Archive | August, 2013

In a World…

29 Aug

Spoilers below. I can’t decide if I need to keep saying this every time out. I feel conflicted. But I would hate it if I found a random essay about a movie on Google and then had the movie spoiled. Shrug.

I saw In a World last week. The most “important” or whatever topic raised by the movie is that of women’s voices and how that relates to sex/power/feminism, etc. Since then Miley Cyrus has made all discussions of feminism that don’t involve Miley Cyrus feel old and irrelevant, which is just as well, since I don’t think I’m that qualified to talk seriously about In a World’s serious concerns. Plus I don’t think I have anything particularly new to say about them. There are plenty of places on the internet to read interesting things about this issue. And this is an actually very interesting issue, to me at least. Sexy baby voice, vocal fry, etc. Go read about it!

You might have noticed that I referred to the movie as In a World. Not In a World…, which is the actual title . Hey producers, don’t put an ellipse in your movie title. It’s terrible. I hate it. I’ll be calling it In a World here. Even though I put the ellipse in the post title. That’s just for appearances.

Making a movie about the world of voice-over artists is a great idea. Just the right kind of hyper-specific, small, offbeat little community just begging for someone to skewer. Writing that sentence made me think that a Christopher Guest movie about voice-over artists would be hilarious. I have such great ideas. The whole thing seems to have emanated from Lake Bell, whose name is in the credits at a Spike Lee level. (Writer, director, producer, star.) I recognize Ms. Bell from the couple episodes of Children’s Hospital I’ve seen. That’s an OK show, but watching it mostly makes me wistful for the glory days of Adult Swim. But that’s another topic altogether. Ken Marino and Rob Corddry are also involved here. They’re both steady and reassuring. They’re two of those guys who are always around in movies like this. Not spectacular, not stealing any scenes, but you know they’re pros. Maybe not charismatic enough to carry a movie, but ideal for the kind of supporting roles they have here.

I don’t quite know how to categorize In a World. I liked it. But it didn’t feel especially groundbreaking and I wasn’t making mental notes of stuff that was going on like I do when I’m really engaged in a movie. Apart from the specific issues of women’s voices that I mentioned above, most of the themes were on a kind of general girl power level, which I thought worked, but most of the story didn’t say anything to me that hasn’t been said before.

There was one exception to that. A brief little moment that was perfectly placed, perfectly executed, and left me a little shocked at its inclusion. It was totally unexpected. I’m talking, of course, about the interaction between Ms. Bell’s Carol and the producer played by Geena Davis. I don’t want to mangle her exact quote, but it boiled down to something like, “We both know you weren’t the best person for the job, I picked you because you’re a girl.” That was a devastating takedown, and it totally reframed the way that I thought about “what the movie is trying to say”. I think Ms. Bell has a more nuanced and detailed take on all this stuff than was presented in the movie. And that’s fine. It was a comedy, after all. I thought the Geena Davis moment was a nice subtle jolt to remind the audience that it’s important to think about issues on a deeper level and not accept a feel-good message from a movie as the definitive take on a complex problem. That’s how I took it, at least.

Fred Melamed as Carol’s dad was a 10/10 in the casting department. He nailed it. He has the voice, and his body type and body hair and general physicality brought a dimension that I wouldn’t have expected from an aging voice-over star. This was a character that could have easily swung into over-the-top range, and that would have been too bad. Mr. Melamed brought what I thought was a restrained performance. Credit the writing, too. “Jerk who takes himself too seriously” is a hard character to make believable.

Another thing that worked well was the romance angle with Demetri Martin. That was a well-crafted subplot. For a romantic-comedy kind of story, it was not that eye-rollingly ridiculous. Kudos. You know what? This was just an overall fun movie. Not a home run, but a stand-up double. An enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. I hope that sounds like a compliment.

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The New Yorker: August 26, 2013

28 Aug

Cover
Similar in a lot of ways to the most recent cover. Simple and summery. This one is better. Green is better than yellow, and there’s the tree in the middle to break up the color monotony. Sort of a van Gogh tree, with the big impasto strokes. I like it.

