Misleading

June 30th, 2016

The trailer for The Lobster makes it look like a madcap send-up of our culture’s obsession with romance and its privileging of romantic couples. The actual movie is a logically inconsistent and stomach-turningly violent examination of the atrocities of totalitarianism.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

While I’m on the topic, you know what else had a misleading trailer? The Savages. Looks like a bittersweet family comedy, admittedly dealing with some tough content, right? It’s actually a dive into a depressive and largely non-redeemed tunnel of mortality. (Yes, I have been carrying this resentment since 2007.)

YOU HAVE BEEN DOUBLY WARNED.

Every *Gilmore Girls* Plot Ever

June 3rd, 2016

I’ve almost finished the entire series! Sure, I’d put my FF rate at 70%, but the gist, people. I’m getting the gist. For example:

Lorelai or Rory: This thing happened, but I’m not going to tell [current boyfriend].

L or R: You should tell him.

L or R: It’s not a big deal. It’s fine if I don’t tell him.

L or R: It actually is a big deal. You should tell him.

L or R: No, it’s not a good time. I’ll tell him later.

L or R: Sooner would be good.

L or R: I need to find the right time.

L or R: I would tell him.

L or R: And I have to figure out the right words.

L or R: Or you could just tell him.

L or R: I promise you, I’ll tell him.

L or R: [Sigh.] Okay, whatever you think is best.

TWO EPISODES LATER

Boyfriend: HOW COULD YOU NOT TELL ME?!?!?!

Other person: Somebody’s pregnant, and abortion does not exist! There are babies! Babies babies babies!

The Perks of Being a Bedflower

May 19th, 2016

I wasn’t planning to spend the bulk of two weeks in bed, no matter how many times I’ve fantasized about it (flashback to 12-year-old me, huddled over a science test, realizing with sudden and self-knowing rue that if only I’d had control over my own life, my first choice for time-spending would involve bed and a book), but hey, my spine does things. And this time, it decided to go on a major strike. Not a petty little Day Without a Melissa. Nope: This was a full-on, massively coordinated, all-points-bulletin French transit strike. Nobody was going anywhere. For weeks.

I made the best of it. And by best, I mean I read books and watched shows. Here’s what rose to the top:

1) Carrie Brownstein, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. I love the way Brownstein writes—and thinks; i.e., with a smart and sensitive specificity of voice, of herness. I love that this book is so much about how hard it is to tour, as opposed to the glamour that we all project onto entertainment. I love how vital and vivid and evolving her relationship to music is, what it means to her, what she gives to and gets from it. I love what she says about fans’ needs (that they’re bottomless) and how she has to protect herself from them. I love how honest she is about her difficulty in relationships; she refers achingly to romances she wishes had lasted, admitting, in some cases, that she doesn’t understand why they didn’t. Brownstein writes with a plain rawness that doesn’t apologize or pander. It might be defense, but it comes across as power.

2) Lindy West, Shrill. And here’s an entirely different way to be powerful as a woman: big, proud, and loud. This is an absolutely fantastic book, a gorgeous and hilarious and enraging and fiery manifesto by someone who is really killing it as a woman and a person in the world. I can’t recommend it highly enough, for everyone everywhere doing anything. I’m immensely grateful to West for having the guts and the willingness and the strength to keep advocating for human decency (also known as feminism) despite the ceaseless stream of hate that’s directed at her. She’s brilliant and glorious and should be elected not merely president but also queen.

3) Transparent, Season 2. I was an enthusiastic fan of Season 1, but 2? OMG OMG OMG. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the topic of Jewish trauma, and more specifically what Eckhart Tolle refers to as the pain body—as I understand it, the trauma that is passed down through a people over generations—explored so overtly on the screen. And it’s executed so incredibly beautifully, so feelingly, that it’s electrifying. Half the time, I couldn’t believe what I was watching: how smart it was, how careful, how knowing, how deep. Jill Soloway is showing us things we’ve never seen before but that we instantly recognize; another word for that is naming. And she’s doing it with tremendous compassion as well as aesthetic integrity.

4) And . . . um . . . Gilmore girls [sic]? I obviously feel guilty about this, given its Height of Twee, plus the fact that every single character—except, notably, Emily (and Dean, but he has no traits!) (and Jess, but he doesn’t speak!)—speaks in Lorelai. They even put patter into Luke’s mouth, which snips the strings of my suspended disbelief every time. The fast-forward function is important with this show, because there’s an awful lot of filler.

