Mike Nichols, RIP.

So sorry to hear about Mike Nichols. It’s the sorriest Mike Nichols news since he married Diane Sawyer, in fact, but there’s no accounting for taste. (You just hate to see artists you genuinely admire fall for former Nixon staffers with a fondness for those steamed-shower-door soft lenses.) Anyway, rest in peace, Mr. Nichols, and thanks for Mrs. Robinson.

I know Mrs. Robinson was a creation of many people, including Charles Webb, who wrote the novel “The Graduate” is based on; Buck Henry, who wrote the screenplay; Anne Bancroft, who played her; and Nichols, who directed her performance. Like Roger Ebert, I saw “The Graduate” when I was young and thought it was about one thing, and then watched it years later and realized it’s all about another thing, i.e., Mrs. Robinson.

I recommend clicking through this not-too-long slideshow at New York magazine, an appreciation of Mrs. Robinson’s “scary chic.” I was ashamed that I never noticed all her leopard prints until now. Nothing happens on a movie set by accident, so I have to assume it was deliberate, to underline either a) her sexiness (the writer correctly points out that was pretty much the only choice for mid-’60s lingerie that needed to telegraph that message), her wild-animal spirit (she’s a very, very bored lioness), or maybe something else. The term “cougar” to describe a sexually aggressive older woman hadn’t been coined yet. Maybe Nichols was ahead of his time that way.

(Oh, and as to the “older” thing: Bancroft was 36 when she played the part, and the character was probably about 40-42 — she got pregnant in college and has a college-age daughter. Ebert explains she was aged with shadows and makeup, but wowsa, that’s one sexy broad.) Ebert:

“The Graduate,” released in 1967, contains no flower children, no hippies, no dope, no rock music, no political manifestos and no danger. It is a movie about a tiresome bore and his well-meaning parents. The only character in the movie who is alive–who can see through situations, understand motives, and dare to seek her own happiness–is Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Seen today, “The Graduate” is a movie about a young man of limited interest, who gets a chance to sleep with the ranking babe in his neighborhood, and throws it away in order to marry her dorky daughter.

Yep.

Roy has a little more on his theatrical career, as well as his glorious early days with Elaine May.

I also loved “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and …most of the rest of his work. You just knew he was going to bring it.

Have a great weekend, all. I’ll be…working.

Posted at 7:00 pm in Movies | 68 Comments
 

Happy birthday to us.

I’m telling you, when Columbus gets five inches of snow in mid-November — it is still mid-November, right? — and Detroit only an inch, well…I don’t know what that means. Probably that weather varies widely and isn’t necessarily north = more.

Still. Brr. We’re supposed to get strong winds, too, so I expect a week of misery.

It was birthday weekend around here — Kate’s 18th, Alan’s (mumble). The former got a fuzz pedal for her bass and a pair of Doc Martens, perhaps my least-favorite shoe for girls in the universe, but the thing about gifts is, they’re for the recipient, not the giver. And if you’re legally an adult, you can decide what you want to wear on your feet. Especially if you’re already hanging out in bars:

dvasatpaychecks

That was Friday night. The crowd was sparse, the other acts pretty pallid, and the bartender indifferent, but when your lineup isn’t bringing in the sales, what can you expect? Which is to say, Alan had to buy four bottled waters for the girls so they wouldn’t get parched under that dazzling neon.

Saturday went along with it, sorta; we watched “Only Lovers Left Alive,” which may be my favorite Detroit-shot movie since “Out of Sight.” It’s not great, but it’s a wonderful look at the crazy city and its charms, which is especially well-suited to the story of two vampires making their way through the modern world. Googling around at the reviews, I notice a couple critics mention their house “on the outskirts of Detroit.” Ha! That house is in the heart of Detroit, and while some of the shots are angled to cut out the surroundings and emphasize its solitude, well, it pretty much nails the fabulous, ruined area of Brush Park. We don’t have nearly that many coyotes — at least not in town. They’d have to fight the stray pit bulls, and I don’t think they’re that tough.

