The Chair At Home

The Chair remains cushioned this week — safe, warm, in a heap of blankets with nothing but a remote, a laptop, an iPhone, an iPad, and Netflix to keep him company (oh and the good doctor too!). In between episodes of HGTV’s Celebrity IOU (if you don’t know, get thee to a couch now), the Chair snuck in a viewing of this week’s SNL… and this pretty much sums it up…

Who knew how important the laughs would be? The nervous giggles over a twisted joke? The awkward chortle when a cast member is trying wayyy too hard? the LOL moment when Kate McKinnon gives us her crazy eyed glare? Let’s all remember this when some pop culture prognosticator declares that live in-studio television is “dead.” #longlivethecannedlaughs

Either way, the show had some highlights which will help get us through the week (who are we kidding? The Chair will just rewatch Kids Baking Championship from 2017 if he’s in a pinch):

Bathed in a the red glow of her grotto fire pit, Miss Miley did us proud with her cover of Pink Floyd. (Now added to the Chair’s list of “sentences we never thought would appear on the blog”).

And kudos to Dr. Anthony Fauci who got his wish to have Brad Pitt impersonate him (we’re guessing that wish is third to, you know, a vaccine and retirement). Also, snaps to Mr. Pitt for having a stellar background (#ZoomEnvy).

And in yet another Pete Davidson made-in-his-basement music video (how many hoodies does this guy have?), we were treated to some old-fashioned Adam Sandler, a schtick that seemed to have gotten old only to be revived by his heartfelt hosting gig last season (which was a year ago, which converted to quarantine time is roughly a decade ago). Here’s the video if you’re so inclined, but we’re more interested in how adorable Sandler’s wife is.

Almost too cute to function

Till next week, Chair fans. Leaving you with some wise words from Ms. Gaga.

My Taste in Quarantine

There is no accounting for taste.  Especially my own.  These days.

After many decades alternately employed as a critic, journalist, screenwriter, college professor and generally professional opinionist on way too much, I know what I like and don’t like.  It’s not that I’m not occasionally surprised or appalled by where my tastes take me but, for the most part, it’s unsurprising.

Until now.

In this world of social distancing self-quarantine there is no accounting for taste. Especially my own.

We are living in a judgement free zone

During these endless hours/days/weeks at home I find myself falling into endless rabbit holes of entertainment, diversion and amusement even though I have all the time on my hands to do everything I’ve ever wanted to do that can be done solo inside the solitude of one’s own home.

Which is, let’s face it, quite a lot in our 21st century.

The problem is, I don’t want to do much except gawk at everything I can’t experience up close and personal.  In other words – LIVE. 

That is the only explanation I can come up with for the majority of my entertainment hours this week.

Which, as I’ve said, is pretty much the majority of my hours in every single day.

That, and that alone, is why I spent six of them (in one 24-hour period) on Netflix’s reality/docuseries Tiger King.  Sure, I realize it was TV’s  #1 RATED most popular show last week AND the #1 featured choice in Netflix logarithms (Note:  Whatever they are).  But I HATE sh-t like that.

WHY am I watching this?

No, really.

The last time I remember watching TV’s number one show was a Miss America Beauty pageant as a wee lad in the 1960s.  I thought the gowns were cool and I was dying to gawk at some poor bubble-haired young woman from the south or Midwest almost burn herself to a crisp as she threw three fire-lit batons high into the air.

These were they type of diversions I needed back then as a young gay boy trying to not acknowledge reality.

And yet, here I am again, right back where I was, watching a 21st century version for that same type of escape.

Me, working on my wave

But this time in the form of a different spectacle.  That of a gay, polygamous, self proclaimed redneck who cuddles with numerous 400 lb. tigers, has a padlock piercing on his penis and is frenemies with multiple felons that enable him to control an exotic roadside animal sanctuary where he may or may not be plotting the murder of others and may or may not be engaging in all kinds of meth-fueled sex parties with any number of hunky younger lovers.

That’s the amount of distraction required from MY 21st century reality.  And clearly most of YOURS.

