Monday, January 1, 2018

The Barbie Award Goes To...


I had every intention of doing in depth, brilliant reviews of every film I saw over vacation, but there is much television to watch and I have to go back to work tomorrow so... Of the 7 movies I saw over vacation:


I have chosen my favorite. I have links to the ones I have reviewed already and will add the one to LADYBIRD when I get around to writing it. The world will need to continue to spin without me revealing what I thought of the last two on the list. They were all great - but plenty has been written about them because of Ridley Scott excising Kevin Spacey from ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD and replacing him with Christopher Plummer and because STARWARS is, well STARWARS.

Okay - geeze, don't start whining - here are my thumbnail reviews.

AtMitW - Michelle Williams is unbelievable, Charlie Plummer is heartbreaking and Christopher Plummer clearly is some sort of mega-human. And I got to see Mark from BROADCHURCH (Andrew Buchan) as a loving dad/junkie wreck - quit making me sad Andrew Buchan. Make a romantic comedy for heaven's sake, let a girl just enjoy your face without knowing how tortured you are! The story was a bit long, but it had me wikipedia-ing the story for an hour after, so clearly, I didn't want to let go it it.

SW:TLJ - In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit I slept through most of the middle of this movie. I can't help it. Flying through space and shit blowing up makes me snooze in self defense. But I went to the bathroom, looked at a recap and caught up for the excellent ending. My favorite part was the Cantina/Casino and those giant bunny/horse thingies and, of course, Benicio del Toro and his speech impediment. And yes, I cried at the end when Rey and Ren talk about her parents. Because I am not made of stone.

And now to the business at hand...

I'm not going to make you wait for it. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI beat the competition by a hair. I have to say that LADYBIRD gave me a bit more of the feels and was better constructed, but for me, movies are all about performance. While LADYBIRD's performances were flawless - so were THREE BILLBOARDS. And BILLBOARDS had more of them.

Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson get major billing - richly earned. I have loved McDormand and Rockwell in every single thing I have seen them in EVER. I am not ashamed that my favorite McDormand performance is in RAISING ARIZONA (Gotta have his dip-tets!) and Rockwell will always be Guy (What's my last name???) from GALAXY QUEST. Harrelson is excellent often (ZOMBIELAND and TRUE DETECTIVE most recently) although he doesn't have one performance that I love above all others.

All three of them are tremendous.

McDormand is steel. She plays blue collar Mildred whose daughter has been murdered. She knows she wasn't a great mamma to her little girl when she was alive. A heartbreaking flashback of her last conversation with her daughter and her treatment of her surviving son show that she is often, with her children and the world at large, far more interested in scoring points than understanding others' perspectives. And she takes no prisoners when she demands that the local police keep the heat on the investigation of her daughter's murder.

Rockwell looks like he is going to be the goofy sidekick. He seems an unredeemable buffoon, but as the story unwinds, he shows us his soft white underbelly. And a little shout-out here to Sandy Martin who plays his Mama - she has been acting since the year I was born - how have I never seen her before? Rockwell has a slack-jawed look and an ineffectual sneer that do a lot of heavy lifting in an otherwise nuanced performance.

I can't say much about Harrelson. He is the moral compass of the movie until he isn't. Or is he? His best day ever is a montage of great parenting, a loving marriage and a stunning choice. Damn, Wood, way to bring it.

But then you have the secondary characters. Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry Jones and John Hawkes are all in this movie too - an embarrassment of riches!

What the heck, Lucas Hedges? Is is your job to break my heart every Christmas vacation? Last year I met him in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA and I'm not bragging, but he was in my town to film that. As a matter of fact, I was at Rite Aid right across the street from the funeral parlor where he was shooting a scene. So we are practically acquaintances. He was in both LADYBIRD and THREE BILLBOARDS which I saw back to back. The combined impact of his two performances was enough to rattle my teeth. This kid has talent. He is still kind of lumpy and teenaged,  but I can not wait to see how he evolves as an actor. He played similar grieving kids in MbtS and 3B - but they were definitely two different guys. More on his LADYBIRD performance when I get around to that one.

I have loved Peter Dinklage since THE STATION AGENT and his Tyrion Lannister has only made me love him more. He is a bit of a sad sack in this movie, but not as closed off as in TSA. He is kind of a pit of need, but a sexy, self-aware, stalwartly dependable pit of need. And his jawline is magnificent, both aesthetically, and as a way of showing the tension his character has to deal with in his small town life every day.