A little bloggage from the weekend:

Something I learned from Neil Steinberg’s great column (reprinted from 2008) on “Porgy and Bess:”

The bottom line is that African-American artists embraced the work. Both Paul Robeson and Sidney Poitier — neither a cream-puff — sang Porgy. The entire cast is black, as required by the Gershwin estate — in reaction, the story goes, to the horror of Al Jolson pushing to cast himself as a blackface Porgy.

When Mitch Albom starts a column with the words “In the old days,” you know what you should do, right? Yes: Don’t read the rest. But if you want to, be my guest, and consider: This is one of the most successful writers in the U.S.A. No wonder the vampires are worried.

A corporate sponsor dials back support for a sport (rock climbing) where risk-taking may be getting out of hand:

Among those whose contracts were withdrawn were Alex Honnold and Dean Potter, each widely credited with pushing the boundaries of the sport in recent years. They had large roles in the film, mainly showing them climbing precarious routes barehanded and without ropes, a technique called free soloing. Potter also was shown highlining, walking across a rope suspended between towering rock formations.

Other climbers who lost their Clif Bar contracts were Timmy O’Neill and Steph Davis, who spends much of her time BASE jumping (parachuting from a fixed object, like a building, an antenna, a span or earth) and wing-suit flying. Last year, her husband, Mario Richard, was killed when he crashed in a wing suit.

I’ve seen wing suit videos, and for the life of me, I don’t understand how a suit that turns you into a flying squirrel can overcome the weight of the human body. But then, I’m no daredevil.

We in this part of the country may all have to be daredevils tomorrow. I hope your commute is not too slippery.

Posted at 5:57 pm in Current events, Detroit life, Movies | 34 Comments
 

Amateur hour.

Alan and I went to the movies Saturday night, in another congressional district. Our stroll from parking lot to theater took us past a couple of yard signs for a candidate for something. I noted that I would be disinclined to like him based on the verb on his very simple signs: Not “vote” for the man in question, but “hire” him.

That one word tells me so much — that he’s likely one of those guys who thinks “making a payroll” is a core skill for the office, because running a plumbing supply house has so much to do with tax policy and balancing the greater good with constituent service.

I thought of that guy when I read Neil Steinberg’s excellent blog making the case against voting for Bruce Rauner for governor of Illinois. Like a lot of great writing, it starts out being about one thing, and takes its time getting to the thing it’s actually about, and makes you sit back and say, Of course. It’s hard not to break my three-paragraph preview rule with this one:

The Curse of the Amateur often afflicts wealthy men in late middle age. Having succeeded wildly in one field, their egos and ignorance are such they assume they can march into some other completely unrelated area and master that too. Henry Ford, fresh from his success at selling Model Ts, decided he would end World War I. He didn’t. Bill Gates, having made a fortune in software, decided to end the woes of Africa. He didn’t. Those woes turned out to be a problem bigger than money.

Can anyone glance at Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner and not recognize the Curse of the Amateur? Here’s a guy, 57 years old, who never ran for anything, forget being elected to any public office. He’s someone who has never performed any kind of public service beyond very recently, after he decided he would be governor and started suddenly funding schools and firehosing the money he has so much of this way and that and calling it civic mindedness.

So he campaigns. And his ignorance of, his contempt for, the job he would take on, is so great, that he presents his utter lack of experience as his most enticing attribute. It’s pure hypocrisy. Who can imagine that Rauner would accept that logic in his own affairs? Who believes that anyone could go to him and say, “You know, your Excelo Widget Company isn’t doing so well. I am uncorrupted by any sort of experience making or selling widgets, so am just the man for you to bring in as CEO.”

Yes, exactly. I live in a different state than Steinberg, but this argument is common in politicking these days, and it never fails to rankle.

(A side note to rant about autocorrect, which is starting to loom as a major factor in my writing life these days. For every time it spares me from having to stop typing and fix a few transposed letters, it leads me into dangerous waters in another area. For example, when I wrote “Neil Steinberg” up there, it changed the surname to “Sternberg.” WTF? Apple has an autocorrect that doesn’t understand proper names? This is pissing me off. That said, I’m sure there’s a setting that can be tweaked, and J.C. will write to inform me of it shortly.)