Yet I’m not sure how I account going from that to the best screenplay winner at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Portrait of A Lady on Fire. 

Guilt, perhaps?

Maybe not.  It feels like a much more natural fit for me to watch a very artsy and very French film about two young women in the late 1700s fall in love/lust very, very VERY slowly in a stripped down rustic Nancy Meyer-ish type home by the sea.  One’s a painter secretly hired to do a portrait of the other, a young woman of means promised into marriage by a domineering mother.  And each has a secret that dare not speak its name.

Plus Fire! (just in case you needed that confirmed)

It was really good, I liked it and yet….I dozed off three different times and had to rewind to find my place back into the story because hey, subtitles and lingering looks.  In these times, they’re not as compelling on the faces of people who could actually reach out and touch each other.  In the same room.  Without masks!

So, I mean, watch it or don’t watch but know it’s incredibly well done and under any more normal circumstances I would NEVER have fallen asleep.  I swear.

I SAID NO JUDGEMENT!

Of course, it could have been anxiety that made me that tired.  So as I made my way into the bedroom, knowing my husband was going to be working late downstairs, I was determined that this one night I could finally get my much-needed, fitful, say, at least 6 or 7or 22  hours of sleep.

Whereupon (Note:  A word I must have heard in the French film) I rest my head on my pillow and suddenly become WIDE AWAKE.  Like, not even tired slightly.

So what does one do with that these days?  Check one’s email and look at the link some well-intentioned friend sends you on some well-intentioned diversion to take away your psychic pain of the moment (aka what you saw on the NEWS that day).

Not a good idea.

I just can’t quit you MSNBC

Because after watching that YouTube offering you stumble onto something else and then something further and wind up watching:

A 1973 two-part FIRST EVER television interview with Katharine Hepburn.  You want to talk about three hours of blissful bliss without commercials.  I was up until 3:30 in the morning learning these essential facts:

– Kate thinks that you CAN’T HAVE EVERYTHING, meaning, career, love AND your own family. 

– Kate thinks the reason she was a success is that she had great parents who were always attentive and ALWAYS encouraged her in everything she wanted to do (Note: F-k her).

– Kate knows the other reasons she was a success was that she was incredibly hard-working, didn’t drink or do drugs, and, most of all, didn’t indulge in self-pity (Note #2 – Double f-k her).

– Kate said that in addition to talent, the reason people become movie stars is that they have a distinct voice, the camera somehow loves how they photograph and that they are incredibly….LUCKY. (Note:  Really?????) 

Click here to watch the whole glorious interview

Though in the case of a legend like Garbo it was the added element of mystery, she noted.  No matter how much time you spent with her and no matter how well you liked her (and Kate copped to both) you NEVER REALLY KNEW HER.  NO ONE DID.

See, I don’t know what to do with that.

And probably already knew it at 1:00 a.m., anyway.

Which is why, when I look over the last three self-isolating weeks and am being totally honest – I have to admit – that despite all of the above and much, much more –when you total it all up –  I have still spent the majority of my mindless entertainment time – on my usual time suck….

You know you love it!!

There are hours of home makeover shows but this week I was all about Love It Or List It and Nate and Jeremiah Save My House.  Rather than being romantic, reality show bizarre or biographically uninstructional, these two series are most particularly, and hopelessly, predictable.

Come for the design, stay for Hilary’s coordinating accessories #necklaceandearringsfordays

A mess of a house is presented to a duo of two experts (Note: Cause a duo is always two) and in the end, they always always, ALWAYS  have the same inevitable outcome.

The homes are so colorful, so functional and so vastly all that and more you can’t help but be blindsided.  And, unlike the type of blindsiding we’ve grown used to, in a hopelessly great way.

Sure, no matter how great my house might be it won’t ever be that bright, perfect or airy.  However, these days it doesn’t matter because NO ONE AT ALL who wants to LIVE will get to redo their house from the ground up because NO ONE AT ALL can be a ONE-PERSON BAND OF reconstruction in self-isolation.