I knew Caleb Landry Jones had recently freaked me out in a movie lately and it took IMDB-ing this film to remind me where I had seen him. He was the asshat brother in GET OUT which I watched three times in two days this fall. His performance here was strong, but what really got me was the fact that I couldn't ID where I'd seen him previously. Part of that could be my menopause brain, but part of that could be his having a face that essentially looks the same all the time, as faces do, but at the same time being unrecognizable from role to role. I call this the Jessica Chasten effect. I saw her in THE HELP and THE DEBT on the same day and looked her up twice because I couldn't believe it was her in both roles.

And finally John Hawkes. He makes me feel funny inside. From Uncle Teardrop in WINTER'S BONE to the creepy cult leader in MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE the the thankfully not terrifying Mark in THE SESSIONS (an iron lung has never looked sexier) - he has a charisma that just can not be ignored. As Mildred's mercurial ex, he has a Just-for-Men dyed head of hair that could stop a bullet, a 19 year old girlfriend who smells like poop (don't blame me, it's in the script), a mean streak and a right hook that comes out of nowhere. It's a small role, but it packs a punch.



So even though I think that LADYBIRD is a better movie - this is the movie that I most enjoyed - well maybe "enjoyed" is not the right word, but I couldn't look away, I didn't want to at any point.  So I will just call it my best moviegoing experience of vacation week.


Sunday, December 31, 2017

THE SHAPE OF WATER - Silence is Golden


I knew I would find THE SHAPE OF WATER interesting. I knew it would be visually arresting. I didn't expect it to pack such an emotional punch!

The story is the same old thing - girl meets fish/man, girl falls in love with fish/man, girls joins forces with Communist spy to rescue fish/man, girl floods bathroom to have standing up sex with fish/man... You know the drill.

The film has an interesting cast - it features three of my all time favorite male character actors and two highly regarded female actors that I tend to underestimate - and they all brought it HARD!

First off is Sally Hawkins. I had only previously seen her in HAPPY-GO-LUCKY which I thought was great, although I found her a little irritating. My expectations were meh. But without a word -except for one glorious fantasy sequence - she gradually lets you into the incredibly rich inner life of Elisa Esposito - a mute cleaning lady at a government facility. I'm sorry I doubted you, Sally.

The other apology goes to Octavia Spencer. The camera loves this woman. In every movie in which I have seen her, she has been a no nonsense, truth telling presence and I kind of considered that her schtick. Here, there is more of the same - but the fact that she does this often doesn't mean that she doesn't do it perfectly. Her running monologue when she and the Hawkins character go about their daily cleaning tasks is truthful and illuminating. She doesn't talk to hear the sound of her own voice. She is clearly having a conversation, despite the fact that her partner is non-verbal.

Michael Stuhlbarg is always interesting. Okay, I've only seen him in MEN IN BLACK 3 and A SERIOUS MAN, but he was hella interesting in both. Here he speaks two languages and communicates awkwardly in both. His character charmed me for most of the movie and disappointed me at the end, but Stuhlbarg was a master throughout.

Michael Shannon's style of communication is just the worst. I am seriously conflicted about Michael Shannon. He creeped me out the minute he appeared on screen in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and cemented his stuff-of-nightmares-ness in BOARDWALK EMPIRE. He didn't do me any favors in this film either. His style of communication is offensive in its brusqueness. His casual racism, his self-aggrandizement and his bathroom habits are just gross. And yet, he is fantastic. I would have thought that the girl-on-fish/man action late in the movie would have been the most uncomfortable sex scene I would see that day, but honestly - it was delicately done and beautiful. Shannon and his wife have missionary-style suburban daytime sex and it is just icky. Who'd have thunk?



Richard Jenkins never disappoints. He plays a closeted, musical-loving sixty-ish gentleman who communicates beautifully with Elisa but awkwardly with everyone else. He is a painter who has had drinking issues and a lot of cats. He is also a man of integrity who can be counted on to do the right thing as much as he can. His timid vanity and his stalwart heart are just spectacular.