The movie we saw Saturday was “Birdman,” (which autocorrect just changed to “Birman,” grr) and all of you with an interest in art, theater, compromise, self-doubt and any related theme are encouraged to go see it. I’m trying to keep up with the Oscar contenders this year, rather than trying to cram them all into the holiday weeks and/or on-demand cable in February. Last week we saw “Gone Girl,” which I was surprised to like quite a lot — far better than the book, which had me eye-rolling and skipping pages by the final chapters.

The other day I mentioned my love of boxing, and a few of you shuddered. I hope you will put your bad feelings aside and read this great profile of Bernard Hopkins, still defending two of the four major light-heavyweight belts at the astonishing age of 49. This passage sums up what I’ve started to appreciate in boxing, why I watch on the Saturday nights that HBO or Showtime has a card going:

Unlike most other boxers, who train down to their fighting weight only when they have a bout coming up, Hopkins keeps himself right around the 175-pound light-heavyweight limit. Fight people marvel at the ascetic rigor that has kept him perpetually in superb shape for almost three decades, his habit of returning to the gym first thing Monday morning after a Saturday-night fight, the list of pleasurable things he won’t eat, drink or do. But to fetishize the no-nonsense perfection of his body, which displays none of the extraneous defined muscular bulk that impresses fans but doesn’t help win fights, is to miss what makes Hopkins an exemplar of sustaining and extending powers that are supposed to be in natural decline. He has no peer in the ability to strategize both the round-by-round conduct of a fight and also the shifts and adjustments entailed by an astonishingly long career in the hurt business. He has kept his body supple and fit enough to obey his fighting mind, but it’s the continuing suppleness of that mind, as he strategizes, that has always constituted his principal advantage.

Opponents don’t worry about facing his speed or power. They fear what’s going on in his head.

A great read.

The week upcoming is going to be a crusher, with the election and yours truly working around it. So I warn you of the usual holes, gaps and scantiness, but I’ll try. In the meantime, I leave you with one more take on Ben Bradlee, which you should read just to get to this passage:

Meanwhile, the Post’s op-ed pages — that hotbed of stupendously clueless commentary that was separated from the Outlook section in 2009 — prominently featured on the same Sunday a piece to warm the cockles of Hayward’s heart: a fire-breathing offering from former Hewlett-Packard head and indefatigable John McCain crony Carly Fiorina. This bold tocsin, titled “A time for businesses to stand up to activists,” derides climate change activists who have targeted corporate boards in an effort to jump-start action on global warming. In Fiorina’s fanciful telling, business leaders now cringe in fear before a disciplined cadre of “well-organized, professional activists intent on chilling speech and marginalizing the voice of business and job creators in U.S. society … Their attacks on business’ protected speech and political participation are intended to sideline the entrepreneurial perspective and silence the opportunity for nuanced policy discussions.” Never mind that a standing armada of industry lobbyists has kept progress on climate change legislation on total lockdown for the past decade.

Let me pose a follow-up question to Ignatius’ sermon. Why would Bradlee’s old paper publish such patently distorted, power-coddling twaddle? I know from bitter experience that op-ed shops at major papers routinely repurpose these corporate PR briefs in their pages because they professionally adhere to a phony centrism. They believe that responsible journalism is the equivalent of a cuckoo clock display, in which one side warbles at the other and then retires to await its next formulaic set-to an hour hence. How can we have a nuanced debate, after all, if the poor speech-challenged business and job creators who already bankroll the entire electoral process aren’t also protected from dissenting views in their boardrooms or on editorial pages?

And don’t forget to vote, if you haven’t already.

Posted at 12:52 pm in Current events, Movies | 76 Comments
 

The grand canyon.

Remember what I said the other day about making room in your life for delicious foods of all sorts, because they are wonderful? Today I had to attend a Thing — you know, a Thing — that included a “light breakfast,” according to the invitation. I arrived to find fruit, bagels and doughnuts.

Had a little fruit, ignored the bagels, because if you can’t toast a bagel, what’s the damn point? Most of the doughnuts were the sort I don’t like — chocolate-frosted, sprinkled — but there, nestled among its less-appetizing brethren, a little spotlight from heaven fell on my favorite doughnut of all time: Sour-cream glazed. Hello, beautiful, I thought, and selected it for my own.