And somehow I find that reassuring.

As reassuring as I find Nate and Jeremiah’s coordinating outfits #howcutearethey #somuchBEIGE

Not to mention, even if you could do everything YOURSELF, where would you get the materials?  Someone (and certainly more than one) would have to deliver it ALL to you and then YOU would have to Lysol or Clorox wipe them ALL down.   Every.  Last.  One.

Even with all the time in the world, none of us has time for that.

2011 Tony Awards Performance (with Sutton Foster) – “Anything Goes”

Debating the Hunt

I want what I want when I want it and HOW I want it.

Well, sorry.  That’s not how it happens.

This weekend I binged the first three episodes of the wildly imaginative and riveting new Amazon series, Hunters.  In it, Al Pacino plays a wealthy NYC Holocaust survivor who leads a secret ragtag band of avengers out to exterminate a small organized army of Nazis and pro Hitler youth bent on creating a Fourth Reich.

Think X-Men meets Inglorious Bastards told through the eyes of a Gen X’er in the late 1970s.

Sounds good to me!

Mixing fact and fiction, as dramatists are wont to do, Hunters is a crazy ride through a cross-section of imagined superhero type adventures (Note: Sans supernatural powers) and serious, sometimes gruesome reinventions of Holocaust atrocities.  The latter are quite difficult to look at and yet impossible to look away from.

As a somewhat diminutive Jewish boy from NYC who also felt powerless in my younger days, especially when it came to Nazis and bullies, I found myself LOVING every moment of Hunters, especially for the dramatic and sweet comic revenge the series offered.

Still, this hasn’t stopped its inevitable condemnation from a large and loud group of detractors.

Twitter 2020

Those include any number of Jewish groups who’ve chastised the series and its creators for inventing Nazi cruelties in a reimagined Grand Guignol type setting.  The same type of setting many of them also applauded in the above-mentioned, and Oscar-winning, Tarantino film.

Other virulent critics and social media observers were a lot more Guignol in their characterization, dismissing the entire affair as Jewsploitation.

One organization, dedicated to preserving the site of the Auschwitz camps as a memorial and preemptive warning for future generations, even called it dangerous foolishness.

It is on Amazon Prime, not PBS. #getagrip #wait #amibeingtooharsh?

Never mind the series’ 31-year old creator and show runner, David Weil, is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor and used his grandmother’s stories as a jumping off point for many of the ideas in the program.

Now taste is taste and certainly no one is obligated to love, like or even tolerate something if it is not to their sensibilities.

On the same token, one can safely assume that none of us, critics or boosters alike, are fans of the Holocaust or disagree that the return to power of Nazis and a new Fourth Reich would be a heinous, dangerous thing.

I think we’re all on the same page here

In other words, we are all in 100% in agreement on the overriding need of getting the word out on that specific dramatic message.  It’s simply the means by which we get there that we disagree on.

Another way to put it is that when it comes to the most important stuff, we are all on the SAME team, if not page.

You might see where I’m going here.  But in case you don’t, here goes:

I believe the United States is right now on the verge of our own modern day Holocaust: of democracy, our core values, our safety and our liberties.

I believe the determining factor on which way it goes will be whether we reelect Donald J. Trump to the presidency later this year.

I believe the overwhelming majority of Democrats, and more Republicans than many of us imagine, agree on this. Certainly the majority of registered voters in the country agree.  As they did in the last election.

Get your surfboard #bluewave2020

Yet here’s what I’ve witnessed among my own intimate group of fellow friends, associates and Americans, many of them Democrats, in the last few weeks:

– The condemnation of comedian John Mulaney by numerous like-minded Dems for daring to say he’d like to play Pete Buttigieg if they ever made a film about the candidate’s life. (Note: FYI, Mulaney has not even endorsed Buttigieg).

– A massive social media backlash against show biz icon Bette Midler for tweeting that Mike Bloomberg is our best choice to dethrone Trump. (Note: Several fans screamed that they’re done with her forever even though Midler has been a vociferous and almost daily anti-Trump voice on Twitter for over a year).

