“It’s perhaps a strange comparison to make, but Grand Budapest Hotel left me with the same feeling I had after Django Unchained, both films in which wildly talented auteurs walk up to a serious historical era, only to skitter away from its most harrowing implications. To me, Django Unchained represents what I hope is the nadir of Tarantino’s exhausting self-regard, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, for all its delightful tics and peculiarities, is finally the film that had me screaming for Wes Anderson to say something. Anything, really. Here we have the crumbling of grand old Europe, dark armies marching across picturesque lands, the first early glints of the Iron Curtain. Anderson could actually interact with all this heavy stuff and still construct his chintzy hotels, still send his manic characters twirling like tops around elegant old rooms. Instead, he made a chase movie.”—Grand Budapest Hotel, reviewed!
I. Almost exactly two years ago, my friend Jackie came down to New York from Boston so she and I and two other friends could spend the weekend in my apartment, minds boggled, processing the sudden death of our friend Crystal. Our friend Cathy’s parents live in the area, so that Sunday they very kindly appeared outside my building with coffee and pastries from their local Italian bakery. Sitting on my floor (a strange experience—people who live alone don’t often sit on their floors, I don’t think) I started playing with the red and white bakery string from one of the pastry boxes. I wrapped it around my left wrist and asked Jackie to tie the knot for me. I decided that I’d wear it until it fell off. That it would be a reminder of a weird and awful but also cozy weekend. I’d see how long it took to let go of me. Then, just this Saturday night, I was fussing around getting ready to meet a friend, trying to figure out which one of my sweaters makes me look the least fat, and at some point the bracelet snapped, just sorta spilled out of my sleeve as if to say “I give up.” Almost two years to the day since it had been tied on there. It wasn’t anything really decorative, but I always noticed it. Was weirdly proud of it. I liked when a guy I went on a few dates with last fall asked me about it, because it made me feel like I had history, and was interesting, like I was the kind of sentimental or superstitious person who remembers things through talismans. I really liked that little string! And then, halfway out the door to Greenpoint, when I had no time to mourn its passing, it gave up. I put it on the dresser next to the TV and, I dunno, figured I’d wish it goodbye later. Then I ran out and got in a cab and the rest of the night pressed on.
II. I don’t know what a “cloud” is. I know I have one on my phone? And also sort of on my computer? To me, iTunes is the most confusing piece of software ever invented—what did I buy? Where is it? Where does it go when I get a new computer? I’m not trying to be some sort of charming luddite. I just genuinely cannot understand, no matter how much I try, how it all works. It’s like watching a David Milch show, Deadwood or Luck or John From Cincinnati. I know those are English words they are speaking! But all I see is a knotted, confusing bramble. iTunes is like that for me. So, just hours before my little bracelet broke, while searching for the latest download of a podcast, I was shocked to stumble upon a cache of songs. Things that had been put on my cloud somehow, at some point. I can’t pinpoint when I downloaded all of them, but mostly the songs look like a playlist from 2005-2006. (When clouds didn’t exist, deepening the mystery.) There are three or four songs in particular that are so solely identified with that year, which I spent living in Somerville with Crystal, and Jackie, and our friend Foster, that it was both a stinging and sweet surprise to accidentally find them again. Almost nine years ago! And there, in this apartment and this life that are so faraway from then, there was Gabe Dixon, and that one Postal Service song, and Jamie Cullum. Remember him? Remember “All at Sea”? I looked him up on Saturday night and he’s 34 now! I was horrified when I saw that, wasn’t he supposed to be some British wunderkind? He was, of course. Only, that was ten years ago. I immediately pressed play and caught a glimpse of myself, at 22, rushing through the Boston Common, trying to convince myself that Boston was big enough, knowing the whole time that it wasn’t. And now how foreign that worry seems. I should have been worried about other things! About Jackie, about Crystal, about Foster, about how time would erode our friendships, send us scattered into the world. But then, I was only bothered by the height of Boston’s buildings, only concerned with counting how many bars and restaurants I passed on my way to work.
