movie, as it slowly dawns on the new bride that these people are trying to kill her and her baby so that the crazy guy will be the heir.

It's just awful.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Big Short

The Big Short is about three different groups of hedge fund managers who realize that the housing market is going to crash several years before the big crisis. It follows them as they work on getting more and more money to bet against the mortgage interesting. It's fascinating and really sad the extent to which borrowers were scammed, and the indifference of the financial big shots involved.

The Big Short has a tense momentum. On one hand, you are kind of rooting for these guys who are going agains what seems the largest odds, and who weirdly seem to be heroes as they uncover the enormous flaw in the economy. On the other hand, they are going to benefit from the devastating 2008 collapse. This is mitigated by their growing cynicism and self doubt.

The movie is shot in a frenetic pumped up way that gives an otherwise pretty dry storyline more energy.

The Painted Veil (novel)

After watching the movie version of The Painted Veil I quickly bought the bought the Somerset Maugham novel and I gobbled it right up.

The books is so different! The first half is almost exactly the same, but the screenwriters took the characters time in the cholera town in a whole different direction. In the novel, their tense relations persist, but throughout them Kitty begins to transform and develop compassion for him. This is in part through her friendship with a English neighbor (who is important in the movie as well) and through her relationship with nuns. Unlike the movie, she never really understands the significance of her husband's work. Slowly she begin to hope for the ability to live a worthwhile life.

When tragedy strikes, she returns alone to Shanghai (Hong Kong?) and is not as changed as she hoped she was, the final ending brings her to a point where she makes a surprising loving and devoted choice. But so different, so much more grim than the movie!

The Painted Veil (movie)

I watched The Painted Veil last week and was so enthralled with it. It tells a very strange love story.

An odd socially awkward scientist becomes obsessively enchanted with a beautiful socialite in London and proposes to her. Inexplicably she accepts and they return to his station in Shanghai. Their marriage is stilted and polite, until he discovers her infidelity.

He gives her a horrible option: she can move with him to a remote cholera plagued town in the mountains, he can divorce her for adultery and disgrace her, or she can ask her lover to leave his wife and pledge to marry her (this is particularly cruel in the circumstances).

The rest of the movie is about their harrowing time in the cholera town where it seems he is on a suicide mission. It is grim and quietly sadistic. But as he becomes involved in his work dealing with the dying and trying to transform the water system, she becomes involved with a charitable convent and eventually they see new sides of each other, and, beautifully, fall in love. She develops a deep appreciation for his work, which had always bored her.

It ends tragically, and the final scene is a kind of annoying cliche, but it was pretty great. The landscape provided a sense of magic and wonder and fear as a crucially atmospheric backdrop to their personal lives.

I was so interested in the story that I immediately downloaded the Somerset Maugham novel.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Boys from Brazil

The Boys from Brazil is pretty funny to watch now. I think I remember it as being a serious thriller back when it came out.

Gregory Peck and Lawrence Olivier are kind of in a competition for who can do the most over the top overacting. Peck plays the sadistic Josef Mengele, and Olivier plays a Jewish Nazi hunter. Olivier's accent is just too much to bear.

The plot, for those who don't know it, concerns a conspiracy that has cloned Hitler. About thirteen years earlier, Mengele created a bunch of Hitler baby clones and distributed them through adoption to families all over the world where the father was 50 years old and a civil servant, and the younger mother was presumably likely to be doting. Now it's time for the fathers to die in accidents, and Megnele convenes a bunch of secret evil Nazis to carry out a mission. They meet at his home in Paraguay where he has a kind of Dr. Moreau thing going on. Unfortunately the plan begins to fall apart as Olivier begins to figure it out (based on a tip provided by a young Steve Gutenberg).

Anyway, it's all good fun. The 13 year old Hitlers are great.

The Danish Girl

I loved The Danish Girl. Set in Denmark and Paris in the 1920s, it tells the story of Einar, Gerda, and Lili.

Einar and Gerda are happily married. He is a successful artist and she is an emerging one. They seem to love each other very much. One day Gerda's model for a painting of a dancer is running late, and Gerda asks Einar to pose in her stockings and shoes. As Einar puts on the stockings you see something happen to him as he experiences their texture and sees his legs in new way. This is when he begins to rediscover Lili. Soon he is gazing at new versions of himself, drawn by Gerda, wearing Gerda's nightdress and playing with Gerda as Lili. More and more Lili becomes real and Einar begins to fade. Throughout this, the intimacy between Einar, Gerda, and Lili changes and shifts. Gerda is pained at the loss of Einar, and unsure who to be for Lili.