Front
Apparently in London all of the skyscrapers have nicknames. The shard, the cheesegrater, the gherkin. I endorse that wholeheartedly. The clash between modern architecture and history in old European cities is something I’d like to read more about. I’m generally pro-modernity, but it seems like a complicated issue.

Some well-explained common sense from James Surowiecki about luxury goods pricing and lobster. Apparently wholesale lobster prices are way down, which would make this a good time to take a trip to Maine. My family went on a trip to Boston and Maine when I was in high school. The Maine coast is a fun drive. Would be even more fun with cheap lobster at all the lobster shacks.

Middle
I liked the report from Alec Wilkinson about an art forger who donates his fakes to museums, who often don’t realize they’re fakes. The meat of the issue was unfortunately glossed over. That is, to what extent does our enjoyment of art depend on its authenticity/provenance? If a museum has a copy of a Mary Cassatt, and I can’t distinguish between the copy and the original, does it matter? Is it legitimate to enjoy a copy? If it is legitimate, what is the value of a skilled reproduction? A lithograph? A poster? If it isn’t legitimate, why not? I’d lean to “not legitimate” in the case of forgeries. A lot of the appeal of an art museum to me is that it’s also a kind of history museum. It seems important to maintain the integrity of that history.

A plus plus to this week’s Shouts & Murmurs. A lot less jokey than usual. This felt like it could have worked as a fiction entry with some lengthening. It could have had a little bit of a Shirley Jackson feel with some darkening and some narrative adjustment. As it is, it worked almost perfectly as a short humor piece.

I’m going to try to stay away from eye-rolling about Meghan O’Rourke’s piece about suffering from an auto-immune disorder. I thought the comparison she made between herself and her aunts with similar health problems at the end was instructive. More people should think of illness like the aunts do. It’s also good to have an occasional reminder like this that our understanding of the human body/brain/nervous system/etc. is a lot more limited than we like to think.

Ken Auletta is good, but his Michael Bloomberg was sort of blah. Not a lot of new ground to cover with the guy, frankly. An informative enough summary for those of us who don’t keep up with NYC politics.

The Jordan refugee camp piece surprised me. David Remnick is a good writer. Sometimes the Middle East stuff gets tiresome for me, but this was fast-paced and had just enough hard info stuff to keep it away from human-interest territory.

Fiction
Serviceable I guess. It’s hard to evaluate stories like this translated from Chinese. It’s so obvious while reading that a lot of the language gets lost. English translations of Chinese/Japanese always have such a distinct feel. I would almost rather see a literal translation with a ton of footnotes, especially for something this short. That would be an interesting read for sure.

Back
I spend a lot of time criticizing David Denby. I don’t think he’s a good movie critic. He does occasionally write longer pieces, like this week’s book review of Ava Gardner biographies. He’s much better at this kind of writing. He should be doing it full time instead of inflicting his opinions of new releases on us.

A notable Briefly Noted blurb this week about a new memoir by David Foster Wallace’s wife Karen Green. I hadn’t heard about this book, but the blurb makes me not want to read it. I say this as someone who has read three different posthumous books about DFW. I’ve heard reference to some extreme fans who have tried to get their hands on his autopsy report and such. That holds absolutely no interest to me, and the blurb makes it sound like this book gets into some pretty grisly territory. I don’t know how much of the book is about the suicide, but that’s not for me. Maybe someday.

A pretty effusive review of the new Earl Sweatshirt album by Sasha Frere-Jones. He fits in comparisons to Ghostface and Nas in one paragraph. I’m listening to it now, Earl definitely has a way with words. He has tracks from The Neptunes, Alchemist, and RZA, but most of it’s self-produced. Not my favorite producer. A little too cute with the drums. A little to simple with the samples. He does keep it pretty grimy, which I appreciate. I think the Nas/Ghost comparisons are interesting because even if you don’t think he’s up to that standard lyrically (and I don’t), he’d definitely sound better over the kinds of tracks those guys had in the mid 90s. RZA definitely stands out here. Earl would kill it with Premier, Pete Rock, et al. He even sounds a little like GURU if you twist your ears a bit. And shoutout to Earl for bringing back “gully”. A long-underappreciated adjective.