That said, there’s plenty of beauty, too, in the form of strong dramatic moments between mother and daughter that feel loaded and messy in all the right ways. The central premise of Lorelai/Rory/Emily is incredibly rich, such that even in the fifth season, there’s new stuff to mine (although again, retreading is rampant; hence the FF). As a binge-watcher I’ve also noticed the show’s crypto-Jewish sensibility, which is something that escaped me way back in the early oughts, when I would now and again catch an episode on actual television (but would always stop watching b/c of the twee).

One thing I wish: Why can’t they give Rory a boyfriend who’s worthy of her? Lorelai gets them. I understand that the show needs conflict, but I’d be happier if the conflict came from a more authentic place, as opposed to “Dean is a townie with no personality,” “Jess is a bad boy who at all costs remains mute,” and now, ugh, we’re on the path to getting “Logan is an entitled asshole who isn’t even remotely attractive, so WHY WHY WHY?” We’ll see whether I make it into Seasons 6 and 7, about which I have heard depressing things.

Another thing I wish: Less racism. (None, actually, would be my preference.) It’s not just the lack of diversity but where they place the characters of color. I just watched, in horror, as Rory “returned” the African-American chauffeur to Logan, saying, “I fed Frank.” Because Frank is both property to be returned to his rightful owner and an animal that needs to be fed. (Never mind that Frank was with Rory for nearly 24 hours and would have needed more than one meal, not to mention a place to sleep, not to mention relief from a legally appropriate 8-hour-shift.) HOW did the people producing this show miss THAT one?

Worst Baby Names of 2016

April 7th, 2016

I’ve been seeing some lists floating around. I made my own.

  1. Aspic
  2. Balmoral
  3. Crevasse
  4. Effluent
  5. Dirge/Dirndl (tied)
  6. Frankincense
  7. Grotto
  8. Helium
  9. iPhone
  10. Janissary
  11. Klonopin
  12. Laundry
  13. Mange
  14. Namibia
  15. Ovoid
  16. Pterodactyl
  17. Quesadilla
  18. Rivulet
  19. Sorry
  20. Tissue
  21. Unguent
  22. Vengeance
  23. Whut
  24. Xingu
  25. Yling-Ylang
  26. Zumba

Oscar Movies: Belated

March 27th, 2016

Like anyone who cares about emotional depth and aesthetic achievement (to say nothing of racial diversity) in film, the Oscars don’t mean much to me. But, by prolonging the in-theater runs of certain movies I’ve been meaning to see but haven’t yet gotten around to, they do make life more pleasurable. In other words, we just saw Spotlight, yay!

Here’s what we got to in February/March:

1) The Big Short. I’ve done some reading/listening to podcasts about the mortgage crisis, so I had what I considered to be a fairly good understanding of what happened. But nothing brought it together for me the way this movie did, and with such a compelling, propulsive story, too. My favorite thing about the movie was Steve Carell’s hilariously intense performance; is he ever not good? (Nope. He’s always good*.) I also found Ryan Gosling impressively unrecognizable (for a moment, I thought he was Ryan Reynolds), and nobody does Method like Christian Bale**.

What I didn’t like were the condescending interruptions to explain the financial technicalities. I thought, first, that the writers could have found a way to get the exposition into the action (that’s your job, yo), and second, that having a conventionally beautiful naked woman in a bubble bath as one of your explainers is at best forgetting to include quite a few members of your audience and at worst insulting to women. Was there not a single person on McKay’s team who could have said something to him about that? There should have been at least one person. It’s not a good idea to make a film without somebody on your team’s representing, like, 50% of the human race.

*Remind me to write, at some point, of the miracle that is comedians who act. I have noticed that almost unfailingly, comedians are fantastic actors, just stunningly good, whereas actors are almost always NOT successful comedians.

**Fine, and Daniel Day-Lewis.

2) Brooklyn. Gorgeous and wonderfully emotional, especially for anyone who left a childhood home (with a mother who wanted her to stay) and traveled far away to make a new life. Basically, I sobbed through the entire thing. Loved Saoirse Ronan’s face in this movie. SO quietly expressive.

3) Spotlight. Intelligently told and smartly acted. Fascinating throughout. There were moments when I thought that Mark Ruffalo’s jutting lower jaw was going to bite off some of the scenery, but I got used to it after a while. As John pointed out, Michael Keaton was the real achievement here; his performance was so subtle and accomplished that the movie star disappeared into the character. And Rachel McAdams was a delight, too. So much fun to see a woman in a professional role, doing her work and being treated just like . . . oh, you know, a man. Oh—and Liev Schreiber! Liev Schreiber! Liev Schreiber!