Lili's story is haunting as her own identity, belief in herself, and integrity emerge, as she fights against medical and psychiatric intervention, and finally finds a doctor who understands that Lily is real and will perform sex reassignment surgery.

Einar and Lily were exquisitely portrayed with depth and sensitivity, and Gerda's emotions, and her devotion to them was very powerful. The Danish Girl is a very beautiful movie.

The First Wives Club

Pretty much drek. The First Wives Club is a shlocky over the top comedy starring top notch talent (Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn) kind of making fools of themselves.

It's about three women in their forties who had been good friends at college in the late 60s. Although they have been estranged, when they learn one of their friends killed herself, they meet up after the funeral. Soon they discover all of their husbands have left them for younger wives. Sharing their rage and resentment, they begin a plot to ruin each man. In the end they raise funds to open a women's crisis center, and this, combined with them singing You Don't Own Me, somehow is supposed to elevate this broad comedy (no pun intended) into some sort of feminist work.

To Kill A Mocking Bird

I had seen To Kill a Mockingbird at some point long ago (I also read the book in grade school and really loved it). Watching it again, I just couldn't muster up all the love for it that everybody has. Atticus Finch's patient and wise explanations of life began to take on a monotonous tone. The adventures of Scout and her brother and their friend had a faded charm. The trial of the wrongfully accused black man touched on all the well-known wrongs of racism, particularly in the South. The coming of age trope and mood of lost innocence is okay, but very familiar. The story is a good solid one, the acting pretty good. But in the 21st Century it seems to lack nuance and feels laden with cliches.

The Family Man

The Family Man is a pretty silly, pretty annoying, and largely stupid movie. Nonetheless, I watched the whole thing.

It begins with Nicholas Cage and Tea Leone as a young couple just out of college, saying goodbye to each other, temporarily, as Cage embarks to London for an internship at a powerful financial firm, promising to return to her. Then, at least ten years later, he is running a huge and glamorous company, living a materially magnificent life and enjoying his success -- clearly he never went back to Tea Leone.

One Christmas Eve he inexplicably gets plopped into an alternative universe where he had returned to her back then, and they got married and had kids and he wasn't able to pursue his career. He wakes up in bed next to her and has no idea what's going on. This part of the movie actually has some funny scenes, as it allows Cage to do his lovably clueless persona. He has no idea why he is in a relatively crap house with little kids running around, or why the fuck he is selling tires for a living. His befuddlement is taken as a kind of a midlife crisis, but it is very strange how little his wife pays attention to him when he says things like "I shouldn't be here". That the people around him don't notice is a little frustrating.

Anyway, needless to say, he falls in love with Tea Leone all over and is traumatized when he has to go back to his real life. But, with a newfound sense of what is important in life, he goes out to find her in this world. Ugh.

A Good Woman

A Good Woman is horrible. Set in the 1930s (I think) it stars Scarlett Johansson as a ridiculously innocent young bride vacationing with her rich husband in Italy. It appears he is having an affair with a much older fortune hunting "seductress" played very unconvincingly by Helen Hunt. There are both actors I love, but Scarlett Johansson's character was just too stupid to take seriously, and Helen Hunt seemed painfully miscast.

The story would have been more interesting if it were better cast and if somehow the director could produce some sort of tension between the characters, or some sort of nuance to them.

A Good Woman is littered with fantasticly clever lines, but they are demolished in the stilted delivery and just make the movie seem stranger. I learned afterwards that it is an adaptation of an Oscar Wilde play, which explains the wonderful dialogue.

Good Will Hunting

Another young Matt Damon. Good Will Hunting is okay. Not great, and pretty corny. It's about a tough kid from the South side of Boston who has been abused as a kid and is highly defended. He also happens to be a genius.

His talents are discovered by a pretentious, ambitious, and fascinated professor, who wants to work with him and mentor him, but runs up against Will's nasty personality and tendency towards violence. The professor enlists a psychologist who he went to college with, Robin Williams, who, predictably, opens Will up and helps him move forward with his life.