I don’t mind telling you that eating it was like manna from heaven, if a little overpowering. I’ve been eating eggs and spinach and yogurt and protein-y breakfasts for so many months, I’d forgotten the simple, now-verboten joy of the Homer Simpson special. My heart soared like a sugary hawk. The program started. Ten minutes into the keynote, my eyelids grew heavy. That sucrose is one powerful drug.

Back to eggs tomorrow. I don’t need this sugar-crack stuff.

So. I was surprised to see myself Twitter-tagged on this story, until I read it and realized one of my tweets had been cited as evidence of the little-known cult of fans of the big-vagina subplot in “The Godfather.” Not the movie, the novel; Francis Ford Coppola wisely left those pages on the cutting-room floor when he wrote the script, although Lucy, the possessor of the oversize vagina in question, is in two brief scenes. As I think we’ve mentioned here before, it’s a strange little diversion in a badly written novel about organized crime. Lucy is one of Connie’s bridesmaids in the wedding, and is filled with shame because her vagina is SO BIG — how big is it? — it’s SO BIG that guys can’t even feel it. But Sonny Corleone has a giant Italian sausage and can please her. He first does so at the wedding; she’s the bridesmaid he’s seen banging against the wall, early on. His death at the toll plaza devastates her, until she meets a nice doctor in Las Vegas, who does vagina surgery on her and tightens her up again. They get engaged.

I read this when I was old enough to know what sex involved, but before I’d actually had any, and I can’t tell you how much this concerned me. Could I, too, have a giant vagina? How would I know? Would I be like Lucy, and just have to glean it from the grumbling of my unsatisfied boyfriends, who would mutter I was “too big down there?”

Do you start to understand how women’s minds work? Find us a topic, we’ll figure out a way to worry about it.

I tweeted the story to Laura Lippman, who once told me she, too, remembered Lucy. She replied: “Meanwhile don’t forget Puzo’s other valuable lesson — the best sex in the world is had by a Sicilian virgin on her wedding night.” We’ll save that analysis for another day.

Today’s unfortunate ad placement. You newspaper people know how this stuff happens. They are endlessly amusing to me.

Finally, some of you who read Bridge know that one of the services we provide during election season is fact-checking campaign ads, mailers, etc. — political speech of all kinds. You are certainly welcome to rummage around the Michigan Truth Squad section of our site, but I call your particular attention to this mailer, which encourages voters to call the candidate and complain about Obamacare. But the number given rings at the bedside of the candidate’s 91-year-old mother, who is in a nursing home. You think you’ve seen ‘em all, and then you see another.

Oh, and if you haven’t seen one of the six “Say Yes to the Candidate” spots, we did that one, too. You may spot a familiar prose style.

Happy downside of the week, all.

Posted at 8:25 pm in Movies, Uncategorized | 75 Comments
 

Painting by numbers.

I really should be cleaning my bathroom. I want that on the record. In fact, when I finish here? Cleaning that bathroom. Because hair and gunk and the usual. Sometimes I think letting our cleaning lady go was the biggest mistake I made last year, but she was a luxury and luxuries needed to be trimmed.

Besides, like so many cleaning ladies, she was starting to slip. Next time, I hire another service.

So, what a weekend. Lots of work, a little bit of cooking, and a long bike ride in Windsor, because why not? You pop through the tunnel with the bikes in the back of the car, find a park to launch from, and then…discover Windsor isn’t much of a cycling city. There were some nice parks, some decent lanes here and there, but not enough. So we rode here and there and did what everybody does in Windsor — found a good Chinese restaurant and ate dim sum, then stopped at the duty-free for some Niagara-region wine.

“I don’t know about you, but ‘Wayne Gretzky’ doesn’t do much for me on a wine label,” I told the clerk. She said “Dan Ackroyd” did even less for her.

There was also this: “Tim’s Vermeer,” a perfectly amusing little documentary about one man’s quest to duplicate a Vermeer painting, not for fraudulent reasons but just to see if he can figure out the tricks of how Vermeer managed photorealism in the 17th century.

