Goodbye Columbus, Goodbye Mr. Roth

My good friend and co-worker Barry suggested Goodbye Columbus a a library loaner last week after Philip Roth died. My experience with Mr. Roth began during my relationship with a Manhattan born handsome devil who encouraged me to read Portnoy’s Complaint.

I had admittedly lost track of Philip Roth except for his announcement a few years back that he was retiring from writing. Then I had heard even more recently that Lisa Halliday had written a roman a clef about her May December affair with Roth in her novel Asymmetry. During the reading of that novel, Mr. Roth passed away at the age of 85.

Hence, I rented Goodbye Columbus that Barry joked was ‘the story of my life’. Did you know that 1969 was a looooong time ago? Meaning, the world has changed leaps and bounds and this film no longer holds up. Sure, there are certainly still conflicts regarding wealth disparity and dating below or above your income status, but the main conflicts no longer exist. The fact that one of the culminating conflicts involved Ali McGraw (and while this was her first movie and she was drop dead gorgeous, let’s face facts, she was not expressive aka had zero range) being verkelmpt over her mother finding her diaphragm while in college isn’t as big of a deal these days as it was in the stubborn repression that the wild 60’s was trying to snuff out. And sure, there were nuances to this conflict, trying to make a relationship work when two people exist in two different realms (one college, one not) rarely works out.

And while Richard Benjamin did a decent job as the middle class outlier, he was an equally flat character. I felt I was watching two actors, almost too nervous and new to really make this film. But then again, it could be I’m just cynical about the outdated plot.

Don’t get me wrong, I needed something somewhat fluffy to get me through Anthony Bourdain’s suicide and it was comforting to see Jack Klugman who I always saw as the ultimate father figure; tough but super caring. And thinking of a younger Barry navigating dating socialites also made me smile.

On Chesil Beach: I’m a runner not a skater, likewise McEwan should stick to novelist

On Chesil Beach (screenplay written by the novelist Ian McEwan, directed by Dominic Cooke) was intriguing and worth seeing. Just realize you’ll spend the first third of the movie motioning the log roll “and then” speed it up signal, and then be equally flabbergasted when you flash forward from a Loooooooong 1962 to a semi quick 1975 to a super sped up 2007.

My movie companion brought up a fair point about Britain’s cinematic fascination over ‘the old day’s’ rather than tackling current issues. Perhaps its fitting with the surfacey insistence that perfect (or in the cinema sense ‘halcyon’ days) royalty must somehow reflect a perfect society, a sweep under the rug of violent crime and racism happening in the ‘real’ England.

Back to the film: cinematography; great. Chesil Beach’s pebbles is/are a perfect backdrop for a marriage ‘on the rocks’. And to be fair, turning a novel into a screenplay is no small feat. McEwan attempts to layer the sedementary rock of their courtship, their separate but equally dysfunctional pasts.

Acting by the leads; Saoirse Ronan, though ubiquitous in recent films, was solid as ever as the repressed English musician. Billy Howie, who I had never seen before (didn’t see Dunkirk), was not an attractive man, but he did grow on me (almost literally considering the decades covered) as the movie wore on. Props to the make up artist who helped him age realistically and convincingly. Emily Watson and Samuel West were impressive in making their small, but abusive parental roles very memorable.

In a nutshell (part pun there as Ian McEwan’s most recent famous novel (new in paperback) is called Nutshell), this is the story of probably 75% of young marriages. Here are two people who don’t know themselves yet and are equally crippled due to family hardships or abuse and thus, two broken kids can not equal a whole or healthy beginning. This is exactly what happened in my first marriage (which I was too immature to just hang in there and wait), and my second marriage which age unfortunately had not advanced to wisdom.

My film companion chalked the film’s message up to “Pride Goeth before a Fall” blaming the male. I see a woman who clearly wasn’t ready for marriage, but was towing the ‘company line of the 1960’s’. The reality is, we all make early mistakes which we inevitably second guess as we age. Yet the most important epiphany to hold on to is that we’re given each new day to make the most of, and we damn well better do that.

“Love Simon” or at the very least Very Much Liked

Ok, so I didn’t love “Love Simon”, but I did like it a lot. Let’s focus on the positive first. I’m broke as a joke from now until December 1st when I pray NYSUT makes good on my 30 years as a teacher. That said, my kind generous friend Carrie treated me to the movie after picking my tired keister up after work. So that’s a positive in its own right.

The ‘teen’ actors were all fantastic and I’ll name my top four: Nick Robinson (23) plays a great high school senior wrestling with his sexuality becoming public. Katherine Langford, 22 who I haven’t seen because she stars in 13 Reasons Why which I think is exploitative to teens vulnerable to suicidal ideation. Yet she does well here as the jilted gal. Keiynan Lonsdale (27!) is wonderful as a humble classmate and Logan Miller is wonderful as the cringe worthy guy who tries way too hard to get a girl (and trust me) this doesn’t just happen to teens, I know 60 year olds doing the same damn thing.

The dialogue was mostly witty and novel. The fact that gay people ‘have to come out’ while heterosexuals just get to be was well taken. Technology (emails and texts) were interwoven smoothly. The school seemed even more repressed than is the norm and the rallying of Nick Robinson’s character seemed a bit over the top, but this is a movie and heightened drama is essential.

Now the bad news: oy! Jennifer Garner and blech! Josh Duhamel. Ok, Jennifer did an adequate job and super role model as a caring, but non-oppressive mother, but the corny couple dynamic of she and Josh was nauseating. And Josh Duhamel should really look for a nice little game show to host. He’s got the pretty boy Ryan Seacrest look going for him, but drama ‘ain’t his bag’.

Greg Berlanti, the director, is new to me, but was nominated for a Golden Globe for a 2012 mini series called Political Animals.