The performances are solid, but the conflicts set up in the narrative feel a bit contrived and tiresome.

The Rainmaker

The Rainmaker is a watchable but unoriginal movie about the young idealistic lawyer as savior, who takes on a shady health insurance company and rescues a victim of domestic violence. Young Matt Damon is so likable. There aren't really any surprises here, but it's still okay, as everything is pretty well done.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


There was so much I loved about Tallulah, the Netflix movie with Ellen Page and Allison Janey. Page plays Tallulah, a young drifter whose boyfriend leaves her because he wants a more conventional life. Needing money and missing him she goes to NYC to try to find him, tracking down his mom (Janey). While slinking through the hallways of a fancy hotel to eat leftover room service, Tallulah gets roped into babysitting for a drugged up crazy insecure narcissist woman. The baby is clearly neglected, and when the woman finally comes home in the morning and passes out, Tallulah leaves and impulsively takes the baby. She has no idea what she is doing (just getting the baby out of an awful situation), and the rest of the movie is about her connecting with her boyfriend's mother (who thinks the baby is her granddaughter) and trying to escape the authorities looking for the kidnapper.

What makes Tallulah special are the little moments and the developing relationship between the lost drifter and the high strung middle aged woman. Both actors communicate subtle shifts in emotions and awareness, and it was a real pleasure watching them. There was also a sad emotional current running through the whole movie, even the funniest scenes.

Inside Out

Inside Out was so disappointing! I had heard good things about it and thought it would be one of those really great animated kids features that adults like (Up, Toy Story, Megamind (my favorite), Wall-E, Coraline, etc). But alas, this was not.

I was drawn to the concept -- the characters are all different emotions inside a child's head, and they are trying to navigate her transition to a new city. But the combo of complex ideas about emotions and memory combined with goofy characters totally annoyed me. It got really weird/interesting as it went deeper into the child's mind and stored memories trying to find sources of joy or whatever, but it just was too hokey and pop psych for me. I'm curious what age kids this works for -- I can't image many young children being able to grasp the cinematic rendering of their deep unconscious, but older ones might be bored. Also, as much as I love Amy Poehler, her voice really bugged the shit out of me in this one.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Lobster

I loved The Lobster. It's a grim, eerie, dystopian horror movie, about a world where being a couple is enforced -- with methodical, regimented cruelty.

It takes place in hotel where uncoupled men and women spend a certain number of days. During that time they must fall in love with someone and begin a highly controlled romantic ritual that leads to marriage. Those who do not find a partner are turned into animals at the end of their stay. Also, there are rogue individuals in the woods who have escaped. Here independence is valued and people are not allowed to form romantic attachments. If they do, they are mutilated. Groups from the hotel go on hunting expeditions to kill these individuals, and if they bring back a body they get another day added to their stay.

The Lobster is in some ways an extended mood piece. The lack of expressed emotion, the stilted speech coming from near automatons, the sense of dread and looming violence all make the movie oppressive, strangely suspenseful, and deeply frightening. As the narrative takes shape and builds momentum you see how trapped, isolated, and doomed everyone is. I think it's a masterpiece.


I was really into the documentary Weiner, about the former congressman whose career was ruined by revelations of his online sexual activities. There was not much in the film I wasn't previously aware of, but there was something fascinating about watching him. The mixture of frustration and pride in his facial expressions. His immaturity combined with an unlikely charisma. Part of his political appeal was his angry speeches and sense of social outrage. But you begin to see in his anger a kind of entitlement.

Also you see glimpses into his marriage, and his wife Huma's sense of betrayal as well as annoyance with him.

There was a scene after the second scandal broke during his mayoral campaign where he made a public appearance and said to someone challenging him, you can judge me, you can not trust me, you don't have to vote for me, but give me chance to talk to everyone here about the issues I am concerned with. This got applause and I liked him in that moment. As crappy as his personal behavior is, I think these sexual scandals are distractions that have little to do with politics, and the moral outrage people express during these episodes seems tiresome and hypocritical to me.