I don’t think I’m going to see The Butler. Too many Forrest Gump comparisons. Sounds like an apt one from my understanding of the movie. I do not like Forrest Gump. The Presidential stunt casting sounds… interesting. I’ll admit I’m curious about that. Also kind of curious about Lovelace but I think I already missed it in the theater. Maybe both of them on Netflix next year. And Mr. Denby sounded downright reasonable this week. Maybe his book review rubbed off onto his movie review.

Cartoons
Meh. It’s been a bad run for cartoons lately.

Caption contest entry
“God damn it Gary you look at my wife again and I’ll really get angry.”

Breaking Bad final season thoughts: Episode 3

26 Aug

There are a lot of the people on the internet writing about Breaking Bad. Good for them. I don’t read much of the discourse about the show, but I’m here to add to it. Not that this will be thorough or in-depth or even weekly, but I have a scenario in my head that I want to put on the public record in case it turns out to be right.

By the way there are super duper spoilers in this.

At the start of season 5, we saw Walt returning to Albuquerque on his 52nd birthday, which is several months in the future. He picks up this big-ass gun and returns to his condemned house with “Heisenberg” graffiti, where he picks up his vial of ricin. So how do we get there, and what happens afterwards?

Here’s what’s in my head. I’m still thinking it through as I write this so it might have some inconsistencies or whatever.

We see the White house in the season-opening flash-forward. It’s fucked up, but not burned. So Jesse doesn’t torch the house. My guess is that Walter Jr. comes out of his room and sees Jesse, who won’t kill him and takes off. Jesse is angry, but he’s not a snitch, so he doesn’t go to Hank. He anonymously leaks to the press or something that Walt is Heisenberg, which simultaneously forces Hank to come clean to the DEA and neutralizes Walt’s confession. Walt realizes that Jesse double-crossed him and he is now fucked. This is when he uses the disappear forever option and moves to New Hampshire. I haven’t decided yet whether I think Skyler will go with him.

Jesse, meanwhile, realizes that the thing Walt loves the most is his empire and his reputation in the meth world. Again, Jesse doesn’t have the stomach to kill anyone, but he realizes the best way to get back at Walt–team up with Lydia to create an even bigger empire without him. Todd is involved here somehow.

Of course, Jesse is easily able to evade police detection since Hank was the only person who really knew how involved he was, and Hank is now disgraced. Once Jesse has established himself as the new meth kingpin, he somehow finds out where Walt is and sends word of his new success.

Walt cannot tolerate this. Jesse using his formula to create his own meth empire? No way. Plus the double-crossing. So he hops in the car and drives back. Fully armed, he guns down Jesse’s (and Todd’s?) guys. He gets word to Jesse that he wants to meet. This is the final scene of the series. The meeting is at Denny’s or wherever. It’s tense. Jesse is nervous. He gets up and goes to the bathroom. Walt takes out the ricin and dumps it into Jesse’s Mountain Dew. He slowly stirs it in. Jesse comes back. He takes a long sip of Mountain Dew as they stare silently at each other. Fade to black.

OK. That’s my dream scenario. In truth I don’t know how realistic it is. So here are some other scattered things.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jesse’s parents again. They haven’t been on the show in awhile, but they’re still around, right?

Right now the big wild cards are Todd and Lydia. Walt coming back to kill them seems likely, even if it’s outside of the confines of my scenario.

The more I think about it, what happens if Junior confronts Jesse with the gas can in the living room? What if Jesse panics and shoots him? He still has Saul’s gun. If he then immediately outs Walt, Walt will have to skip town without getting retribution. Thus he’d have to come back for Jesse. In this case Jesse wouldn’t need to go back to meth cooking. Walt could poison him and gun down the Todd/Lydia meth business in separate operations.

Another good Junior story would be/will be him finding out about Heisenberg. That could go a bunch of different ways. Who tells him? What’s his reaction? Etc.

Is everyone hoping that Walt dies at the end? By now he’s unambiguously the villain; the traditional setup would be to have him die. He turns evil and gets his comeuppance. I’m hoping this doesn’t happen. I want Walt to be the last man standing. I think if things end with him victorious, mean-mugging the camera, it’ll kill the whole anti-hero trope for the foreseeable future. It could never be topped. It would be a mic drop on an era of television.

To go with that, Jesse is set up to be the hero. He’s definitely the most sympathetic/relatable character now. To invert that and kill him would take a lot of balls.