As with great documentaries, it starts out being one thing and ends up being about something else entirely — the magic of art, mainly. On iTunes and Amazon Primenow, soon to be on Netflix, no doubt.

Have a good week, all. I’m going to watch premium-cable Sunday-night TV.

Posted at 12:30 am in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 35 Comments
 

One too many.

Someone asked about the incident with the gin when I was 19. It’s not much of a story — just one of those afternoons where G&Ts were the perfect drink, until they weren’t. I recall the sun dazzling off the water. I felt like I believe the British must have felt in the last days of empire, and then there was that foghorn of nausea and oh, well.

I’ve mentioned this before about a million times, but Atul Gawande’s long New Yorker essay on nausea changed my whole way of thinking about it. He noted that a person who gets sick tonight on tequila or gin or whatever might never touch it again for the rest of his or her life. Yes and no, in my case. Yes to gin, but I’ve been beer-sick and wine-sick many times, and lived to drink both another day.

I drink less these days than I have in my entire adult life, but I enjoy it far more. Good wine is cheaper than ever, small-batch whiskey is the new vodka, craft beer has advanced past its silly phase — sorry, but I don’t think anyone appreciates raspberry flavors in a lager — and is now hitting its stride with good, deeply flavored brews of all sorts and for all seasons. It’s a good time to be a social drinker.

Oh, sorry: TRIGGER WARNING FOR ALCOHOLICS. Too late, I know.

I guess I’m the last person to have anything to say about the Sarah Palin speech in Indianapolis last weekend, but honestly, what is there to say? I actually found it embarrassing to watch, what little of it I could stand. She’s truly gone down the tunnel of narcissism into some strange reality on the other side. Her hair is messy, her face looks…like she’s been having some work done and her voice? Crazytown. Better to contemplate who I was embarrassed for. Palin? No, she’s incapable of it. The country? Sure, but too vague. And then I thought of people I’d known in 2008 who thought of her as the bee’s freakin’ knees. I don’t really know them well, but if I saw one today? I think I’d have to avert my eyes.

So, the world took Bob Hoskins away yesterday. Y’all know I’m a big “The Long Good Friday” fan, and I watched the last two minutes twice after I heard the news. I’ve seen it a dozen times at least, and it never loses its power. George Clooney did it in “Michael Clayton,” and I hope he had the good grace to admit it was an homage.

A nice quote here from the man, a few years back:

He learned about acting, he says, not from watching other actors but from studying women. ‘Men are completely emotionally dishonest, whereas women have an emotional honesty which is extraordinary. And drama is about private moments, it’s about the things you don’t see in the street, and men don’t show that. So I decided to watch women. I became a stalker, I suppose! It’s got nothing to do with femininity, it’s to do with emotional honesty. If you go home one night and there’s champagne on the table with your dinner and she’s done up but she’s pissed off, you know it. You know where you are with a woman. You don’t know with blokes. And that’s basically how I learned to act – just watching women.’

Oversimplified, but a sharp observation.

Finally, a nice essay by Mark Bittman on the power of comfort food. In his case, lox and bagels. Hello, Thursday, and we are over the hump.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 61 Comments
 

Jargon overdoses.

I’ve long felt that we should listen to people who have traditionally been shut out of the public conversation. But you don’t have to do what they say. I’m thinking some of the discussion over the “Dallas Buyers Club” Oscars falls into the latter category.

Two pieces on the board today. This one compares Jared Leto’s portrayal of a male-to-female transsexual to Hattie McDaniel’s Mammy in “Gone With the Wind.” And this one scolds the “Dallas Buyers Club” makeup artists (!!!) for acknowledging the “victims of AIDS” instead of the preferred nomenclature of “persons with AIDS.” Hmm. Apparently these two brush-wielding wrongthinkers didn’t get the 31-year-old memo, quoted within:

In 1983, 11 gay men with AIDS who were in Denver for the fifth Annual Gay and Lesbian Health Conference, gathered in a hotel room and composed a manifesto. The document, which became known as the Denver Principles, began:

We condemn attempts to label us as “victims,” a term which implies defeat, and we are only occasionally “patients,” a term which implies passivity, helplessness, and dependence upon the care of others. We are “People With AIDS.”