I recently rewatched Gaslight, the 1940s movie about manipulation and paranoia in a marriage. Ingrid Bergman plays a young newly married woman, very much in love with her husband. They return to her aunt's home, that she had not been in since her aunt was murdered about a decade ago. Soon it seems that she starts losing things, forgetting things, and moving things for no reason. Her husband keeps pointing this out to her and makes her increasingly insecure. He tells her she is ill and takes total control of her life, not letting her leave the house or see anyone except their shifty maid. It gets to the point where he husband has made her seriously doubt her own sanity.

Her husband, played by Charles Boyer, is so creepy and strange and unpleasant that it is a bit hard to take this psychological thriller seriously. His acting is just too hammy and over-the-top.

I couldn't help thinking what a good remake this would be. Set in the same time, but with contemporary filmic technique and more subtle acting. In addition, I think they would need to make the relationship between Ingrid Bergman and her husband much more passionate and play up the sexual attraction between them. This would explain the hold he has over her, and would add dimension to his total control of her.

The Brainwashing of My Dad

The Brainwashing of My Dad is a documentary that explores the intense impact right wing media, particularly Fox News, has had on so many Americans, particularly older generations. The filmmaker starts with her father, who had long been politically moderate. She noticed that at some point he had become increasing irate and agitated about a number of social and political issues, and after a while she realized that Fox News and talk radio were getting him so riled up that he was no longer the same person.

As she began to explore the history of media and politics from the mid-twentieth century up to today, she learned that many people were having similar experiences with their parents. She highlights different strategies around rhetoric and message and the tenor of outrage these media use.

I thought it was very interesting, but I would have liked more in-depth analysis of the media, and less bells and whistles in the narrative.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my all time favorite movies (I am a Charlie Kaufman nut). It is about a couple who each independently decide to use a strange service to erase the other from their memory after a difficult breakup.

It takes place in several time areas - the present where Joel and Clementine find themselves in Montauk, unsure why, and meet, seemingly for the first time -- Joel before and during the process of having his memory erased -- and Joel's mind during the procedure as each memory is experienced as it is deleted. In the first time area, the present, there is a strange numbness to their interactions; during the process of having his memory erased there are sort of complicated side stories about the people performing the procedure that in the end become very important. Much of the movie is in the memories themselves, going backwards in time, starting with tense and upsetting interactions during the demise of their relationship, then moving back to more fun and loving ones, as Joel begins to panic at the thought of losing them.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has an unpleasant nerve racking feel, kind of like being in someone else's panic attack. The relationship between Joel and Clementine is not a good one -- she is frequently mean to him and his passivity is both maddening and heartbreaking. It's not that you want them to get back together. Instead you experience that terrible sense of loss and desire to retrieve a lost love, and to preserve something of it.

Crossing Delancey

I saw Crossing Delancey around when it came out back in the late 80s. It's about Isabel, a sort of sophisticated, literary woman on the upper west side who works at a fancy bookstore and has a crush on an arrogant and famous European novelist.

Her grandmother lives on the Lower East Side, which is presented as another world. Her grandmother is concerned about when Isabel will marry, and consults a matchmaker who sets Isabel up with a guy who owns the big neighborhood pickle store. Isabel has to deal with her own snobbishness as she initially rejects him and eventually begins to like him. I enjoyed Crossing Delancey, in part for nostalgic reasons, but it annoyed me how dismissive she was of the pickle man.

The Imposter

The Imposter tells such a strange story! It's a documentary about a boy in Texas who goes missing, and is found nearly four years later in Spain. But it's not him. At all. Even though the boy's family accepts him and lets them in to their lives as if he were their missing son.

The Imposter is about a European guy who has a compulsion to impersonate abused and missing teenagers. He was 23 when he convinced authorities he was the missing 16 year old from Texas. Even though he has brown eyes and the missing boy has blue. There are many strange things going on, and it is creepy how the family seemed to accept him without question.

Doll and Em

The first two seasons of Doll and Em on HBO are pretty good. It's about two women who have been friends since childhood. Em is a successful actress working in the states, and Doll's life falls apart in England and she comes to stay with Em, working as her assistant. The close friendship is often tense and sad as both women have tendency to undermine each other and are each threatened by the other. There are some great scenarios and I liked watching the characters develop. The storyline in the second season about the play became kind of annoying though.

Igby Goes Down

This summer I watched Igby Goes Down once again. I've seen it three times now. I really click with the humor and enjoy the wonderful ensemble cast in this dark, sad story about a fucked up rich family.