One minor quibble. In Walt’s confession, he mentions paying Hank’s medical bills. But if Hank had hired Walt to work for his meth operation, why wouldn’t he have enough money from said meth operation to pay his own medical bills? It makes the whole thing seem fishy. I guess Walt could say that Hank and Marie were complicit in the gambling story and used it so Hank wouldn’t have to flash any unexplained cash around. But still.

So obviously that didn’t cover everything and I didn’t give a lot of detail, but whatever. I think this most recent episode makes it pretty obvious that things are coming down to Walt v. Jesse. I’m looking forward to that no matter how it plays out.

The Canyons

23 Aug

The Canyons is a bad movie. A seriously bad movie. That needs to be said up front. It was interesting to me for a few reasons, but none of those reasons had anything to do with the actual product on the screen. If I saw this and I had never heard of any of the people involved and I didn’t know anything about its production history, I would be left kind of baffled at how a movie this bad could get made. I doubt there are any people who actually walked in cold and saw it, but I’d love to hear an opinion from one of them. So I have some thoughts, but a movie this incoherent gets a review that’s just as incoherent. This is kind of scattered.

At this point I’ll post a link to the lengthy and excellent New York Times Magazine piece about the production, with the spectacular title Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie.

Here’s the thing though. Lindsay Lohan is not one of this movie’s problems. The only way you could make that case is to say that she’s such a better actor than anyone else in the movie that it highlights how terrible they all are and makes their performances even more distracting. She’s obviously talented. I don’t keep up with her personal life, but one positive to take away from The Canyons is that from a talent perspective, there’s no reason she shouldn’t be a movie star. From a talent perspective. Her face looks pretty goofy now and there’s the aforementioned personal life, which are two strikes against her.

Another positive: it’s a pretty good-looking movie. I think one of the big ideas was to capture a mix between seedy desperate LA and phony glamorous LA. I think that goal was mostly accomplished. Locations, lighting, that kind of thing. Good job guys.

One of the biggest problems with The Canyons is one I didn’t anticipate: it’s boring. Really fucking boring. There’s no real plot. There’s not much character development. I don’t really know how to describe it. Maybe Paul Schrader did a bad job translating the script to film or maybe Bret Easton Ellis’s script is bad. But Christ, if you’re making a movie, you should have some events happen in it. Here’s my plot summary: This guy who’s a movie producer and his girlfriend have sex with random people from the internet, and this other guy, an actor, is cast in one of the producer’s movies, but the girlfriend is having an affair with the actor, and the producer gets jealous and for some reason eventually murders this other girl he’s sleeping with. I couldn’t tell you what the reason is, though. And there’s an orgy scene. It all seemed pointless, and not in a “Wow what an incisive commentary on how meaningless modern life is in our society/how directionless young people are etc.” way but in a “These characters are all boring and why is there a movie about them and furthermore this movie has nothing to say which is extra frustrating because that was obviously the goal since there’s no plot to engage the audience” kind of way.

As mentioned, the director is Paul Schrader. He’s an interesting character. He’s most famous for writing Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. That’s notable, I guess, but that’s not what’s interesting about him to me. He grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan in an apparently very strict Calvinist household. As someone who’s only a generation removed from very strict Calvinist households in Western Michigan, I was very surprised to learn this fact. He never saw a movie as a kid. Not one. This sounds crazy. Really crazy. There are (very old and dead) people in my family who also never saw a movie as a kid. I’ve heard stories of childhoods in which Sunday afternoons were passed sitting quietly on the couch between church services. When I was a kid, the McDonald’s in my parents’ hometown was the only one in America that wasn’t open on Sunday. My parents’ high school didn’t have a prom, they had a “senior banquet” because dancing was frowned upon. Mr. Schrader attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids. I know many graduates of that school, including my sister. You can spend some time on Google researching their retrograde positions on all kinds of issues, but here’s something relevant that I think is telling. The most famous graduates of Calvin are: 1: Businessman and notoriously bad sports team owner Wayne Huizenga, 2 & 3: The guys who founded Amway, and 4: Paul Schrader. My sister, who graduated just last year, had never heard of Paul Schrader until I asked her about this movie last week. Every university in America spends a lot of time bragging about its famous alumni, Calvin College included. But they don’t mention the guy who directed American Gigolo. Wonder why. So that’s where he’s coming from. I don’t know how relevant that is to a discussion of The Canyons, but I don’t care.