Do NOT come for our Bette!

– Very personal rantings from a bunch of close male friends against Elizabeth Warren because she dared to confront Mike Bloomberg very directly about his past treatment of women during the last two presidential debates and, as the logic goes, ruined his chance of election.

– The vow to SIT OUT the election entirely and NOT VOTE from a powerful small group of wealthy Dem donors I know if Bernie Sanders winds up being our party nominee.

– The vow to NEVER VOTE for any moderate Democratic nominee – especially Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and, yeah, Bloomberg – from any number of younger Dems that I know.

You’ll only get real talk from the Chair

– The thorough CONFUSION of many of the people closest to me on which Democratic candidate to vote for in the primary due to the fear that if the if they choose the person they TRULY SUPPORT they are wasting their vote because that person CAN’T WIN or WONT BE THE NOMINEE and they will thus unwittingly help nominate another candidate they loathe, dislike or generally would be quite reluctant to vote for.

Talk about SELF-SEWING American discord according to Russia’s plan.

Not to be scolding, but, well, now is the time for us all to grow the f-ck up.

What this means is: vote for whomever you REALLY want in the primary.  ANYONE.  And then unite behind the major party candidate your party nominates in order to rid our country of the Nazi in OUR House.

Yeah I said it

This might seem like hyperbole but in my mind it’s not.

This might seem like a difficult choice to make but if you don’t overcomplicate it, it isn’t.

See, on the big issues of Reichs and Nazi-like behavior, the objectives that unite as are pretty simple and a lot stronger than any which divide us.

Or should be.

Blondie – “One Way or Another” (Live)

Time Traveling with TCM

As the 2020 presidential election looms like a giant sword swinging over our collective heads, it’s difficult to know what to do.

Turn off and there’s the guilt, or eventual guilt, over whistling past the graveyard of American democracy.

Turn on and there’s the endless anger and non-stop memes (or worse) that pits US against THEM and saps whatever energy is left for I.

I’m with you Steph

What that leaves each of us with right now is individual choice, a sure sign that American democracy is not dead…yet.

That was reassuring for half the weekend because I, for one, scheduled a relaxing few days at home lying around, reading and catching up on the 75% of programming saved on the DVR that needs to be erased…at some point.

But then I turned on Turner Classic Movies

That seemed like a good idea because this month TCM is featuring 31 Days of Oscar.  What this means is that until March 2 every film scheduled on the network is a nominee or winner of Hollywood’s top prize.

Also featured: Ben Mankiewicz and his lush, thick hair #notjealous #veryjealous

For those of us worn out from the politics of it all popping up on the news, in social media and as a part of even the most generalized pop culture memes everywhere, that provides a virtual luxury vacation of escape.

You can ostensibly tune in at any time and be pretty sure you’ll have an all expenses paid trip of at least two hours into an alternate story reality much more preferable and a lot less toxic than the one we all currently reside in.

Ok Rhett… let’s say sometimes  just AS toxic

And I’m not just writing this because my dear friend, Pola Changnon, a fellow movie lover, was recently and very deservedly named general manager of the whole damned network several weeks ago.

Though partly I am.

Damn right!

At our celebratory dinner I couldn’t help but gush a little to her at how, in these trying times, it was such a relief to tune in TCM and, suddenly, get lured into a non-2020 narrative where there is no Twitter and usually not much in the way of anything Orange employed onscreen.

Even though any number of the films on TCM might be available to rent and/or purchase, somehow, when you think of doing that, you instantly say to yourself, I don’t have time to watch this!

But when they suddenly appear on Channel 256 (in LA of course) on your TV or screen of choice and you get hooked, hey, no one can blame you!

Margo’s got the right idea

To do so would be like getting down on someone for eating a slice of that already half eaten chocolate cake left out on the counter or helping yourself to a single drink at an open bar at anyone’s yearly holiday party and being met with a nasty stare by the “Church Lady.”

