2019, Take a Seat

I’m thinking of 2019 as the year of the bad breakup.  It was miserable, endless and painful and yet it had a few high points where you got some revenge and even won several arguments.

No, that’s not a particularly healthy way to think.  But it is satisfying and harmless if you only indulge at the end of the year.  Like a pizza dinner with fries on the side and a chocolate anything for dessert.  Or sex with the wrong person.

Yeah, I said it.

No one really wants to look back on a year such as this one but as 2019 comes to a close a handful of moments might be worth remembering.  That is aside from teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg taking every one of us over forty out to the virtual woodshed for destroying the planet over the last 30 years.

Some moments are in a class by themselves and have far more meaning than the off year in which they occurred.

And with that:

THE CHAIR’S BEST OF LIST:

The Finger Point Seen Round the World

On point

Say what you will about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi but her total domination of the Electoral College POTUS who thinks He’s King in 2019 was one dependable, if sporadic, joy to behold.  This was typified by that October still photo Trump tweeted of her dressing down the sort of prez over his Syrian policy with her words AND her finger with the attempted shaming caption, Nervous Nancy’s Unhinged Meltdown!

Only he could never imagine she would embrace an image where she was confronting a table full of clueless straight white men who could barely look her in the face, make it her Twitter cover photo and in turn have it embraced as THE symbol of female empowerment and popular resistance to the patriarchy heard round the world.

AND you thought she couldn’t top last year’s meme of her leaving the White House in that red coat and oversized sunglasses…

The Strangest and Best TV Special that Shouldn’t Exist but Does

How did this get made?

Netflix’s John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch is exhibit A in defense of Netflix because it’s hard to imagine it would get green lit by or as widely seen on any other platform in the world.

But how to describe it?

Well, see, there’s this smart comic named John Mulaney (Note: Co-creator of SNL’s Stefon) who had an Emmy winning Netflix special last year and thought for his fellow-up he’d mix it up with a group of musical theatre pre-teens he gets to sing, dance and emote with in a post-modern remix version of the eighties kids shows Electric Company and Zoom!

This, of course, sells everything about the program way, way, waaaaay short.

Intrigued, confused, weirded out? All of the above.

Suffice it to say any show that features The Talking Heads’ David Byrne, Broadway’s Andrew De Shields and moviedom’s star Jake Gyllenhaal singing along to Mulaney-penned or approved original material with youngsters who have much better voices than they do is worth seeing.

If that doesn’t grab you how about a young guy warbling Sascha’s Dad Does Drag, another singing, Grandma’s Got A Boyfriend or a young woman getting to wear David Byrne’s iconic big suit while dueting Pay Attention with him?

No?

What about Jake in a colorful xylophone jacket having a sweaty nervous breakdown as he desperately and unsuccessfully tries to convince us of the places where he is sure music sprang from.

Are you sure I’m not on drugs?

Be honest.  You like to watch….don’t you?

The Unforgettable Performance

Clang, clang, clang goes the Oscar?

Judy Garland is likely the most imitated performer in the history of show business.  Or at least in every gay bar across the world, which is, let’s face it, where all of show business sprang from.

That is why Renee Zellweger’s incredible performance in title role of Judy, a film that chronicles Garland’s final musical comeback towards the end of her life, is such an achievement (see my post about that here).

It’s not so much that she delivers a carbon copy imitation.  It’s more that she manages to evoke the very tremulous essence of the vulnerable performer and turn her into a recognizable brew of strengths and weaknesses that each of us can relate to.

… and she did indeed #tehehe

On paper this might have seemed like a disaster, especially since there is nowhere to hide when half the film is shot in close-ups and two-shots of you either alone or pulling focus from others by just being you (nee Her).  That Zellweger manages to pull this off (and then some) in a film that will likely win her the competitive best actress Oscar that eluded the real Judy is sweet.  Even sweeter for her is the fact that it has vaulted her right back on top of contemporary Hollywood after the tongue waggers-that-be delighted some years ago in categorizing her as already past her prime before she even turned 50.