I watched The Canyons at home on my laptop. This cost me $7. I wanted to go see it in the theater, but it wasn’t playing anywhere in the East Bay and going to see a movie in SF adds up to like a $20 proposition. No thanks. I think this was a result of a disastrous first-week run in New York and LA. I believe it was supposed to be at a few more theaters locally, but it did so poorly in that first week and was so poorly-reviewed that a bunch of them dropped it. That’s my guess anyway. So it was only at one theater in the whole Bay Area. According to BoxOfficeMojo it’s grossed $43,000 and change. Yikes. I thought it would be impossible to lose money on a $250,000 movie starring Lindsay Lohan, but I guess that’s why I’m not a film executive. I guess that total doesn’t include VOD rentals. I’d be curious to see that number.

I get the novelty appeal of casting a porn star to be in your movie, but I think that’s a lot more appealing on paper than on film. James Deen is not a good actor. I will note that he was markedly better than some of his scene partners. Clearly not up to the standard of Ms. Lohan though. I saw that Steven Soderbergh movie with Sasha Grey a few years ago. I don’t remember it that well, but I do recall that it kind of had the same problem. She was a better actor than Mr. Deen, but she seemed tentative and generally out of her element. I wonder what kind of rehearsals/acting classes/preparation/whatever was involved for both of them. That Mr. Deen sure does have a big dick though.

On that topic, there are more naked men in this movie than I can recall seeing in a movie. That’s not to say that the nudity’s extreme or even especially explicit. Given the reportage about Ms. Lohan and the orgy scene, I thought this was going to lean more heavily to the erotic end of the erotic thriller genre, but I didn’t think that was the case. Ms. Lohan in particular isn’t any more exposed than any other name actress in a typical R-rated movie with “tasteful” nudity.

Recommendation: If you were, like me, very interested in all the behind-the-scenes nonsense of The Canyons, it’s probably still not worth watching. Sorry.

The New Yorker: August 12 & 19, 2013

14 Aug

Cover
This is a summer double issue, and the cover is a very summery drawing. I like it. Maybe a little too yellow. But maybe not. It would probably get tiresome if it were hung on my wall or something, but it isn’t. Having a short shelf life makes for some freedom with this kind of thing I think.

Front
Cool drawing of El-P and Killer Mike. I remember being in college and staying up late to see the Deep Space 9MM video on MTV2. Just knowing who El-P was made me feel like the coolest kid on the block. Now his picture is in TNY. His most recent album earned a review from Sasha Frere-Jones too. And Atmosphere was on Letterman and RJD2 made the Mad Men theme song. Wild. Although I always hoped one of those guys would get actually famous/popular, which never really happened.

Short Talk piece about Lake Bell. She’s been around the media a lot recently. She has a new movie about voice-overs. Most of what I’ve seen is use of the movie to have a lot of discussion about “sexy baby voice” and vocal fry and sexism and such. It’s an interesting topic. Ms. Bell is opposed to sexy baby voice. I think it’s a more complicated issue than most people seem to think. 30 Rock of all things had an episode kind of about this topic a few years ago that I thought dealt with it in a serious way.

The thing about a guy putting up signs commemorating the geography of rap lyrics was a missed opportunity. This seems like a terrific topic for something longer. Hip-hop as oral history or something. I think it functions that way in New York, which is unique. Maybe it’s just that I’ve listened to a lot more of rappers from New York, but that city feels so much more alive in lyrics than LA or Oakland or wherever. Maybe NYC is the only city with a critical mass of talent to make it feel that way. The paragraph about Phife Dawg’s old neighbor was a perfect little Talk moment.

Middle
I was excited to see a piece about fastpitch softball in the Table of Contents. I’ve spent a little time in the world of elite softball, and it’s an interesting sport. It’s like Little League played at a really advanced level. It can be fun to watch, although there is a major structural problem: the best pitchers are essentially unhittable. I don’t know what the fix is. This story did a good job of capturing the fun involved in hanging out with softball players, being in the dugout, etc. I always enjoyed it. Shoutout to Cat Osterman, who got some play here and is still apparently dominating pro softball. She was a brief peripheral acquaintance of mine once.