This is a strange, beautiful movie that has a lot of layers. Go see it.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

THE DARKEST HOUR - Communication Makes it Happen

The final project for my film class at the high school is to find three movies and develop an essential question or theses and answer or argue it based on the students' interpretation of the movies. I tell the kids that they can choose any three movies in the world and I will find a way to connect them. It is my superpower.

My Wednesday movies were easy - LADYBIRD, 3 BILLBOARDS and I, TONYA were all colored in broad strokes by motherhood. Yesterday's movies were THE SHAPE OF WATER and DARKEST HOUR were both conflict movies, both set mid 20th century and both beautifully shot. Seriously, my eyes sent me a thank you note for letting them feast on the cinematography. But the theme that jumped out at me on the drive home was that of communication.

THE DARKEST HOUR is the story of Winston Churchill's first month as prime minister, culminating in the "We shall fight on the beaches" speech to Parliament that basically cemented the stiff upper lips of the population of Britain with regard to fighting the Axis.  The last line of the movie is "He just mobilized the English language and sent it into battle." I think Viscount Halifax said it in the movie, although in real life it is attributed to Edward R. Murrow (and gently plagiarized by JFK when he granted Churchill honorary American citizenship). Either way, it is the crux of the movie and sums up the power of Churchill's words.

The performances are splendid - Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James are softly supportive as Churchill's wife and secretary. Ronald Pickup and Stephan Dillane are snooty and dismissive (and yet always one step behind) as Chamberlain and Halifax. Ben Mendelsohn plays George IV as conflicted and smart and it took me visiting IMDB 10 seconds ago to realize that he was Danny Rayburn from BLOODLINE. Good grief - he's a chameleon! David Strathairn plays FDR in one short phone conversation. I totally ID-ed him. So proud.

But there is only one *star* in this movie. According to the internet, Churchill is played by Gary Oldman, but I don't see it. That was Winston Churchill up there on the screen. According to Vanity Fair it took 4 hours a day to get Oldman in make-up and fat suit but he acts through the layers and layers of artifice to great effect. I finally forgave him for his carelessness in the Ministry of Magic (Sirious-ly, killed by a doorway? WTF, Black...)

I loved many of Oldman's performances in the past, starting with PRICK UP YOUR EARS (which I described to Alfred Molina when I met him in London - okay, asked for his autograph after a play, still counts! - as "The feel-good movie of the year." Yep, I cracked Alfred Molina up.) and SID AND NANCY, but other than the Harry Potters, he had lately fallen off my radar. But dang, he's still got it.

His performance is the lynchpin upon which the whole thing is constructed, but it is the power of Churchill's mastery of language that, well, saved the world. There is a scene (apocryphal) where he slips out of his car and takes the underground to Westminster and takes the pulse of a carload of Londoners regarding trying to negotiate a peace with Hitler. At one point he begins quoting something (St. Crispin's Day, maybe) and a young working-class man on the train finishes it for him and they exchange a look that says that they are brothers who will fight to the death together.  Yes it was manipulative, and yet - it worked.



Thursday, December 28, 2017

I, TONYA - Where the Hits Just Keep On Coming...

Yesterday I spent the day at Kendall Square Cinema. It was magic.



You know you've had a good day at the movies when I, TONYA is the worst movie you saw. Because it is a freaking miracle on ice. It was SO GOOD. Margot Robbie is a dream. I went with my friends the Chardonnay family. When she first showed up on screen, my goddaughter Mimosa said, “Well, she's no Charlize Theron in MONSTER..." Which is accurate. She didn't ugly-up for this role. But the difference in her appearance between young Tonya and present-day Tonya is striking.




Her slightly thickened neck is the best bit of neck acting since Jessica Chastain screamed at Coach Taylor  in ZERO DARK THIRTY.

She is pure Tonya, though. And this movie gave layers to a story everybody thought they knew. Well, I didn't know, I had a new baby and wasn't paying attention. I didn't care about figure skating. But I care now! The cinematography in the skating scenes had me breathing heavy. Not in a creepy way, but because it felt so immediate. The scene where Tonya lands the first triple-Lindy or whatever it's called was the greatest moment of sports triumph I have ever seen on screen.














There were some tremendous supporting players, too. Allison Janney is getting a lot of press, but saying Allison Janney deserves an Oscar is like saying Allison Janney breathes oxygen. She should be rewarded just for getting out of bed in the morning. The scene in JUNO when she snaps at the ultrasound tech makes me burst into tears every time.








