Family Man, Sliding Doors, and the Broadway musical If/Thenall take a deep dive into questions of alternate realities. They involve shifting time, as does the Sandra Bullock-Keanu Reeves romance The Lake House to slightly disparate effect.
Sliding Doors and Family Man are films which explore what might have been by letting it happen to Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicolas Cage respectively. Similarly, If/Then let Idina Menzel experience a different life if she made different life choices. (The alternate reality I would have liked to see is for the musical play to be honored with a Tony in its 2014 bid.)
It is a giddy fact that the divergent paths the hero or heroine takes leads to different outcomes for him/her in each of these works. Makes you wonder what you might have done had you done differently!
There is a type of comedy in which the hero (or heroine) allows a sketchy friend to help him/her make a sketchy choice.
Poor judgement is funny, or at least leads to comic situations. Jason Bateman’s character in Extract, for instance, is lead down this path by Ben Affleck’s Dean, a dodgy fellow if ever there was one. And one guaranteed to make the worst suggestion in any circumstance.
This comic trope lets the main character remain heroic and redeemable. On other occasions, often the funny is in the delusional justifications for bad behavior.
Wrong decisions coupled with an indignant sense of righteousness (as Danny McBride exhibits in Arizona, for example) become hiliarious.
Complications arise from the initial missteps, and are compounded as the errors compound. The set-up builds to additional troubles in an onslaught of the outtrageous.
T and B sit in aisle seats at our “in-house theater” where movies are the entertainment.
Here on our little island home, we let Showtime® or Movies!® or TMC® (among others) regale us with cinema past present and future.
A little tremor passed through me when I picked up the December 3rd issue of The New Yorker to find a reprint of a Nora Ephron piece from 2006. The shudder was the thrill of serendipity.
I had just seen Heartburn and here she was chatting about cooking and food. In the article, Serial Monogamy, she acknowledges that the roman à clef upon which the film is based is a thinly disguised version of her second marriage. The ups and downs and downs of this union are played out by Meryl Streep as Rachel Samstat and Jack Nicholson as her not so faithful husband, Mark Forman.
I never take serendipity lightly or for granted but frequently have no idea what to do with it. This is such a case, a reinforcement as it were of its very randomness.
Ephron’s story stirred another chord of memory for me. My mother had been working on a Meditterean cookbook for some time. Her manuscript sits in my closet and I wonder if I should try some of her recipes.
I wonder, but mostly I feel guilty because I know I won’t make any attempt to replicate her best-loved dishes. Then, perhaps, I should just acknowledge that I am too random a cook to follow anyone’s directions. And that I am better off not messing with her signature.
Leaving a bad taste
There are few scenes of cooking in a Woody Allen feature, notably the hilarious lobster bruhaha in Annie Hall and the feasts whipped up by the title character (portrayed by Mia Farrow) in Hannah and Her Sisters. Allen is a frequent guest in our home–not in person, of course, although I did run into him in the neighborhood once. We generally find his movies interesting, thought-provoking, and brilliant. We have admired his genius.
Unfortunately, Allen has had a substantial helping of problems of late, landing in the fire for alleged sexual misconduct of a heinous variety. His films are suggestive of a guilty verdict.
For instance, I found Play It Again, Sam funny, brilliant and moving upon a recent re-viewing. Then we came to a truly objectionable scene in which Allen and Diane Keaton appear to exalt the virtues of rape. Is there a point, beyond being outrageous to this? How does Keaton react to the impropriety of the script, I wonder?
In Manhattan, Allen’s man-child character is dating an underage, if extremely mature Mariel Hemingway. This has always made me cringe and turned me off this film, despite its many lovely images of the city, and some very smart dialogue.
Hot Water Indeed
Then there’s Hannah and Her Sisters, a wonderful study of love and relationships in their many permutations, marred by the introduction of pedophilia. It’s brought in as a small bit in which Allen’s Mickey, a comedy writer and show runner, is battling his network–and his assistant, played by Julie Kavner–over including a segment in which this taboo is prominent.
Really? The presence of this in this iconic movie has fuelled and given credence to the allegations against Woody Allen.
We are left with a few pictures we can whole-heartedly endorse in the backlist of Allen’s output. Broadway Danny Rose may be his most romantic venture of the earlier works.
It is a critical no-no for a critic to confuse the art with the artist, of course, but the crisis challenging Allen fans looms large. His early oevre seems to feed into the #MeToo-related issues that plague him. Thankfully, the more recent films are here for us to reaffirm his intense dedication to the art of the cinema and his astonishing talent.
Actors and screen-writers are busier these days than they have been in some time. There are “streaming” shows, 100s of cable outlets producing both series and movies, and of course Hollywood and the Indie scene all requiring their talents and services.