Medical mystery stories are always fun. Hey, someone should make a TV show about medical mysteries! It could feature a brilliant doctor who plays by his own rules.

Sarah Stillman’s Reporter at Large about civil forfeiture was excellent. This is the kind of thing that should be a national scandal. I don’t think I have anything new to add to any discussion of issues of law enforcement and prosecution. My opinion? Police ain’t nothing but a gang.

The main issue in Paige Williams’s piece about “vernacular” art was totally glossed over. That issue is, of course, how fucked up the world of professional art is. Money, galleries, museum curators, etc. It kind of reminds me of college sports. That is, a bunch of blowhards pretending to uphold some dumb standard of how things work or should be in the name of “keeping things pure” (read: protecting the status quo*) when their only real motivation is to make money. And how all parties with any power use it to prevent anyone else from getting paid. This essay in n+1 from Alice Gregory about being a Sotheby’s employee is the best illustration of the whole sordid situation that I’ve read recently.

*And they have elaborate (and idiotic) philosophies about why the status quo needs protecting.

Fiction
I totally did not get this week’s story from Zadie Smith. I’ve read White Teeth and some of her other stories and essays. I like what I’ve read a lot. This seemed like a big departure. I’d like to read NW. Maybe I will sometime. I saw a pretty girl reading it at a bus stop in San Francisco last fall. I had just read the review of the book in The Atlantic. I totally should have struck up a conversation. She probably would have been captivated by my brilliant literary insights. OK this concludes my personal anecdote about NW.

Back
Robert Gottlieb’s book review about the history of Farrar, Straus & Giroux was awesome. Mr. Gottlieb has been the editor-in-chief of both Simon & Schuster and Alfred A. Knopf, as well as the editor of TNY itself.* Lots of inside baseball, lots of gossip. Not the kind of thing I could enjoy for an entire book, but I definitely enjoyed for the length of an essay about the book. This is the best thing about TNY book reviews.

*Read this highly entertaining piece about his editorship at The Awl. Highly entertaining.

Cartoons
Blah.

Caption contest entry
“Well, Morris, I see you forgot to stop at the store.”

Blue Jasmine

12 Aug

I like Woody Allen. I’ve seen most of his movies. He’s made a movie a year for like 40 years. That’s crazy. There’s something familiar and comforting about going to the theater to see a new Woody Allen movie. The black title cards with the Windsor font pop up and the jazz clarinet blares and it just makes me happy. So that’s where I’m coming from.

I think it’s been very good for Mr. Allen to make films outside of New York. His recent “late period” or whatever has been fun to watch unfold. The movies are definitely more vibrant than his New York movies since the mid-90s or so. In a sense, I think it’s made things easier for him. He’s so New York that every little thing about the city was expected to be pitch perfect. When he’s filming in Europe, or now in San Francisco, I don’t think the audience has that same expectation. Or at least, they don’t have the knowledge of those places that they do of New York, so if things don’t live up to the same standard vis-à-vis the setting people can’t tell as easily.

Now that I’ve said that, I’m going to talk pretty negatively about the use of San Francisco in Blue Jasmine. I didn’t think it was great. Now I have only lived in the Bay Area for a year or so and I don’t even live in SF, but a lot of it just felt a little off to me. The whole concept of this working-class ethnic white community in SF that seems to have been constructed for this movie doesn’t really exist as far as I know. A lot of the filming locations are in neighborhoods populated either by rich hipsters, tech jillionaires, or tourists. That accounts for most of the white people in SF as far as I can tell. And there was that party in Marin County where everyone, including broke-ass Louie CK, was wearing coats and ties. Are you serious? That just feels so East Coast. I don’t get the impression that a lot of rich people here, even old-money types, spend a lot of time in coats and ties. The two locations that really worked for me were the first scene with Andrew Dice Clay in the Outer Sunset and Mr. CK and Sally Hawkins walking at Ocean Beach. Those didn’t feel as much like a tourists idea of “authentic” SF as the rest did. It’s the little things that Mr. Allen can get right in NY that he just kind of missed here. The prodigal son who dropped out of Harvard and works at a music store in Oakland? Perfect. Except he’s supporting a wife and kid. Hipsters in Oakland don’t have wives and kids. Close but not quite there.