Who the heck is Julianne Nicholson? I know her face and she has been in a ton of shows I have probably half-watched on TV, but I couldn't have pulled her out of a lineup before this movie. She gave an extraordinarily restrained performance in a movie where virtually no one else had any restraint at all. She was magnificent.






Sebastian Stan was Bucky Barnes! Again, I had a vague feeling that I had seen him before, but couldn't have said where. He played Jeff Gillooly who was a very complex character in spite of being essentially a dull-witted goof. He played sweet at the beginning of the Jeff/Tonya relationship – so much so that the first time he slammed her face made me rear back in my seat. And the calm, almost anesthetized manner of modern-day Jeff was an entirely different animal. Just so good.



SO FREAKING PUNCHABLE!!!


About two thirds of the way through the movie I just started muttering “Punch his face. Punch his stupid face.” I am a pacifist! I don't condone face punching. And yet Paul Walter Hauser as Shaun Eckhardt had the most punchable face in the history of faces. His blank stare and complete inalienable belief in his own completely fictitious achievements worked so beautifully that, well, were he to have appeared before me, I would have punched first and asked questions later. Probably questions like, “Are you going to sue me because I clearly don't know the difference between actors and characters or how movies entirely work?” He was splendid, too.

I was going to review all three of the movies I saw yesterday in one shot, but I think if I do that it will be too obvious how often I rely on the word “marvelous” when I am impressed with performances. So I am going to go have a refreshing beverage and watch either season one of MASTERS OF SEX or SAVING MR. BANKS. I hear the plots are essentially identical.


Next up THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI and LADYBIRD.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Molasses cookies

My pal Danielle is pregnant. And she asked me for the recipe for my Grandma Lena's molasses cookies because she was having a craving. How well I understand that! I haven't been pregnant for nearly 20 years, but I crave the hell out of these cookies about once a week. Only my inherent laziness (and perhaps a bit of cholesterol related self-preservation) keeps me from having them on hand 24/7.
Before I start, you need to know that these are the most delicious cookies on the planet. And that only by following my step-by-step instructions will you be able to replicate the deliciousness that was a staple of my childhood. And I might leave out a special ingredient to insure that I am the only person who makes them perfectly...

NO!! Just kidding!! I really am going to give you the original recipe from my Grandma Lena (the greatest cookie maker of all time) and then I will even tell you the two additions that brought these babies into the modern age.







Here is the original recipe:



And here are the secret additions that make them even better -


Here are the ingredients -
3/4 cup shortening (butter flavor makes it awesome)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg

2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon cloves (be generous)
1/2 teaspoon ginger (be generous again)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (be a little generous, but don't go nuts)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Do this:
Double the recipe. It's totally worth it!

Melt the Crisco over low heat. Let it cool, but not congeal.

Mix it with the sugar, molasses and egg. 

In another bowl mix the flour, baking soda, cloves, ginger, cinnamon and salt.

Add the dry stuff to the wet stuff and put some wax paper over it (or whathaveyou) and put it in the fridge for a couple hours. Or over night. Or a couple days when you keep scheduling things on the night when you planned to make cookies.

Once the batter is cool, preheat the oven to 375, put some parchment paper on your cookie sheet, start ballin'.

(That means, roll the dough in to 1 inch balls, roll them in sugar and put them on the cookie sheet. Then tap them just enough so they don't roll around when you move them. The bottom of a jelly jar works great.)

Put them in the oven and set the timer for 8 minutes. Even if you don't think they're done, take them out after 8 minutes. As long as your oven is preheated, they will be great.

Let them cool on the sheet while you bake a second sheet. (You should have been balling your next sheet while these ones cooked! Live and learn...) Once the other ones come out, put the cookies on a rack to cool further or let your greedy family start eating them right away.

Repeat 'til the dough is gone and everyone in your house is stuffed with cookies.

You're welcome.



Monday, June 26, 2017

Suburban Matron, how do you fill your days?

Wow, I haven't blogged since February? Good grief. I must have been so well adjusted all spring!

I have noticed throughout my life that I only write when I am freaking out or having an adventure. Perhaps that is why it feels so strange to be writing now. But my summer plan is to write for at least an hour each day, and that can't just be scribbling in my journal about what I am reading.