(And capitalize the W, fuckers! The P, too!)

I recall when this discussion was going on, and my fallback position on nearly all these matters of nomenclature: Call people what they ask to be called. It’s good manners. Frankly, in 1983 there wasn’t a lot of difference between an AIDS victim and someone who simply had the disease, as it was terrifyingly fatal. But as time rolled on and the new drugs emerged, it made sense. Not everyone who had HIV/AIDS was a victim, but someone living with a (fingers crossed) chronic medical condition that could be managed and wasn’t necessarily cause to put your affairs in order immediately. This passage overstates the importance of the language shift, I think —

Policing vocabulary is a tricky business—raising a stink about offensive nouns and incorrect pronouns can make outsiders feel defensive and annoyed—but there are times when it’s absolutely essential, and this was one. A 328-word statement penned by a tiny group of guys on the fringes of a second-tier medical conference saved millions of lives around the globe, even though very few people have ever heard of it. That revolution began when the people at the center of the crisis declared that they were not victims.

— but OK, whatever.

The former piece, about Leto, is more obnoxious.

Not long from now — it surely won’t take decades, given the brisk pace of progress on matters of identity and sexuality these days — Leto’s award-winning performance as the sassy, tragic-yet-silly Rayon will belong in the dishonorable pantheon along with McDaniel’s Mammy. That is, it’ll be another moment when liberals in Hollywood, both in the industry and in the media, showed how little they understood or empathized with the lives of a minority they imagine they and Leto are honoring.

Hmm. OK, so make your case, then. The movie takes liberties with the facts, the writer contends, which makes it like about 99 percent of all fact-based filmed dramas; the plane carrying the Americans out of Tehran was not chased down the runway by Iranian soldiers, as it was in “Argo.” Hollywood requires drama; real life isn’t sufficiently dramatic, most times.

Leto’s character, Rayon, was entirely fictional, likely added (speaking as someone who knows just enough about screenwriting to be almost entirely ignorant about it) to give Matthew McConaughey’s character a foil, and to set up his prickly relationship with the gay community Rayon represents. Screenwriting 101: Conflict = drama. The fact Rayon is silly I flat-out disagree with.

What did the writers of “Dallas Buyers Club” and Leto as her portrayer decide to make Rayon? Why, she’s a sad-sack, clothes-obsessed, constantly flirting transgender drug addict prostitute, of course. There are no stereotypes about transgender women that Leto’s concoction does not tap. She’s an exaggerated, trivialized version of how men who pretend to be women — as opposed to those who feel at their core they are women — behave. And in a very bleak film, she’s the only figure played consistently for comic relief, like the part when fake-Woodruff points a gun at Rayon’s crotch and suggests he give her the sex change she’s been wanting. Hilarious.

Again, everyone’s perspective is their own, but I didn’t find Rayon a sad sack at all, and in fact seemed pretty close to my memory of the drag queens and trans women I knew in that era. It was 1981-ish, after all, and just to have the gonads to live your life that way already put you out on the fringe. Another transsexual I knew at the time was still coming to work in a coat and tie. Needless to say, I didn’t know she was transsexual until years later.

And the earliest victims — that word again — of AIDS in that era were disproportionately addicts and prostitutes, after all. I mean, I guess Rayon could have been a super-together lawyer who preferred navy suits, but let’s be realistic. I love that “men who pretend to be women” contrasted with “men who feel at their core they are women” part. I’m a woman, and right now I’m wearing jeans and a sweater, an outfit I bet most trans women wouldn’t be caught dead in.

I think what bugged me most about that piece was its anger, the same that followed some of the Dr. V’s putter coverage, slinging around terms like “cis privilege,” “transphobia” and other jargon as though everyone knows exactly what we’re talking about. Even the sympathetic may find themselves mystified by this world, which I remind you requires no fewer than seven letters to cover all its iterations — LGBTQIA. That’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer/questioning, intersex and asexual/ally. If you really want to set your head a-spin, check out this video from Stephen Ira Beatty, born Kathlyn, and try to sort out the language. If that’s not too ableist of me.