You’re entitled.  We’re all entitled.

But here’s the thing about escape.  Wherever you are, there you are.

At least that’s how it felt to me watching the classic, Oscar nominated movie, The Third Man on TCM this past Saturday afternoon.

* not directed by Welles

Foolishly thinking a 1949 film noir with Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles that I somehow had managed not to have ever seen all the way through could free me from the T***P era what I discovered was… um… NOanything but.

Based on a Graham Greene novella The Third Man is brilliantly photographed and edited, has a great twist and turn story, terrific acting and innovative directing, AND an unforgettable score.

It is also a perfect evocation of the moral dilemma we all face in the, okay let’s say it now, Trump Era.

AH!! DON’T SAY IT!!

Rather than transport us away into post World War II Vienna (Note: Though it literally does) it more effectively brings us right back to the question of 21st century individual choice.

That is to say, how to confront moral decay and, yeah, pure evil when we see it.

– The Third Man doesn’t have children in cages as a result of the whims of a powerful man but instead shows us kids locked in a hospital, dying of (Note: Okay, no spoilers here) because of the actions of a brilliantly clever (Note: Evil?) genius with no moral compass.

– The Third Man isn’t about an election and the loss of the rule of law but instead is about one writer/investigator challenged to make a defining moral choice in a sea of contradictory and sometimes but not ultimately confusing facts.

Figuring out the light from dark (bonus cool lighting)

 – The Third Man doesn’t have raging arguments between longtime neighbors and family members about right vs. wrong but it does ask us to consider whether our most loyal bestie from childhood can be good and evil at the same time and calmly consider how every one of OUR actions – past, present and future — has and will affect not just ourselves but the rest of the world as we know it.

Not bad for a half century plus old black and white feature where everyone but the American writer played by Joseph Cotten speaks with an accent, the Twitter-sphere didn’t exist and no mention at all is made of democracy, elections or the rise of the socialist left and/or the dictatorial repressive right.

But it does have Ferris Wheels!

A great classic movie is a little like a vintage piece of clothing you hold on to over the years.   As norms change you know that in a pinch it will perfectly fit some occasion, event of even era you are suddenly faced with.

It’s comforting, it’s clarifying but at the same time it also makes you think, sometimes of all sorts of things you might want to forget.

Or should remember.

That’s saying a lot for the days we’ve been living through and have yet to go through.

Anton Karas – Theme from The Third Man

Oscar Watch: 2020

Think of watching the Oscars like a booty call.  Or the hookup you reluctantly fall back on once a year.

Neither may be the best use of your time but each offers a chance for something mindless, seductive, exciting and fabulous, perhaps all at once.

Be nice… after all, Green Book can’t win again.

Never mind there’s a 98.6% chance that won’t happen.  We all live for that elusive 1 (plus) percent.  And isn’t that what the Oscars are really about?

So, don’t pretend you won’t watch, hate watch or go to some event where you sort of watch or shhhh shhhh everyone so you can watch.  You will and so will we – live and on Twitter and via Facebook.  In the meantime, here are five things to watch out for while you’re watching this year’s Academy Awards:

1- THE TAMING OF NETFLIX – For the first time in Oscars’ history it’s not a film studio leading the pack for the most nominations but a….streaming service.  That would be Netflix with 24 nominations – 10 for The Irishman, 6 for Marriage Story, 3 for Two Popes, 2 for best-animated feature (Klaus and I Lost My Body) and 1 for best documentary short (Life Overtakes Me).

It’s not that Netflix will get entirely shut out of the game – after all, money from prestige films is really hard to come by these days.  It’s more that the streamers need to know their place.  So look all three of Netflix’s dramatic feature nominees to go home empty handed in every category with the exception of Laura Dern’s win for best supporting actress in Marriage Story.  A second award will likely be in the animated feature category, probably for Klaus.  But that should be all.

GO GET YA OSCAR, DERNZ!

2-  BILLIE EILISH – She just co-wrote and performed the theme for the upcoming James Bond film and, as such, will likely be an Oscar nominee next year.  But this year the iconoclastic 18-year old will be performing…..something.