Re: the sexual abuse scandals (plural, plural, plural) in the Catholic Church. What I said to John was, “I remember when all of this started coming out, in the early 2000′s. And there was this huge degree of shock, and Catholics were totally rocked by it. But my experience of this had been that everyone had always known about it, right? It was even a trope, the pedophile priest. There were jokes in campy movies about it. I don’t understand why it was so surprising.” But this movie makes it clear: People knew but they didn’t know. People thought that there was a priest here and there who was abusing kids but that he was removed from the system. What nobody knew was that there were, for example, 246 priests in Boston alone who had been accused and over 1000 victims in Boston alone who would come forward—and that abuse would come to light in hundreds of other cities around the world. In other words, it was (and is) a massive, systemic problem that went up to and was covered up by the highest levels.

And, you know, WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW. Now I get it.

Macbeth, Again

February 22nd, 2016

After seeing last night’s Berkeley Rep performance of Macbeth (with Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth, yo!), it was fun to cycle back to my blog entry of 6.5 years ago, after we’d seen the show at OSF. I was reminded of how electrified I was by the OSF performance, which was useful in light of—well, of feeling not a whole lot of anything after the Rep production. (Sorry, Berkeley Rep! The run is either entirely or very nearly sold out, so . . . I doubt this review [reaching, as it will, multiple tens of people] will decrease sales.)

I think the problem was the direction, which made me notice everything that’s weird about the play, especially the pacing. For instance, why is the annoying scene between Malcolm and Macduff, where Malcolm pretends to be abjectly sinful to test Macduff’s loyalty to Scotland, so freaking interminable? Do most directors just cut it from the play? I was also surprised by how brief Lady Macbeth’s hand-washing scene is (though: nicely done, Frances McDormand) as well as Macbeth’s “tomorrow” speech. And then there’s the fact that so many very important things happen in a flash and offstage—the killing of Duncan, the death of Lady Macbeth—whereas the slaying of Macduff’s wife and children, which is admittedly horrifying and important but which you would not expect to see, given the above, is dramatized.

During the Rep production I was struck by how unjustified Lady Macbeth’s murderous ambition is. I mean, maybe this is the sort of thing where Shakespeare is writing for King James, so he can’t imply that a man who became King of Scotland (apparently for 10 years!) would have murdered his predecessors, but wasn’t that just part of Scottish history? (I suppose kings aren’t exactly known for their ability to tolerate reality.) Either way, the play gives the initial impetus to kill Duncan to Lady Macbeth, and . . . I just wasn’t buying it this time around. She gets the letter from Macbeth about the witches’ prophesy, and that’s enough to convince her to plot the murder of a beloved king?

Funnily enough, I think costuming was at issue here. In the OSF production, Lady Macbeth was dressed in a velvet crimson gown (the only spot of color in an otherwise black/gray set and costume-scape); it was as though she was already bathed in blood, and she was instantly identifiable as a site of power. The Rep chose to go full-on period piece (i.e., 1040ish), with costumes in layers of drab cotton and linen, which left Frances McDormand in an Eileen Fisher-style getup (no makeup or hair, either) that broadcast vulnerability, not power. The raw unadornment of this look also siphoned impact away from the sleepwalking scene, in which Lady Macbeth is supposed to be shockingly unraveled and exposed; in the Rep production, she looked exactly the same.

Another costuming issue: With actors playing multiple parts, the costuming should have been different enough to avoid confusion. It wasn’t—to the point where it looked as though Macduff were in the forest with the murderers when they ambushed Banquo and Fleance. Turns out it was just the Third Murderer, looking exactly (literally exactly) like Macduff.

There was some silly staging, too, where characters ran in place, toward the audience, while video of a receding forest was projected on a screen behind them. The audience had to stifle laughter. Oh, and so many cawing crows! I joked to John that Macbeth was most certainly the Thane of CAWdor.

On the other hand, great banquet scene. I’d never seen it played both for horror and for laughs, and while I was a bit worried that the director intended otherwise (i.e., just horror, no laughs), John convinced me that it was a good thing either way.