III. I left my office at around 1:15 this morning. I was doing the very important work of Officially Tweeting the Academy Awards for Vanity Fair. This is, I know, a very silly way to spend a night in one’s office, but that’s what I was tasked to do, so I did it. Stuck in a conference room on the 22nd floor of a Midtown building with a bunch of nice people who are younger and prettier and seem busier than me. I have to admit, it’s still a trip to be on a high floor in a glossy building like that one. It lends everything an air of importance. Surely nothing mundane, or useless even, ever happens on a 22nd floor! And when I leaned against the window, there was nothing holding me in but a piece of glass! Sitting on a ledge! So high up! It was tiring to be there, but it was not without its own small magic. When I finally got in a cab to go home, the driver was blasting “Greatest Love of All” and it felt like a triumph, as if I’d just wrestled something big from the jaws of impossibility. I hadn’t, of course, but it was nice to feel that way as the cab made its way through Chelsea. What’s that line from Mad Men, about the secretary who dies in the office? Born somewhere low, but died in a high rise. About how she was “an astronaut”? I felt like an astronaut early this morning. And there was Whitney Houston, singing to me from heaven about how close I’d come.
February is always a bad month. The tail end of a thing, longer than it’s supposed to feel. It’s almost like I elided January this year, intensely focused as I was on doing a whole dry month. And then suddenly I found myself here, back in this worst month of a bad season, where I don’t have any concrete plans for self-improvement beyond just, I don’t know, being better. Better how, I’m not sure! I guess not going out on weeknights if it can be avoided (sometimes it can’t—you want to get to know your new coworkers and so you stand around in a crowded Midtown bar for a few hours, clutching a drink like a talisman). Keeping my apartment clean, eating better. (Which involves a lot of standing in the mirror in the morning, turning to the side and looking at my stomach to see what’s shrunk, like a pregnant woman in reverse.) Daily life things, general practices, all the sort of granular stuff that tends to fill the room when it’s a Sunday night and you’re feeling anxious.
The Olympics helped! They’re so much fun, a good, uplifting distraction. They’re such a good distraction, in fact, that it was only when I was walking to meet a friend on Friday night after work that I realized that it was the two-year anniversary of a friend’s death, that the day had sort of, well, not crept up on me, because there really wasn’t any “Boo!” of surprise. It had just… arrived. And at 8 p.m. was already nearly over. I thought about that, a little desperately, as I walked up 3rd Avenue, wanting to somehow stop time, to memorialize what was left of the day, but instead sending a few meager “Thinking of you” text messages before walking inside the restaurant where my friend was waiting. I know it’s probably a good thing that the day came and went without any real emotional fanfare, that it means I’ve not given the date any real authority. That now she’s just someone I knew who lived once, instead of someone who died on a particular, terrible day. That’s what I told myself, anyway.
Two years ago I wrote a post for The Hairpin about the horrible February of 2012, framing it as a guide to planning for a better spring. The idea being then, in April, that things were moving forward, into sunnier and warmer months. Which, of course, they were! It was nice then to think about spring as something concrete, as a rescuer, pulling me out of the gray dust of the previous difficult months. And spring is that, every year, in some small way or another. But mostly it’s like last Friday, just tumbling up to us and then rolling by, as impossible to plan for as anything else, save for a few fixed dates. Jury duty, a party, a play.
It was funny to come home from a movie tonight and miss the Olympics. To find my apartment a little less wholesome, almost sinister even. I guess that was boredom and restlessness poking their heads back out, chiding me for this dumb idea that I could be good and stay home every night, drinking lonely old tea and taking BuzzFeed quizzes. I found myself anxious to start planning for a better spring all over again, even though it hasn’t been a terrible winter. I suppose tonight that planning amounts to sitting down and writing a little thing and thinking about my friend and, if I’m honest, trying to conjure some real genuine missing out of what’s mostly become remembering.
When I walk out of my building and down 14th Street to the subway, there on the right, past Union Square, I can see a series of buildings that I’ve decided, for some reason, look like real city buildings. Something about their age and their particular height makes that little bit of New York seem august and full of possibility. Sometimes the hopefulness of those buildings feels like a sad beacon, a kind of a lie. Usually when I’m trudging somewhere I don’t want to be, those buildings teasing me about a city I could live in if all the dull clutter of life didn’t get in the way. Other times, they’re reassuring. There, just down the street from where I live. Sometimes they say “You’re doing it!” Sometimes they say “Here we are!”
Tonight when I left my apartment to go to the movie it was about 5:45, and there the buildings were as always, and behind them were a few last wisps of sunlight disappearing toward New Jersey. Light, at nearly 6 p.m.! As I crossed 3rd Avenue, I thought about another spring on its way, and then worked my way back from there. There was next week, and then this weekend (Oscars!), and then this week. All the way to tonight. All I had to do was get on the subway and then sit in the dark for a couple of hours before I could leave and go home again. Where I could worry and plan and do so many things that we’re so lucky we get to do.