Sorry, I liked “Dallas Buyers Club” and see it as a step forward, a very human film. I wish people could cool their jets about it.

That said, Lupita Nyong’o was the star of Sunday’s telecast. What a rare beauty, and what a sparkling speech. As Tom & Lorenzo would say: LUH HER.

How do we feel about the Kim Novak presentation? I am mixed. I read a very sympathetic defense of her by a film blogger whose work I admire, but I came away not 100 percent convinced. Novak is 81. I understand the need to feel beautiful, but at some point, isn’t it infantilizing her to blame cruel, cruel Hollywood for driving her to such lengths? The babe ship sailed decades ago; there’s no reason a natural beauty like Novak can’t look at least presentable in her dotage.

I do think this gets it right, though: If you have two X chromosomes in Hollywood, you just can’t win.

A little warmer today, but only a little. Ugh.

Posted at 12:30 am in Media, Movies | 31 Comments
 

Screen time.

Sunday night, watchin’ the Oscars — at least until “True Detective” comes on. I hate most of this red-carpet silliness, but I have to say, just the glimpse I caught of Charlize Theron in that snaky black number is probably worth all the bullshit.

People get bent out of shape about fashion, and I’ve been among them from time to time, but I think I’ve finally learned to appreciate it for its own sake. I no longer get irritated that the dresses are too expensive or can’t be worn by anyone other than human hangers; I just enjoy them, knowing I’ll never wear one.

Who does buy those things, anyway? Actors get them free, but most are only loans. So who pays $14,000 for a dress? Russian mobsters’ girlfriends? I’m baffled.

Oh, Jared Leto, what a nice speech. But I just realized I’ve been mispronouncing your name for years.

And enough of that, I think.

So, we had snow over the weekend. Because we really needed it, you know. The landscape is positively Siberian; the giant heaps of snow at the end of every driveway and block have been hazards for weeks now. Now they’re 4.5 inches more dangerous. And yet. We’ve had some thaw-y days here and there, and enough has melted to start exposing the winter’s detritus, trash and dog poop and other grossness, so in spite of my thorough done-ness with this winter, when a fresh blanket falls on top of the gray, honeycombed drifts, part of me always says: Sure is pretty.

Current temperature: 2 degrees.

Siberia is probably more pleasant this time of year. They have their winter culture down pat — the glasses of tea, the steaming loaves of black bread, all that stuff. Whereas we have the green banners heralding St. Patrick’s Day, a day for planting peas, as the gardeners say. Not this year.

Sorry for excessive lameness. It was a lame weekend, spent cleaning bathrooms and watching “House of Cards” and on Saturday night there was this:

CJEatDSO

That’s the exceedingly creative Creative Jazz Ensemble, which this season consists of three violins, four or five guitars, drums, vibes and my little girl on bass. They do mostly original compositions, as I expect it’s difficult to write charts for “Take the A Train” for that particular lineup. Not one horn this year. Fortunately, they’re very creative.

I don’t have much linkage today, but I will say this: “House of Cards” tried my patience this season, even as it whipped me on and on. There were moments of humor, however, among them, spoiler-free:

Claire selecting a dress for her CNN interview from her closet, which is a mass of black, white, beige and navy. “Maybe something less neutral,” she says. As though she owns anything that isn’t neutral. She ended up in black. I guess because it’s not beige.

Claire entertaining the first lady, and she brings a bottle of red wine to where they’re both sitting, on the Underwoods’ white couch. Everything in the Underwoods’ house is neutral, like Claire’s closet, and it’s really weird how not only do they dress to match the furniture, so does everyone else in the show. Anyway, Claire picks up the wine bottle and, no shit, pours them both glasses while holding them OVER THE COUCH. This was a moment far more suspenseful than any plot twist. Don’t spill a drop, Claire!

If autoerotic asphyxiation pays that well to the prostitutes who do it, I may have to consider a career change. That’s serious bank.

I’ll think of some more, just as soon as I take all the red, orange, cerise and other jarring tones out of my wardrobe. I have a takeover of the U.S. government to plan.