Igby's mom (Susan Sarandon) is dying of cancer. She has been an self-absorbed hardened mom to Igby and his very pretension older brother. Their father had a serious break with reality when they were children and has been in a mental hospital for years. Igby keeps getting kicked out of expensive high schools, and his long-time family friend (Jeff Goldblum) takes him under his wing. Goldblum is a rich and charming asshole with all the great lines. He has a mistress he keeps in a soho loft, Amanda Peet, whose drug use starts to get really messy. Igby is in love with her, as well as with Sukie, a college student played by Claire Danes, who is also romantically involved with Igby's brother. Throughout the movie you see Igby terrified of becoming like the adults around him, and while deeply scared of going crazy like his father, through flashbacks you see Igby develop compassion for this broken man.

A Perfect Murder

A Perfect Murder is perfectly good thriller. Not super amazing, but taut and engaging and it doesn't veer into any kind of nonsense toward the end.

Michael Douglas plays a successful hedge fund wall street type, married to a wealthy younger woman played by Gwyneth Paltrow. He discovers she is having an affair, and also learns that her lover has a history of seducing heiresses for their money. He decides to pay the lover a large sum of money to murder his wife and disappear. He has a perfectly planned burlary scenario. Which of course goes wrong. It gets pretty interesting, as the the burglar turns out not to be the lover and the lover tries to blackmail Michael Douglas. Gwyneth Paltrow is kind of vague and dim throughout, but eventually begins to suspect her husband.

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, S2

Earlier this summer I watched the second season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. As with S1, at first I found it jarring and odd and too broad and abrasive. But soon I got into it again. This season Kimmy is an Uber driver for a drunk who happens to be a therapist (played by Tina Fey), and who ends up helping Kimmy deal with her issues, both since coming up from the bunker and before.

Kimmy also continues to help Mrs. Voorhis, who remained my favorite. Titus's dating life gets serious, and Kimmy is reunited with her mom, played brilliantly by Lisa Kudrow. It was hysterical and whacky throughout, but there were a couple of moments with Lisa Kudrow that got me choked up.

Sedaris: When You Are Engulfed In Flames & Naked

This was a Sedaris summer for me. I read both collections, When You Are Engulfed In Flames and Naked. I really love his essays and can't imagine reading too many of them.  So many laugh out loud moments within well-structured and often complex narratives. The situations are often quite fascinating, in a micro way, and his observations can be astute. I love reading about his childhood and family -- particularly his mother, about his years during and after college, and his travels and life with Hugh. I feel like I know him.

I read Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls a couple of years ago, which I think is his most recent collection. I can't wait for the next one.

Saturday, August 20, 2016


In the winter I watched the first season of the new Netflix series, Love. At first I couldn't get into it -- I found both main characters unlikable and annoying. But as it moves on their big character flaws become more integrated into the narrative. There are some very funny moments, and the Australian roommate is hysterical. I'll happily watch the next season.

House of Cards

In the winter I watched all four seasons of House of Cards. There was so much I liked about it -- it was pretty intense. At first I hated it, but once I got into it I found it very compelling. Creepy and fascinating. The relationship between Frank and Claire Underwood was particularly interesting to me. Their cold quest for power and their ruthless competence.

As much as I liked it, often it was tedious. The plot sometimes was hard to keep up with, and at times it felt repetitive. Still, I can't wait for Season 5!

Friday, August 19, 2016


I'm doing a little catching up now on the blog. I binge watched Community last year, but never posted about it. I LOVED this show. So goofy, so funny, often clever, very lovable (though at times annoying). Every single character was great in their own way -- but Dean Pelton was my favorite. I wish every community college had a dean like him!

Chevy Chase was pretty awesome too. I couldn't stop laughing at his pratfalls -- somehow they always worked on me.

Body Snatchers

I have to admit I kind of liked the 1993 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, simply titled Body Snatchers. The twist that drew me in is that this is set on any army base. A scientist brings his family to the base for some research project. But because military personnel are already robotic and emotionally unexpressive, it is doubly creepy because it's harder to tell who is a pod person. Also, the little boy is the first to notice people aren't real, but of course no one believes him. The scariest thing is when his mother is taken over. The ending is pretty cool too.