“The series is thoughtful enough to see the potential in each character; nearly everyone is given their due, helping the world of the show achieve a mesmerizing texture and sense of depth. The thicker the air is with criss-crossing motivations and shifting allegiances, the more ingenious fun the show has moving through it. It’s a daunting juggling act, keeping so many pieces of plot in play, but House of Cards does it, with uncanny ease and sophistication.”—House of Cards is, actually, a great show. A re-review!
“When Franco-Russian champion ice dancer Victor Joubert (Gaspard Ulliel) comes forward claiming to be the secret lover of the oppressive president of an unnamed Slavic nation, ace crisis strategist David Arch (Daniel Craig) is hired by that nation’s government to get a handle on the explosive story. While a controversial Olympic Games unfolds around him, David must work to uncover the truth, and then bury it just as quickly. But soon he finds himself involved in a torrid love triangle between himself, Victor, and the cagey, temperamental president (Viggo Mortensen), as repressed yearnings burble to the surface and great political hypocrisies are laid bare. Both political drama and passionate romance, Mira Nair’s Dare Speak My Name is a heartbreaking portrait of a man who, in denying love, denies life.”—OLYMPICS MOVIE PITCHES!
“Spacey has added another coat of glaze to his honey-baked hamminess, and he’s as silly and spellbinding as ever. Wright, such a frightening, elemental presence last season, retreats a bit in early episodes, but she still manages to give Claire a cold shimmer of secretiveness that makes her the most arresting presence in every scene she’s in. Wright’s is one of the most beguiling performances on television in recent years. Watching her glide around bespoke rooms like a calmly malevolent sylph gives this show its real charge of menace—Spacey provides the scenery-gnawing fireworks, but Wright is the quietly beating dark heart behind it all.”—HOUSE OF CARDS SEASON 2 REVIEW!
You’ve been to Disney World let’s say… a few times. Let’s just call the number of visits to Disney World that you’ve made as an adult “a few.” You work in Human Resources but you’re not one of those too chipper weirdos. You get it. You’re a straight-shooter when you can be. You like a glass of wine or a margarita and you’ve been known to smoke a cigarette or two when out drinking with coworkers. You own a condo that has at least one room you haven’t gotten around to furnishing yet, so for now it’s just blinds in unwrapped packaging lying on the gray wall-to-wall carpeting and a box marked “Christmas stuff.”…
“In the age of Twitter, we’re no longer afforded time to silently grieve. The internet calls for immediate reaction, be it snark or pathos.”
I like, and often agree with, Louis Peitzman’s writing on BuzzFeed, but this line from his piece about last night’s ugly, deeply inhumane Girls episode really rubbed me the wrong way. As someone who has written a lot about the death of a close friend right on this here weblog, I certainly understand that the Internet, in whatever form you use it, can be a useful outlet for exploring grief/sadness/numbness, whatever feeling follows a horrible thing. But I don’t think we should lose sight of the important fact that the Internet does not call for anything, ever. We may call for it, but it never calls for us. We are afforded as much time as we afford ourselves. That’s all.
Senator Laura Morton (Cate Blanchett) looks to be a shoo-in to become the first female president of the United States. A decorated Air Force captain who flew several space missions with NASA, she’s an American hero with business-friendly centrist policies that make her a favorite among moguls and middle-class folks alike. When a schizophrenic astrophysicist and known conspiracy theorist named Miles Alder (Jeffrey Wright) begins making noise about the senator not being who she says she is, Secret Service Agent Maura Bishop (Sandra Bullock) is the only one who will listen. What happened to Laura Morton on her last space mission, and was it even Laura Morton who came back? Kathryn Bigelow directs this paranoid mix of science fiction and political thriller, which features Chris Cooper as conniving Secretary of State Grover Rourke and Vanessa Redgrave as Russian billionairess Irina Semyonov, a woman with many secrets who may know more about the real Senator Morton than she lets on.”—Planet Hillary and four other news items from the week turned into movie pitches.
When he got back to the hotel he took a hot shower, washing off the stale smell of the cell, hoping too that some of this feeling—was it embarrassment? guilt? It had been so long since he’d really felt either—would go with it. He’d told his team to make themselves scarce for the night, so he was alone in the suite, the Florida sky in the giant windows turning purple as the sun drifted west. It was quite a view, all the way up in this sprawling series of rooms, everything crisp and clean and soft with the particular hush of a hotel. Like something always on pause, nothing ever really changing, all the mess that one person made suddenly corrected as soon as they were gone.