Besides, I have had such a rich fulfilling day, I really must document it.

Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head...

Read newspapers, ate fruit, drank coffee, planted vegetables.

HA! Didn't see that last one coming, did you? But it really happened. And I even had to go down into the scary, scary basement to turn the spigot on so that the little shoots would have a fighting chance. (In spite of the fact that I bought them at Home Depot 2 weeks ago and they have been sitting in the backyard getting providentially rained on since.)

Tidied up, sorted laundry, aired a blanket, went shoe shopping.

Got you again! Yes, I bought two pairs of shoes, both of which were designed for women's feet. I couldn't be more surprised myself. One pair are (is? how do you verb for pairs of something?) sneakers - navy blue sneakers that make me feel like doing Zumba! (If Zumba still exists...) The other pair are some sort of hiking sandal that are waterproof and feel absolutely wonderful on my feet. I am going to experiment with wearing socks with them so that I can fit in when I go to Canada. I feel very good about the shoes.

And with all these accomplishments, the only picture I took today was this -

My delicious egg sandwich with cherry limeade on my beautiful Maud Hart Lovelace china.

According to world famous Lovelace scholar, Kathy Baxter, the plate actually belonged to the Hart family. The cup was a find of a friend who saw a set at a yard sale, know the pattern was the same and offered pieces to different Betsy-Tacy friends. I adore it!

And the book is a hoot. Samantha Irby is funny, funny, funny. She makes me feel better about how rarely I left my house this winter.

Okay, I have been writing for significantly less than an hour, but I really need to go prance about in my new shoes.

Tra-la-la!

Monday, February 13, 2017

YOUTH IS WASTED ON THE WRONG PEOPLE

Tom Hart* 

There is this theory that after the age of 45 or so, women become invisible. There was a book I read back in my 20s where these two middle aged broads go away on a girls weekend and make a wish and apparently are turned back into their more youthful selves and men hit on them again and all is right with the world.

This seems patently terrifying to me.

I reeeeeeally like my 50s. I like being invisible until I speak up. I like not being too concerned that I am wearing socks and Birkenstocks. And most of all, I like having an excuse to be nosy. Don't get me wrong, I have always been nosy! I am always, according to el Guapo, about 5 minutes from poking my nose into someone else's business. Not to stir up the shit. I am very low-drama, thank you very much. I just find people's stories fascinating.

In BETSY AND JOE by Maud Hart Lovelace, Joe, a suitor of Betsy as you perhaps have sussed out from the title, pays her father a wonderful compliment. Something about being a student of human beings. I am far too lazy to look it up. But I like to think I share that attribute. I really do find people interesting.

My best conversation of the past week was with a woman with whom I have worked for years. For some reason we got to talking about husbands' schedules and I casually asked what her beloved does for a living. Well, it turns out he is a horse dentist.

WHAT??? How do you get to be a horse dentist? How do you find any horses to work on their teeth? Is he one of the 4 horse dentists who recommend Trident to their horses who chew gum?

I did not ask all of those questions, but I got her started and out poured the story of how she, herself, used to be a horse groomer at the racetracks in Boston and how she traveled the country and would just show up at a track looking for work and be grooming horses in no time. This is an immaculately put together lady who looks like she spends her weekends drinking tea and looking at the Ann Taylor website from her breakfast nook in Marblehead. And here she has had this amazing life of adventure. Who knew?

I do find the young people of my acquaintance to be interesting by virtue of the fact that they are just starting out and finding their way. High school and college and just beyond are the times just ripe for seeing the world and trying to figure out how it works. I remember the feeling of being adrift and at the same time wanting to suck out the marrow of life. (While at the same time wanting to stay in bed and read...Ah, youth...) When I run across a friend of my kids, or a student at work who seems to have that wanderlust, it warms my heart.

One of the reasons I love the Facebook is because occasionally I will come across one of the travel videos made by a former student, or the political rants of a current student and smile at their newly-hatched enthusiasm. I love that we are churning out more creative, brave young adults every day. But I also appreciate those of us who may have most of our physical adventures behind us, but continue to explore the landscape of humanity through the stories of other people.

*From Julie Schrader's amazing blog - https://betsytacysdeepvalley.wordpress.com/