Definitely worth seeing especially if you are in need of some optimism.

Columbus, Docked Just Shy of the New World

Ok, I know Columbus, the new movie by relatively new(?) director Kogonada, has nothing to do with Native American destroyer Christopher Columbus, but the analogy of C.C. not quite going the distance to make it to the new world, fits perfectly with Kogonanda’s film being so close to greatness that it’s almost painful.

Columbus is actually about Columbus, Indiana which I am so excited to have learned is a mecca for architecture. I’ve not been exposed to building design instruction, but I appreciate beautiful homes and buildings enough that I am making it a goal to become schooled on the wealth of architectural wonders right here in Sarasota.

With this gorgeous motif as its setting, Columbus (the movie) has a cast just as luminous. First, there’s one of my top ten actresses of all time: Parker Posey. I have loved and seen Parker Posey in most of her films but her tiny role in Columbus just compelled me to request two former films from Selby Library, MORE PARKER NEEDED:) Parker reminds me of my clumsy, but endearing self (or at least the latter’s my hope for what people see in me).

Another excellent actor in Columbus is John Cho (Star Trek, Harold & Kumar) who was superb as the long suffering son of an aloof architectural aficionado. The other two standouts were Haley Lu Richardson (equally good in Edge of Seventeen and The Bronze) and Rory Culkin (who I really need to go back n my posts and see what I praised him for-could it be Lymelife? He was just a little kid, but had that glow akin to Ethan Hawke in Dead Poets Society).

SO the acting was excellent, the direction interesting, many scenes shot from peoples’ backs or through angles (in a reflection of a mirror, from a hallway), so what gives, you ask? Well, it’s all in the pacing. Meditative is fun, but clunky leads to dropping anchor before you hit the shore.

I still recommend Columbus, just be prepared to swim a ways.

Ingrid Goes West: Thought Provoking

As much as I want to say I’m above worrying about social judgment, I am hurt that a recent simplistic choice has cast me in a homely light. As a pedestrian commuter, I transport necessary a.c. sweaters in a Publix bag INSIDE my book bag so they don’t co-mingle with anything dirty. So, what’s the big deal? Well occasionally said sweaters have to be brought forth to the light of day due to cooler air and some times said bag is met with horror by one, if not two, people in my life. Guess I need to find a more fashionable bag within a bag. Mea culpa.

And so it is through that lens that many women, like moi, can appreciate the film I saw last night called Ingrid Goes West (directed by Matt Spicer) starring Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, an unnerving mix which, depending on your idea of what cinema or art should be, might be palatable. Like my Publix bag, can a film be solely provocative and still be acceptable? In my one and done year with the Sarasota Area Playwright’s Society, I was taught, and agreed to, the definition of art as being something uplifting (though ironically ripping actual humans to shreds in public over their writing is mighty fine*). But is simply ‘moved’ a better art indicator? *Not sour grapes, I promise. I received praise for another play that was performed at a nursing home, but the viciousness of critique when your work is not liked is downright mean.

Some might argue that the end of the film is uplifting, but I would disagree. I won’t tell you the ending as my promise of no spoilers remains true.

Let’s first explore what was unnerving about Ingrid Goes West. First the teacher-mother in me wants to say for shame in glamorizing suicide attempt as a way to gets loads of positive attention. I’m not sure we want impressionable teens and young adults to think taking a chance on suicide is a good way to win folks over.

Second, are we suggesting that if you have an army (meaning having a few influential people snowed into thinking you’re perfection) when you’re not any better than anyone else that you are allowed to bully, berate and judge others who are more alone? Or is that merely the law of nature, survival of the fittest/biggest army?

Friendship* and loyalty are the main themes in Ingrid Goes West. In the film, extreme cases of rejection and reactions are portrayed. Aubrey’s Ingrid was alone, her mother having recently passed away (in the plot from the get go, not a spoiler). She was also unlucky in friendships (not invited to a wedding for instance), had no sisters, or father (which never is addressed). In a more extreme sense, this movie reminded me of what could have been a prequel to Christine, the real life story of Sarasota news reporter Christine (see my previous review) who had parental abandonment issues as well as social awkwardness and perfectionistic qualities. Was this solitary essence combined with uneven brain chemistry what made the Ingrid character and the real life Christine more vulnerable to our current world’s pack mentality?

*Speaking of friends, thank you to David Utz, who’s also a talented artist http://www.utzart.com/, for treating me to the film and his friendship.

Male female relationships are also explored, ang again, to my second aforementioned point, I’m not sure I like the message. Why do men stick with women who are unkind? Why don’t they follow the adage that there are more fish in the sea and continue to look? One confesses how quitting his job to please his girlfriend has made him miserable and then buys right back in, another is seriously injured as a result of psychosis, but goes right back to the woman. Love, as well as friendship, according to this film, truly is an illusion.

Coincidentally, love as illusory is also theme in the Rachel Cusk book I’m reading now entitled Outline, Rachel sums up the end of illusion in relationships perfectly: “And then one day the river dried up: their shared world of imagination ceased, and the reason was that one of them stopped believing in it. In other words, it was no one’s fault; but all the same it was brought home that the what was beautiful in their lives was the result of a shared vision of things strictly speaking to could not have been said to exist.”

Obviously Ingrid Goes West sparks a lot of thought. The acting was superb and I’d be remiss not to mention the three male leads who followed in that high regard: O’Shea Jackson Jr. (fantastic in Straight Outta Compton as well), Wyatt Russell (as good looking as his mom and dad and great in this film), and Billy Magnussen, most impressive of the three, who plays such a jerk, you want to reach through the screen to strangle him yourself.

But as I told someone recently, I’m a lover not a fighter, glad to be in this world, even in spite of rejection over a plastic bag. Smiley face emoji.