An addendum to my 2009 question re: witches: Last night I learned from a sign hanging in the bathroom that King James was obsessed with witches, to the tune of writing a book called Demonology and advocating for witch hunts. (That’s . . . not great.) So, now I have a basic answer to “Why witches?”, although it doesn’t explain their aesthetic or thematic purpose in the play.

Bottom line: I wish the director had made a host of different choices. I’d also really like to see a production that isn’t done with such obvious genre tropes but is still horrifying. Like, what if everything were extremely stylish and minimal? Maybe a Calvin Klein version?

Quick Bites

January 26th, 2016

January, you guys. It always slams. Although (as one of my favorite t-shirts says), I brought this upon myself. Every year when we return from our two-week holiday sojourn, I feel an intense compulsion to Set It All Up for the ensuing year, inevitably working myself into a lather about stuff that has a much longer deadline than I’m pretending. Mostly I’m talking about taxes. I should lay off a little on the taxes. (Too late, Chipmunk.)

There hasn’t been as much time to consume culture as I’d like, but we managed to see Anomalisa, which is excellent. Definitely the kind of thing you need to talk about; there was a lot of “What the crap did that mean?” in the women’s bathroom (and in the froyo line) post-showing. For me it was fairly clear what was happening at a basic level; it was the deeper stuff, and the less obvious details, that took some time to get at. And John and I were somewhat at odds in terms of Is this Everyman or Is this Guy His Own Self? (John thinks the former, I think a bit of both.) Point being, though, great movie. Charlie Kaufman is a good thing in this world, even though he appears to be bearing more than his share of the suffering load.

I also read Pastrix, which I had been hoping to get to for some time and which I liked a lot. Smart, funny, vulnerable. I’ve got Bolz-Weber’s next one queued for the nearish future. Oh, and her Moth story is delightful.

I’m also halfway through My Name is Lucy Barton, which I’m very much enjoying, particularly for its almost subversive darkness. The tone feels yarny and homespun but also barbed; everywhere there are stinging little lines, or facts, that stop me cold. I’m curious to see where Strout is taking us, because at the moment it’s hard to imagine. I have a sense of what I’m wanting to see resolved without knowing whether it will be, or of course whatever else will emerge.

Finally, it had been years since I’d read The Line of Beauty, one of my all-time favorites, so I returned to that over the holidays, and it’s as gorgeous and intelligent and complex as I had remembered. Hollinghurst manages to create a protagonist who is immensely sympathetic but also problematic, such that we don’t necessarily question what he’s doing until it all unravels and we think, “Wait—that wasn’t such a good idea, was it? Any of it?” Except that also, he’s essentially blameless. His fault is that he chooses the wrong people to associate with (he sees people as things, and he prefers beautiful, expensive things), but what they do to him—and the AIDS crisis—well, obviously neither of those is his fault.

I also watched the 2006 BBC miniseries, and HOLY SHIT the acting. It’s three hours when imho it should have been six, so I don’t feel that we get the full weight of events. But Dan Stevens as Nick! Such a nuanced performance. So many finely tuned emotions flickering across his face, practically the entire spectrum of human feeling, so perfectly and carefully shown. I read somewhere that Stevens left Downton Abbey because he couldn’t stand the writing, and if so, Mr. Dan, I am feeling you.

Kookies!

December 14th, 2015

We went to a holiday party where an awesome person set up a cookie-decorating operation. I was new to this particular method, so I went with minimalism. Not bad for a first time out, huh?

I kept wishing I’d had tweezers—in which case, some very real cookie-decorating shit would have gone down.

Kookies!

Kookies!

(Don’t think too hard about what the red thing is.)

Next year: cookie-decorating party at my house! With just me! And a zillion freaking colors! And stencils! And glitter! And piping! AND TWEEZERS!

Okay, maybe you can come, too. Let’s find an occasion that truly inspires us and hasn’t been done to death. Arbor Day?

That Time o’ Year Again

December 4th, 2015

We’re in the countdown to Winter Travel (i.e., our annual 2+ weeks on the East Coast), so I’m lumping in my latest recs with my goodbye-for-this-year note.

Recently read and beloved:

1) The Story of My Tits, by Jennifer Hayden. Charming, funny, moving, and beautifully drawn graphic memoir that is much more than the story of Jennifer Hayden’s breasts. It’s the story of her life, more or less, told through the frame of her breasts—and the breasts, bodies, and souls of her mother, father, siblings, husband, children, etc.