Tee-hee.  Hee.

Best Shirtless Brad Pitt Moment

You’re Welcome

He’s 56 years old and it was in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.  Without CGI.  That is all.

Priceless Mean Girls Moment

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French president Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson huddled together at this year’s NATO summit dishing Electoral POTUS Donald Trump and it made us ALL feel better about being human.

Oh, OF COURSE NO ONE IS CONDONING GOSSIP OR BITCHY BEHAVIOR!!

Still, Mean Girls was a best-selling book, a hit movie, and a Broadway musical that ran for almost two years and will likely be playing at a city near you in 2020 so there must be something to it.

We all know Regina George would make Electoral POTUS cry.

Sure, the best strategy with a know-nothing bully is not stooping to their level.  But we all need to blow off steam, and preferably where they are in close enough proximity to know that you HATE them!!!!

Not to mention, the message must have gotten through.  Trump promptly left the summit early just a day later in a huff, knowing he was not wanted.

Wait….you feel bad?  Really???????

Because his latest revenge against Trudeau, hot off the presses:  Trump and his son, Donald Trump, Jr., tweeting that it was the Canadian Prime Minister who was responsible for Sr’s cameo in Home Alone: 2 (1992) getting cut from Canadian television over this year’s Christmas holidays.

As if!!!

Best Joyous Hate Watching

Will you ever forget…the very first moment in 2019….that you saw…….the trailer to……the movie version of………CATS????

The fake fur, the pointy ears, the strange facial expressions and inhuman semi-sexual gyrations.  It delivered everything and more…or less.  Universal recently took the historic step of actually announcing that after a week in release it was redoing some of the special effects and issuing new versions of the print to the thousands of theatres it was playing.

Our response to that is:  PLEASE DON’T.

Nailed it!

Don’t change a frame for those of us who are waiting to stream it…along with a side of magic mushr—well, something.

And this just in from the gift that keeps on giving:  Dame Judy Dench was only just a handful of days ago quoted as saying her cat, Old Deuteronomy, is…transgender!

Please don’t make it stop.  Now OR forever.

And finally – THE Prophetic Musical Moment

Taylor Swift was much more than a regrettable 2019 supporting turn in Cats.  Sure, her You Need To Calm Down record and video is a song about LGBTQ equality and acceptance.  On the surface.  But in a sense, isn’t it also the overriding message to all of us when we reflect on the entire year and strategize for what’s inevitably to come in 2020??

Taylor Swift – “You Need to Calm Down”

Want more Chair 2019 takes? Dip into our archive and find gems like: The Chair Sees Hadestown with Hillary Clinton (plus Woke-lahoma review), Farewell Dear Rhoda, Paul Rudd Refuses to Age, Prince George Can Dance If He Wants To!, and lots of love for When They See Us, Fosse/Verdon, USand more.

This is US

[ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS AHEAD… PROMISE]

The best part of Jordan Peele’s Us is how the filmmaker continues to subvert audience expectations by simply being himself and showing the world as he sees it.

In this case it is watching a family of color as our principal protagonists, nee heroes, as they fight the inevitable monster and carnage that threatens to engulf them.

Not creepy or anything #runsaway

More importantly, it is the relegation of the white couple to the traditional role of the best friends who you know will appear and reappear at will when some comic relief or convenient plot device is needed.

In this way Us is a totally original mainstream reinvention of the horror genre that is very much in the tradition of Peele’s groundbreaking Get Out.  Our view of the upscale suburban nuclear family to which very bad things will happen is no longer beige but color-corrected.

Yes, Ru!

The fact that this is about all that has changed from the usual is both the film’s strong point and its weakness.  Many contemporary horror films already have a patina of social commentary and Us is no different.

It spoils nothing about Us to say that in initially taking us back to 1986’s Hands Across America campaign, where a multicultural human chain was created in cities across the United States to raise money for charities that helped people in poverty, we are being set up for the inevitable “but has the world really changed” question by the end of the film.