My guess is that it’s either an imaginative background vocal to the In Memoriam segment or some weird preview of the Bond song.

Or, well…okay, the truth is I have no idea.  But I’ll bet she wears sparkly pajamas while she’s doing it and they will be the top online seller of Oscar knock off outfits the very next day.

I want to understand this… I think?

3- PARASITE vs. 1917 – Since the four acting prize winners are pretty much set (Note: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Renne Zellweger (Judy), Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood) and Laura Dern (Marriage Story)) that leaves best picture and director to provide the suspense.

What seems inevitable is a split between the 1917 and Parasite with our money on Sam Mendes as best director for 1917 and Parasite taking home the big best picture prize.  Why?  Because everyone admires 1917 as opposed to loving it and no film speaks to this moment in time better than Parasite.

4BRAD PITT’S STANDING OVATION AND ACCEPTANCE SPEECH – He’s the only one in his category to have never won an acting Oscar.  He was great in Once Upon A Time.  He’ a 56 year old shirtless wonder.  He’s made fun of himself in truly hilarious, self-effacing speeches all throughout awards season and everyone wants to see/hear what comes next.  (Note:  Ahhhhh, no, it won’t be Jen….Or will it?).

This might be the second to last time I can post this… OK let’s be real, I will post this forever #goodlawd

5- POLITICS DRINKING GAME – The main attraction.  You likely won’t hear the word Trump mentioned at all during the show. But throw one back every time you do hear the words peace, equality, global warming, justice, America or any variation of the phrase: lawless White House Orange Pumpkin Monster.

It will ensure the best Oscar experience you’ve ever had and you won’t remember a thing in the morning.

Elton John with Taron Egerton – “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”

Now Playing: MEH

A friend of mine recently posted about being disappointed in the current crop of movies and pondered whether his expectations were simply too high.

I thought:

I used to feel this way about people until years of therapy educated me to the fact that since you can’t expect anyone to behave in the absolutely perfect way you would in any given situation, well, you can’t quite fault them for it.

But art is something else and movies are really something more than that.

If you can’t depend on a chunk of the films in the last three months of the year to be really great, or at least really, really good, what hope is there for the future of the country/world?

Even my pessimism is working against me

Or to put it another way:

What else can THEY take away?

THEY get to fill the majority of movie screens most of the year with super heroes, escapist action and the mindless romps of cardboard characters that pass for humor.  Surely the little sliver left for us adults, or people of any age with some discernment or taste, would not go undisturbed.

Would it?

Oh Chairy, you make me laugh

Well, I quickly diagnosed the condition.  The U.S. film industry has entered a state of artistic global warming and it’s going to take generations of action to reduce the trend and it’s effect on the world.  That is, if it’s not too late already.

Of course, this makes sense.  We have for a while been the #2 polluting country worldwide, responsible for 15% of the planet’s greenhouse gases/carbon monoxide emissions (Note:  Only China bests us at 30%)  Not to mention,  we recently pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord.

So if the choice comes down to huge corporate profits vs. the safety of the planet, be it from pollutants in the air, sea or mind, um, there is only one choice.

Money TRUMPS everything. 

You know I loathe to use the word!!!

This is not to say we’re doing nothing about pollution or that there are no good films to see.  We do and there are.  Though it sort of reminds me of the quality of work I did when my divorced working Mom assigned me my daily household chores.

Never did I NOT get the job but not once, EVER, did I achieve anything spectacular as a final product.  The amount of sheer commitment, single-mindedness and self reflection on the importance of the request that in turn would produce the ultimate load of uber clean and perfectly folded bathroom towels to please Mom could not be further from my #1 priority.

Listen… it was hard work!!

What I wanted was to do it my way, get my allowance money and not have to deal with what was clearly unwarranted and unjustified negative feedback.  We made a deal and I more than fulfilled my end of the bargain.  In fact I did a damn great job of it given all the amount of commitments I had to juggle and guff I was up against as a latch key teenager.