I love the way Hayden depicts emotional experience, using dreamlike and visceral imagery to express what can’t necessarily be contained with words. I felt drawn in and held close, which was a privilege and a pleasure. Tits is densely packed with wit and keen observations, sometimes seemingly almost tossed away in tiny details. (I wish the frames were larger, actually, for that reason.) Anyway: highly recommended! A delightful and delightfully warm piece of work, full of tremendous heart and plentiful skill. YAY, YOU, JENNIFER HAYDEN.

2) El Deafo, by Cece Bell. Another graphic memoir, this one intended for young audiences, about the author’s experience as a deaf child in a hearing world. The drawings are incredibly compelling—brightly colored, adorable, and fully felt, with a spot-on sense of perspective and emotional richness. And everyone is a rabbit! Plus, the storytelling is pretty much perfection; it goes right to the heart with its emotional clarity. I wish I could buy this book for every 10-year-old on the planet. YAY, YOU, CECE BELL.

3) The podcast explosion is for real, and the embarrassment of riches can lead to magnificent experiences that are all too quickly forgotten. In recent weeks I’ve heard marvelous and stunning episodes on:

Sometimes, it’s good to live in the modern age.

Okay, peeps. That’s it until 2016. Hope your holidays are warm and bright or, failing that, that you don’t too much mind being in the soup. If you end up there, know that a large portion of humanity will be there with you. And maybe go outside and look at the sky and think about how big the universe is and how you don’t really matter anyway.

I find that helps.

Muebles-Agradable

November 12th, 2015

Years ago, before John and I moved in together, I had some concerns about whether we’d be able to find a shared aesthetic. His room in his cooperative house was charmingly snowed in under towers of books, papers, plants, theater props, and bicycle parts. And while I found his mess appealing from a potential-partner point of view (he embraces life, he has a lot of interests, he likes to take care of things that grow), I worried about living with it. I’m not only obsessively neat; I’m also almost frighteningly specific about decor.

The initial months of living together required some negotiation, but because we each had a bedroom (yup—successful transitioning tactic), he had space to continue piling, and I had space to streamline and organize. We stayed in that lovely home for quite a few years. We were happy there, but because it was a rental, I settled on a good-enough approach to furnishing. And the walls, for the most part, remained white. (With one exception: Our dear friend O, the landperson, had very generously painted my bedroom bubblegum pink pre-move-in. Those pink walls were a ceaseless source of pleasure for me.)

Then we bought a house. And moved into the master bedroom together. And had significantly more space. Finally, I faced the appealing task of manifesting my personal aesthetic, but I was also conscious of not wanting to subject John to a world he wouldn’t have chosen for himself. For instance: The master bedroom. Not pink. (It’s aquamarine and cream, with accents of navy and tangerine.) He still has some space to himself (an office, albeit it a small one), where he is free to recreate the rainforest effect. But in all of the shared space, I was hoping to at long last unleash the mid-century modern/CandyLand/Gothic chic that is my joy zone. And you know what? John let me. He kindly, generously, agreeably let me.

Years later, I’m still working on it, of course. There’s only one room (dining) that is definitively Done, while everything else is a WIP. Cue a recent evening, when the steel nightstand from CB2 had arrived and been placed on John’s side of the bed. I was standing there, pondering.

J: Do you like it?

M: I don’t know. Maybe it’s *too* modern.

J: Huh.

M: Or maybe the problem is that we need two of them?

J: Really, two?

M: I don’t know. Normally I’m against matching sets. But nothing else in this room is a set, so . . . maybe?

J: Huh.

M: I don’t know. I can’t tell.

J: We can just live with it for a while and see.

M: Yeah, thanks. That’ll help.

[Some time passes as John begins to stack his magazines on the nightstand's shelf and arrange his clock radio and light on the surface. I walk over to the bed and sit down next to him.]

M: Do you like it?

J: It has a drawer!

M: Yeah.

J: And it’s bigger! Than that last one. So I have more room!

M: Nice! So you do like it?

J: Works for me!

M: [Hugging him.] Aw. Thanks, Sweetie. You’re so agreeable.

J: I am! I’m muebles-agradable!

M: You are! You’re furniture-agreeable!

Of course, John is agreeable about more than just furniture, but I’m truly grateful for this willingness in him. I’ve watched enough decor television to know that when both people in the couple have strong preferences, the process can be sticky and even painful. Speaking of which: We have a small front yard. I want a succulent garden. John wants fruit trees. What happens next? I think we hire a landscape person to somehow give us both?