It’s unfortunate that this movie came out so soon after Fruitvale Station. Blue Jasmine’s San Francisco can’t match Fruitvale Station’s Oakland. Not even close.

I think Mr. Allen gets pretty much whatever actors he wants, and his casting is sometimes up and down. Mostly up here. Sally Hawkins is underappreciated. I thought she was great in Happy-Go-Lucky. To play such a bubbly character without having it become a caricature is tough, and I thought she pushed it right to the edge without going over. There was some element of that same idea in this role–trying to stay upbeat about a life that didn’t follow the best-case scenario. She was on point. Alec Baldwin also deserves special notice. Although he didn’t seem to need to try very hard. Crooked financier is a perfect role for him. Mr. Clay and Bobby Cannavale were both good, even though they didn’t have a whole lot to do. Plus they were NY characters plopped down in SF. Mr. Cannavale is becoming a favorite of mine. Other recommended performances of his: Win Win and The Station Agent. Cate Blanchett was fine. She didn’t stand out to me, but the whole movie was pretty much on her shoulders and she’s enough of a pro that she never took a misstep. I like Louie CK a lot, but putting him in the mix was a bad idea. He has such a strong individuality and screen persona of his own that it’s almost distracting to drop him into such a small role and expect him to fully inhabit it. To have someone like that in your movie, I think it needs to be a large enough role to let them build something of a fully-developed character. Louie didn’t really get a chance to do that. I think he’d be an interesting choice for Mr. Allen to put in a lead role. Since he stopped playing all of his own main characters, a lot of his male leads (Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, and Larry David off the top of my head) have spent the whole movie doing a Woody Allen impression. I think Louie is so different from that archetype that he could do something new and different for Woody. It could also be something new and different for Louie, who’s developed a pretty recognizable version of himself on his TV show.

I don’t have many notes on plot or story. It’s a variation on A Streetcar Named Desire, as every critic has pointed out. Some critics love it. I don’t really get why. It was a good story and everything, but it didn’t seem especially incisive about income inequality or relationship power-dynamics or whatever. And it certainly wasn’t the definitive take on “how we live now” or “post-recession America” that some people seem to think. I think a lot of film critics are pretty out of touch. The kind of people who think that San Francisco is a good place to find blue collar people. The whole thing didn’t strike me as anything more than standard Woody Allen kind of stuff. The big drawback of making so many movies is that you have to write a new screenplay every year. That must be grueling and results in a lot of stuff that’s kind of light, honestly. I’ve always been curious about how Mr. Allen’s career would have turned out if he decided to take two or three years per production instead of one.

Here’s a list of places that I’d like to see dramatized in a Woody Allen movie in no particular order:
Florida
Mexico
Staten Island
Minneapolis
Chicago
Any college town
Rural anywhere
China
Los Angeles

The New Yorker: August 5, 2013

7 Aug

Cover
The much-talked-about Anthony Weiner/King Kong drawing. You know, for a current events cover, this is not bad. I like the drawing and it’s a clever concept. I don’t hate it. Plus it’s a New York current event and the magazine is The New Yorker, after all.

Front
Comment about Detroit’s bankruptcy. Sad story all around. Nothing notable here, but I will link an interesting recent piece about the D from Rembert Browne on Grantland. Mr. Browne is doing a lot of good work over there.

The other noteworthy Talk item was Larissa MacFarquhar on a woman designing luxury handbags designed for carrying guns. Her company is called Designer Concealed Carry. She has a couple quotes about carrying a firearm. She doesn’t seem to have any compunction about killing someone. Her real worry is that the police might not trust her judgment about who does and doesn’t deserve to be shot.

“It’s very frightening that, if you do ever have to use it, you will face civil or criminal charges. That’s just the way society is, even if the laws are clear. So people who carry a firearm have legal-representation insurance.”

MURIKA.

Middle
Jeffrey Toobin’s Texas/abortion/Planned Parenthood article was interesting, even if it didn’t cover a lot of new ground. The most interesting note is that Planned Parenthood’s president is the daughter of former Texas governor Ann Richards. I didn’t know that.