To not to see it my way was clearly ignorance, an inability to truly understand the task at hand with the funds available to me and the overwhelming nature of the job I was tasked with.

Or, so I thought.

See:

It’s not that The Irishman isn’t interesting or well made.  It’s just that, well, it’s a bit of a slog.

I think I aged 20 years watching this

It’s not that Marriage Story doesn’t try.  It’s just that, given the many (Note: So Many) problems in today’s world, it ultimately comes off as superficial, self-important, over-praised and naval gazing. 

It’s not that Knives Out isn’t fun and has nothing to say.  It’s just that, well, it’s not nearly as great as the first two and a half minute trailer and that’s a problem in an almost two hour spoof of an/all Agatha Christie film. 

and a criminal underuse of miss jamie lee

It’s not that Parasite doesn’t have a cool point of view and doesn’t subvert our much too comfortable expectation of “cinema.” It’s just that, well, it’s screenplay is far from seamless and it requires us to accept way, way too much fantastical stuff for a non-genre film.

It’s not that Jo Jo Rabbit is not entertainingly fantastical and welcome-ingly strange.  It’s just that, well, when reinventing the comic Nazi archetype en masse one needs to be much, MUCH more clever and A LOT more specific (Note: See Inglorious Bastards).

It’s not that Hustlers doesn’t have a really and truly quite compelling pole dance by an age-defying Jennifer Lopez and literally countless seductively glossy film montages.  It’s just that, well… an anthem of feminism and/or female empowerment?  R-R-R-Really?  No……really?????

OK but… how many de-aging cameras are on her?

I could go on and if you catch me in person I’d be glad to.  You might not be interested or glad about it, though, and certainly I’d understand that.  After all, there is enough disappointment, bitterness and anger in our overly polluted world already.

The point is, really, where are today’s cinematic equivalents of:

Citizen Kane, Singing In the Rain, Giant, All About Eve, The Graduate, A Clockwork Orange, Rosemary’s Baby, All the President’s Men, E.T., Sophie’s Choice, Do the Right Thing, Working Girl, Boyz in the Hood, Schindler’s List, Mulholland Drive, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Moonlight and yes, La La Land??

You said it Chairy!!

They (whoever they are) say that we get the best art in the most difficult of times.  Judging from the movie art this year this means either the times are going to have to get a lot worse or filmmakers and the industry at large need to figure out a way to go from the satisfaction of good/really good/highly profitable to the exhilaration of great/risk it all fantastic/not trying to thread the needle of commerciality and art and thus achieving both incredible.

No pressure.  At least no more pressure than past generations of filmmakers and their needy, more than willing to go on a journey, audiences ever felt.

Hozier – “Take Me To Church”

But… Why?: A Movie Story

This is not about hating a film.

It’s just that every so often there is a high-class movie that critics and audiences seem to love and you just don’t get.

At least it starts out that way.

Uh oh — the Chair is about to get real

Here’s the deal.  You’re watching a movie and there are moments in the first half hour that irk you.

-The actors seem to be trying too hard to make you feel something. 

-The story interests you but the choices the characters make feel written, or vague or just plain unbelievable. 

-The conflicts scream drama and real-life comic irony. Yet nothing you’re watching has any urgency.  These people seem to have it all in a 2019 world where land mines can literally lurk around every corner.

Finally, as you watch all of this unfold you want to run from the theatre screaming to every character appearing in this acclaimed work of artistic brilliance:

Jesus, get a real problem!!!!  What would you actually do if crime knocked at your door, your kid got sick, you truly couldn’t pay your bills or even one of the myriad of political issues we see played out on the news daily hit you squarely in the face? 

No comment (but really, comment)

This is all to say, is it enough these days to watch a film that is merely about successful, wealthy characters whose chief challenge in life is a lack of communication with each other and their own super human inability to get out of their own way?

Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson poses that question.  Decide for yourself after you see it.  Or better yet, don’t see it and use the money to contribute to any one of the 7,235 Democratic candidates running for president in 2020.