So let’s head into the week, and hope we can get to the end without freezing to death or seeing war in the Crimea.

Posted at 7:49 am in Movies, Television | 38 Comments
 

Old notes I can now trash.

For a few weeks now, I’ve had a draft on my WordPress dashboard that reads “crudity Seth MacFarlane all horror movies.” I don’t think it’s going to get written. As I recall, I started jotting notes while watching the first 20 minutes of “Ted,” the film MacFarlane wrote and directed, but realized if I was going to say anything intelligent about it, I’d have to watch the rest of it, and I couldn’t do that.

It occurs to me that, day after day, Mondays are the hardest to come up with something to say here. Not much happens to me on a Monday, unless you could two gingerly minces around the bock on the treacherous icy lumpy fuck, as well as a few phone calls and 12 million emails. I have but two things to offer today, one stolen from Eric Zorn’s link roundup, but a subject I’ve always wondered about: How do they make the yellow first-down line in televised football? Like this.

And here’s a seven-minute Philip Seymour Hoffman highlight reel, with NSFW language but some of his most memorable scenes:

I loved “The Savages.” Think I’ll Netflix it tonight, if it’s Netflixable.

For now, eh, a weak effort and I’m out.

Posted at 12:30 am in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 48 Comments
 

R.I.P. Scotty.

I guess I’ll be watching the Super Bowl tonight — confession: Sometimes I knock out Monday’s blog on Sunday afternoon — but I’ll be thinking about Philip Seymour Hoffman, whom I suspect was just Phil to his friends. (The three-name thing is probably a quirk of the Screen Actors Guild, because there was already a member named Phil Hoffman. Same with race horses.)

Anyway, I agreed with this observation by David Weigel, that what made Hoffman so great was his versatility:

He was the rare actor who could be cast in a key role without giving away what kind of character he was playing. …You see James Woods in a movie, you know he’s going to end up wearing the black hat. You saw Hoffman — and you had no clue.

That’s right. Lots of people mention “Capote,” but that one didn’t stick with me; it was so much about the voice. Truman Capote was sort of a human cartoon, and as with any cartoon, it’s mostly painted in primary colors.

My favorite Hoffman roles are far darker, with “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” at the top of the list; he plays a traitorous son who betrays his parents for money, a real train wreck of a guy, but as with all his roles, he half makes you root for him. There’s a scene in that one where he visits a high-end drug house — drug apartment, this being Manhattan — that serves as an oasis for well-to-do users. You pay not only for the dope, but for the shooting services and a room to nod in. We see him stretched out on the bed in his underwear (Hoffman had no vanity about his lumpy body), staring at the ceiling with dope eyes, and honestly, it’s all I could think of when I heard the news.

But there was also “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” and “The Big Lebowski.” He played a feckless WASP in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and a WASP-hater in “Charlie Wilson’s War” — see his big scene in the Dave Weigel link, above. Also, “The Savages” and “Moneyball,” and he was the only thing that made “Pirate Radio” worth two hours of your time. Like Chris Cooper, he brought authority to his parts. I saw Cooper play, in the course of a few years, an oil wildcatter, a horse trainer, an FBI agent and an orchid thief, and if I’d met him on the street outside the theater showing “Seabiscuit,” I’d have asked him how to get a horse to bend to the right. Put Hoffman in a baseball uniform, and oh, hey, I didn’t know you were manager of the Oakland A’s, Phil.

Goddamn fucking heroin.

Anyway: Twelve great Hoffman performances, with video clips. David Edelstein on the actor and the man. Feel free to add your own.

Remember when Super Bowl halftime shows were put on by Up With People? Deadspin remembers.

Meanwhile, it looks like another character-builder of a week. It snowed half the day Saturday, then switched to rain, a lot of it. The new wet snow, the melting of the old stuff and the rain left huge slushy puddles everywhere, and then what happened? The temperature dropped, and will stay low all week. Which means what we thought was icy lumpy fuck? This is icy lumpy fuck. It’s awful.

But every day, the days get longer. And now it’s February. Onward.

Posted at 12:30 am in Movies | 81 Comments