I have some thoughts about Woody Allen’s Shouts & Murmurs. He shows up in the magazine every now and then, I’d guess his pieces are pretty popular. I’ve never been a fan of his humor writing like I am of his movies. His style doesn’t connect as well in print. Maybe part of it is that it’s impossible to read him without doing a Woody Allen impression in your head. Plus his humor pieces always seem kind of light and forgettable. And a lot of throwaway gags. Like he takes his bad screenplay ideas and one-liners and mashes them up into 1200 words for TNY. His books of these are pretty popular. I don’t really see myself enjoying a bunch of these in a row. Maybe I’m way off. Maybe his old stuff is better. I don’t know. Not that they’re terrible. Special note to a character in this one, an art dealer named Larry Fallopian, which seems like an obvious reference to Larry Gagosian. I liked that, even if it is the kind of jokey-joke that I was just lamenting.

Gary Shteyngart did not make Google Glass seem all that appealing. I say this as a firm proponent of the flip-phone lifestyle. Mine dates from 2008. I have no desire to upgrade my phone. So it logically follows that I have no desire to start wearing glasses with a computer in them. Life is terrible in so many ways now. Plus Mr. Shteyngart says that he hears the term glasshole is “already current” in San Francisco. Another reason I would not move to San Francisco even if I could afford to. Which I can’t.

On the topic of life being terrible in so many ways now, Ariel Levy has a long reported piece on the Steubenville rape saga. The whole thing just makes me feel despair. Hey everybody, never get drunk ever.

Lengthy profiles of ballet choreographers aren’t really in my wheelhouse. One of the best things about TNY is that they make pieces like this accessible and interesting even for me. A nice mix of insidery ballet stuff and candy for the rest of us to keep it moving. Benjamin Millepied is the subject. He’s probably best-known as Natalie Portman’s husband. I bet that’s a fun time.

Fiction
Good story by Shirley Jackson. Ms. Jackson died in 1965. Her story The Lottery is one of the most famous TNY short stories ever.* This one had a similar kind of feel. I should read more of her stuff. And I love the way that this just showed up with no fanfare or special mention in the magazine. Just a note in the Contributors section like any other writer. TNY is the best.

*Or read it in the TNY archives. It’s just better that way if you ask me.

Back
I don’t know enough about British history or politics to have a real opinion about Margaret Thatcher. This week’s Critic at Large seemed like a decent overview. I wish Republicans would start calling themselves Tories. So much better than the GOP.

It’s always interesting when Wallace Shawn shows up in the magazine. His father, of course, was William Shawn, who was TNY’s editor for 35 years and is something of a legendary figure. The younger Shawn did a lot of work while his father was still editing TNY. I should go back and see what was written about his plays and movies then.

OK I just did that. I didn’t read them, but there are a few reviews of old plays, mostly by Brendan Gill. There’s also a review of My Dinner with Andre by Pauline Kael. And a few casuals and reviews by the younger Shawn himself. I’ll check into it later. An interesting topic for sure.

Three reviews by David Denby. I don’t think I’m going to see The To Do List. I like Aubrey Plaza a lot, but this movie just looks kind of…stupid. Sorry. I think I’m past the point of my life where I can enjoy teen comedies. I’ve heard good things about The Spectacular Now. Shailene Woodley was the best part of The Descendants. I might check that out. Maybe I can still do a teen romance. And I’m very excited about The Canyons. I don’t think it’ll be good, really. Still excited. One of the few movies I mentioned in my 2013 film preview.

Copyediting
Interesting quirk on page 71. In the Thatcher piece, the magazine of course refers to “Mrs. Thatcher”. Except for a quoted passage from a British source, which uses “Mrs Thatcher”, with no period, as per UK convention. I’ve noted in the past that TNY changes quotes to fit its house style, interesting decision here to leave it alone.

Cartoons
Baseball cartoon on page 35. These always seem to have baseball players with stirrups, even though no one wears stirrups anymore. I like that. Paul Lukas on Uni Watch has pointed this out many times in the past. Stirrups forever.

Caption contest entry
“Fresh ground pepper?”