Except this guy. No one should give money to this guy.

There have been wonderful movies about the dissolution of a marriage between wealthy, or at least well-off and politically unaffected, couples and the byproduct of pain it inflicts on both their children and themselves.

The haunting Shoot the Moon (1982) comes to mind (Note: Diane Keaton singing the Beatles’ If I Fell in the bathtub.  Unforgettable.).  More acclaimed and better known are Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (1982) and the Oscar-winning Kramer vs. Kramer (1979).

Boyhood also fits the bill

So you don’t have to be economically pressed or non-white or non-straight to warrant a big screen dramatization of your issues.

The problem with Marriage Story for what will likely be a vocal minority of many of us is, like its protagonists, it tries to have it all and takes no responsibility for its own actions.  It’s an overwrought and yet underdeveloped attempt to capture the superficial in a non-superficial way.

It is very loosely based on the dissolution of the real-life marriage of its prolific director-writer Baumbach to actress Jennifer Jason-Leigh so one immediately presumes it’s operating from a place of honesty.

Ehhhhh… maybe?

Yet some of us will leave the theatre pondering whether what is most difficult is to be honest about ourselves?  A second question might be whether what seemed life threatening, dramatic or even black comedy funny to us will register as anything more than Okay, boomer (Note: Feel free to substitute Gen X, Millennial, et al) to anyone else.

It’s not that we don’t at all care about Charlie, an avant-garde turned breakthrough N.Y. theatre director, his wife Nicole, an L.A. bred commercially acclaimed actress who married him and, in the process, rebranded herself as a deeper, more serious thespian.  Nor is it that we don’t have feelings for Henry, their adorable if somewhat odd, floppy-haired 8-year-old son whom both parents seem devoted to and truly love.

Sounds…. fascinating.  #vanilla  #very

It’s just, well, what do we do with two people who tell us their problems in long monologues about their lives and feelings, none of which seem pressing enough to justify the drastic decision they’ve made to junk the whole deal?  Every marriage has some level of neglect, betrayal, sacrifice and unexpressed anger.  So why is it these two people suddenly decide they can’t take it anymore?

Or, as many a writer instructor poses to their classes at least once every semester:

WHY. THIS. DAY?

Is she thinking what I’m thinking? #butwhy

This story of a marriage becomes a strange juxtaposition of over-explaining the big issues and leaving out the specifics of what would elucidate them.  That leaves it in the hands of two very capable actors, the dynamic duo of Driver and Johansson, to work it out for us.

It’s an unfair place to put them in yet each manages to rise to the occasion and create whatever sparks of resonance the story has.  They are so game and so committed that it is only the looks on their very raw and very photographable faces that drag the movie over its much hoped for finish line.

Is it interesting to spend half of your viewing time watching the onscreen antics of callow California divorce lawyers?  Not to mention, are there still people who think every second person in Los Angeles tries to sell the merits of the city to die hard New Yorkers by constantly proclaiming about our homes and apartments:

But look at all that space! 

Don’t get me wrong, I still love you, Laura Dern #youdeservebetter

It’s a 1980s view of the left coast that only someone steeped on the east could write.

Which is not to say that it’s untrue.  Nor are numerous other moments.  It’s that they’re unchallenged.  They hang in the air as facile explanations for behavior rather than offer us lacerating insight as to why.

This is never more exemplified than when Mr. Driver’s Charlie is tasked with performing Being Alive, Stephen Sondheim’s famed eleven o’clock number from Company, in its entirety.

As he sings: But alone, Is alone, Not alive as some sort of tremulous reflection and revelation for a marriage gone bad, we feel for the actor.

ADAM DRIVER SINGS?!

But it’s more for him and what he’s managing to pull off in the name of his character. He deserves the Oscar nomination surely coming his way for the herculean task of simply getting through it.

That cannot be said for anything else in the film, speaking for the very vocal minority of us who simply don’t get it.

Tina Turner – “Let’s Stay Together”