The attempt to make this well-to-do Black family just as human as any white family in any horror film – that is to say a bit too two-dimensional and self-satisfied – succeeds as well as it ever has.  The characters are just as clueless, oblivious and bereft of individuality as any white family in a similar social class or big screen genre entertainment.

but still not as horrifying as this #isit2020yet

It’s sort of the way I initially felt watching gay culture become mainstreamed in the eighties and nineties and beyond with the advent of Will & Grace, Ellen, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and Marriage Equality.

Well, I guess we really have arrived, I recalled thinking.  Now we can be just as average as everyone else.  Hallelujah!

Never mind I was also simultaneously seeing myself like Dustin Hoffman/Katharine Ross at the end of 1967’s The Graduate – two people who get EXACTLY what they wish only to be left wondering, Well, uh, okay.  You mean now this is my…reality?  

Uh oh

Of course there ARE many more benefits to being able to finally get married or serve openly in the military than there are to being front and center in a horror film (Note:  And as soon as I can think of one I’ll let you know….Oh, KIDDING!!!).  But if movies are indeed one of the most enduring and mainstream social chronicles of who we really are, it’s hard not to hope for just a little bit more.

After all, George Romero’s seminal Night of Living Dead gave us a Black hero as far back as 1968 and became the social commentary scale against which all horror films got measured.  I can recall finally seeing it as a teen some years later on television and being blown away at its message (Note: Don’t hate me, it was the seventies) and audacity.  So is it too much to ask for a little more than that of the genre some fifty plus years later?

Enough with the scary Nuns.. really #dobetter2019

In fairness, Romero has stated publicly that the reason that his lead actor in Night was Black mostly had to do with the fact that the actor, Duane Jones, was simply the person who gave the best audition.  Nevertheless, with a budget of $114,000 and an international gross upwards of $30 million it’s hard to imagine the director-writer didn’t know he was on to something.

This is what happens sometimes in moviemaking, happy accidents of instinct where the choices one makes pay off creatively and financially far better than anyone could imagine.  One could argue the same is possible and true today, but not as likely as when your budget is $20 million plus a helluva lot more than that in marketing.  Not to mention all of the release dates you have to meet (which includes both film festival and distributor/exhibitor bookings) AND the sophomore jinx trifecta of a best screenplay Oscar win, critical plaudits and box-office breaking success in an auteur driven film, your first, in the horror genre.

No Pressure for Mr. Peele

Sure there are countless worse problems in the real world than the success of Get Out but few if any of them are effectively addressed in the onscreen story of Us.  Instead what we get is a lot of talk about the Freudian concept of our shadow selves and the consequences of such when these darkest impulses are either indulged or ignored.

It’s an interesting discussion for an abnormal psychology class but not quite the stuff that drives a good or even great horror flick.

What does give Us its engine is a bravura performance by Lupita Nyong’o, one part troubled but relentless Mother Hen and the other part vacuum cleaner-voiced scissor sister with an internal moral compass known only to herself.

We don’t deserve you, Lupita

It kind of reminds you of a 2019 version of Rosemary’s Baby where Mia Farrow is given the chance to portray both herself AND the Devil.  (Note: And, um, NO, Lupita does NOT play the Devil in Us.  There are NO SPOILERS HERE for the umpteenth time!).

Much as I adored Rosemary’s Baby I was sort of hoping for more in Mr. Peele’s second time out.  But perhaps this is being unfair to him.  After all, Rosemary’s Baby was based on a best-selling book of cutting social satire by novelist Ira Levin that was expertly plotted and insanely insightful.  A story that dealt with another upwardly mobile couple/mother Hen in a foreboding time period in America that similarly used the horror genre to address dark privilege, the righteous anger of those who have been discounted by it and the chains that will forever tether the two together.

Hmmm, sounds awfully timely to me.  And perhaps this time the film and novel from which it springs could literally be political?  Though maybe that’s way too obvious.

Luniz – “I Got 5 On It” (from the soundtrack of Us)