Invasion (with SPOILER)

I've been fascinated with the cult classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers since I was a kid. Something about the mounting paranoia (a theme in many of the great movies from the 1970s), the creepy vacancy of the pod people, the robotic aggression.... Although I've seen the original version from the 50s (I think?), but it's the 1978 one with Donald Sutherland that haunted me.

So I couldn't resist watching a remake from the early 2000s starring Nicole Kidman, Invasion. While the 70s version played with anxieties about social conformity and conspiracy, this version is all about new virus hysteria. The pod people aren't in pods anymore, they are a virus transmitted through bodily contact and they majorly fuck with the immune system. Like earlier versions, the infestation comes from outer space, but it has much less of an alien theme. It's all about medical technology and the super-duper important scientists need to quickly figure things out and come up with an antidote. Another big difference is Invasion is cluttered with news stories about the takeover constantly on TV and in the background -- emphasizing the invasion as a national emergency, rather than an individual horror. It's a noisy, cluttered, panicked circus, not a slow, quiet, ominous takeover.

In all the versions I've seen (including one from the 90s that I'll post about in a second), the ending is always grim. The final scene of the Donald Sutherland one stuck with me forever. But Invasion doesn't go there. Instead, the crackerjack team of scientists come up with an antidote ridiculously quickly. Humanity is saved, and no one remembers when they were trying to kill each other. Ugh. Also, crazy car chase scenes and gratuitous moralizing about the trappings of ego, blah blah blah.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Heart Goes Last

I have read so many Margaret Atwood novels over the years (The Handmaid's Tale, The Robber Bride, Surfacing, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, Cat's Eye...) and have always found them intelligent and engrossing.  Some I enjoyed a lot more than others, but all of them held my attention. The characters were smart and complex, the writing skilled, the plots unique.

I'm afraid to say The Heart Goes Last is TERRIBLE. It is hoaky, goofy, and sloppy. The characters are incredibly underdeveloped, mere sketches, and their one-dimensionality is at times almost infuriating. The plot is so ridiculous and so full of holes that I don't know what to make of it.  In a dystopian near future, a couple impoverished by a national financial crisis agrees to enter heavily closed community where they alternate months in a generic middle class house and a clean well-run prison. In both they have jobs. The project developers are working on nefarious projects that include euthanasia, sex dolls, and operations to make women fall in love and lust with just one man. Although there is a sort of interesting twist at the very end, The Heart Goes Last is the silliest thing I have read in a long time, and Atwood must have written it in one night of insomnia.

Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society from 1989 holds up. It's about a new exuberant non-traditional English teacher at an uptight prep school in the late 1950s, and the group of boys who are inspired by him. They are in an uptight environment and feel anxious about grades and their future success (largely mapped out for them by their parents), and you can feel their yearning for something more. Enter Robin Williams, who breathes life and passion into their dry poetry texts. He has them shout the lines as they sprint across a field. That kind of thing. The contrast between the artistic desires he inspires in some of the boys, and their restrictive social structures leads to a tragedy. And yet the ending is heartwarming.

True, the whole thing is a bit cliche, but it works. Largely because of the warmth of the performances, the fragility of the boys, their good natured friendships, and fundamental kindness that Williams so often conveyed in his acting. It was really touching seeing so many actors -- now middle aged and well known, or in Williams' case, dead -- in their youth, just hatched. Ethan Hawke seemed painfully young. I kinda teared up just looking at him.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

I loved Hedwig and the Angry Inch! I think I loved it even more the second time. The gorgeous spectacle is rousing, but this time around I was more moved by the relationships. The sense of loss and betrayal, the sadness and beauty Hedwig inhabits. I loved how the story was told through song and flashbacks -- the musical numbers and visual energy carried so much emotion and nuance as Hedwig recounts her life in East Germany with her mother, her first boyfriend, what she needed to do leave, and her love affair in the states.... It came together with humor and passion and a robust and ravishing aesthetic.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Over the weekend I saw Philadanco at Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park.

The program was eclectic -- a modern piece using a table as a shared prop -- a James Brown mix -- a lovely balletic piece -- and a dance set to electronica.

The dancers were marvelous and the choreography consistently engaging.  The funk dancing looked so fun, and I imagine the dancers had a great time. The balletic piece, "Between the Lines" was beautiful.

The weather was lovely, and the audience seemed very happy, which complemented the energy on stage.