We are the beneficiaries of all this production. We will be enlightened, entertained and excited by the films they produce.
What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than binge watching Divorce?
Gifted, the movie with Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace, and not so incidentally Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan, and Elizabeth Marvel, is touching without being maudlin. It is generally intelligent, with a sterling performance by young Ms. Grace, and until we saw it last night on HBO, I had not heard much about it.
The assignment for Black History Month can include the excellent Get Out, Jordan Peele’s genius defies and reinvents the “horror” genre.It should also feature a viewing of Birth of a Nation, perhaps both in its regressive D.W. Griffith 1915 version and Nate Parker’s 2016 “remake.” The contrast between a paen to the Ku Klux Klan and to Nat Turner’s slave rebellion may prove edifying. Add Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (although not our personal favorite) to your list of films for 2018. (In the New Yorker, Vinson Cunningham expresses a different view, especially of Parker’s film.)
Art is meant to engender controversy, stimulate and even incense and enrage. We should not be passively diverted in its presence. It is here to help us ponder life’s (and history’s) biggest issues.
Thanks to films and serial dramas we have a lot to consider and enjoy. And we are treated to some terrific performances in the bargain.
Comedy is not a continuum. It is a universe onto itself; that is each comedy is unique. Buster Keaton, for instance, created a character, a type, who functioned according to his own rules. Charlie Chaplin did much the same with his sad little tramp.
At home at the cineplex
I am not a movie-goer, per se, but a movie-stayer. Put it on my tv screen and I will gladly watch. Laurel Canyon, Urban Cowboy, a few minutes of Life, all get my attention. Hidden Figures, A League of Their Own, and The Help grab my heart.
However, it is comedies that keep me most engaged. In fact, what hubby and I love best is a smart and funny film. That’s not to exclude the stupid ones, which we consume in considerable quantities as well; you know movies like Animal House or even Dude, Where’s My Car? The low-brow, like Bad Moms, can be very high on wisdom. Comedy is an escape.
How far can escapism go with comedians like Woody Allen, or Noah Baumbach, or the Coens as your guide? Mel Brooks, a smart and funny movie-maker, can take you further down the silly than these other guys.
There are some parallels we can make between Woody Allen and the Coen Brothers, like the films A Serious Man and Irrational Man, which may have more in common in than just the similarily in title. There is a tone in both films that connects their styles and content, even if the plot lines are independent of each other.
Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale tends to have more of a feel of dark whimsy, like a Wes Anderson production. It is not laugh-out-loud funny like Annie Hall or Broadway Danny Rose. It has none of the robust ridiculousness of High Anxiety, for instance, although it is definitely a tremblingly anxious work.
Your assignment, my pets, is to see the 1943 film of the same name as the long-running Broadway musical.
The cinematic version is not strictly speaking a musical but it is full of melodies. Many a colorful opera is staged during the course of the movie. Nelson Eddy is Anatole, the baritone in love with the soprano Christine Dubois (Susanna Foster), who is also the object of adulation for Raoul (Edgar Barrier), the prefect of the Sécurité– in other words, a police captain.
She is also adored at a distance by a modest and timid older man, Erique Claudin, played by Claude Rains. Unlike Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom, he is not a singer; he is the first violin in the Paris Opéra Orchestra. Like Broadway’s Phantom he is so obsessed with Christine that he will kill for her advancement. Along the way, this meek and odd little man collects some genuine and deep-seated grievances to warrant his unravelling as well.
Claudin has a champion in the figure of Franz Liszt (Fritz Lieber) who admires the concerto the violinist submitted- without success- to a recalcitrant publisher, Pleyel (Miles Mander). None of this diverts Claudin from Christine. And, oh, do watch out for that chandelier!
Once you have completed your homework, go see #PhantomBroadway again, or for the first time. It is lusher and more layered than the wonderful 1943 film version of Phantom of the Opera. (Note that if it happens you are not in New York City, you may find Phantom on Tour or in London and Budapest, for instance.)
It is truly a musical, operatically filled with memorable lyrics and superb music. It is also so fantastical as to invite repeated visits to a theater near you.
The production is the longest running Broadway musical, having hit its 29th year mark last January. The Phantom currently in residence is James Barbour, with Ali Ewoldt and Rachel Eskanazi-Gold alternating as Christine. Raoul, who is a Vicomte and not a policeman here, is played by Rodney Ingram.
In the Lloyd Webber incantation, the Phantom is a singer with some of the most gorgeous songs to sing. He is a beautiful, evil-hearted beast. He is Christine Daaé’s Svengali and his melodies haunt as he haunts the Paris Opéra House.
For tickets, please visit the #PhantomBroadway website, which will also guide you to the touring companies.