He sat in his bathrobe on one of the sofas and thought about calling someone. Not his mom, she was too… Well, not upset exactly, maybe just bewildered. It’s not that she’d sounded surprised when he was first allowed to call her. Rather, it was like she’d expected this for a long time, but now that the moment, the incident, was finally here, she’d had an unexpected reaction. “I’m concerned, honey,” she said, in a tone he hadn’t heard in many years. Maybe she really was concerned, not for the Him that all of their lives had been spinning around in a dizzy orbit for years now, but actually him, just him. For the first time in a long time.
So he didn’t want to deal with that again. He thought about maybe calling her, the other her, but she’d probably sound faraway, how she’d been sounding lately, suddenly all mature and knowing ever since she did that stupid spring break movie. He let out a sigh, put down his phone, picked up the TV remote and flipped through the channels, lots of noise and light buzzing on the enormous flat thing stuck up on the wall like a painting. He caught a few syllables of his name a couple of times before he could change the channel, saw fuzzy video of flashing lights, two fancy cars stuck dumbly on the side of the road.
He turned the TV off and walked back into the bedroom, sat at the desk and opened his laptop. Maybe he’d check out Brazzers or something, distract himself and let his mind go soupy for a few minutes. But when he clicked over to the site it all looked somehow both shiny and dull, like it was computer animated or something. It was sad, he thought, and made him feel like some kind of prickly thing was growing in him, poking him from the inside out. So he clicked away and found himself on YouTube. A rush of rare nostalgia came flooding over him as he typed his name and then “first video.” The one he found wasn’t, he was pretty sure, the actual first one, but it was close. His hair in that silly bonnet shape, his clothes the clothes of all the little boys where he grew up. There he was, not even that long ago, sitting on a couch, eyes closed, singing earnestly but also aware. That the camera was catching something, that he was glinting, giving off light. He’d never not known it. But back then, at least, it had felt exciting.
He watched all the way to the end of the video and briefly considered scrolling down and reading the comments, but he knew what they’d all say. All those strange, random YouTube people. The ones who had made him, and then suddenly, like a switch flipped one day, seemed to turn against him, torches lit, doing mean tribal dances, saying cruel prayers that he might fail, hoping they’d get to watch as he fell back to Earth. He hit replay on the video and there he was again, sweet-voiced kid, poised but hungry, the obvious, ardent gaze of his mother filling every pixel of the frame. Sitting there at the desk, he closed his eyes, just like in the video. He never thought about the time before, it just wasn’t something that he did, but just then, in the quiet of his fancy suite, he wished himself back. Eyes closed tight, the watery glimmer of Miami splayed out around him, he willed himself back into that smaller body.
“Looking is deemed boring because Lowder, a man in his mid-20s who lives in New York City, sees nothing personally novel or shocking about it. Grindr is old hat, cruising might even be passé, intra-gay social dynamics as seen on the show are just so basic compared with how he and his friends relate to one another. So isn’t it all so terribly dull and toothless. It’s Lowder’s prerogative to find anything he wants shocking or not. But in so adamantly diagnosing the show as totally and terminally bland, on the basis of something as indefinable as “queerness,” he’s dismissing a lot of gay people who may find it anything but.”—THE INEVITABLE LOOKING THINKY
“That was the hook of Ford’s Jack Ryan—he was a regular guy, just one who happened to be capable enough and close enough to power to save the day in his firm, competent way when the situation called for it. I can see why that sort of role would appeal to Pine and his team. It’s a chance to endear him to us not as the cocky, loose-cannon Kirk, but as a good-hearted family man patriot, a guy we can trust in an easy, affable way. But the trouble is, Pine is about 20 years too young to pull that off, and so his Jack Ryan is instead styled as a more wholesome Jason Bourne, a whizkid economics student-turned-Marine born nobly out of the fires of 9/11.”—Chris Pine strikes out again.
“Here’s the funny thing about that aspect of Looking: In what way is an impossibly attractive actor being used to represent a real-life gay everyman any different than the myriad hardbodies who populate TV shows about supposedly regular straight people? We wanted a TV show “about us” and this, my friends, is how TV works. You want ugly or even average? Go to the theater. And not Broadway, like off- off- off-Broadway. So that’s lesson number one. This is what TV equality looks like: Annoyingly perfect.”—I’ve reviewed LOOKING, the most important gay television show ever made. (JK)
“What matters is that there’s video of Amy Adams singing “Defying Gravity” on some sort of stage and she seems to be the happiest theater person in the land at that moment. And I do not mean “theater person” as an insult, though yes as a theater person myself I understand that that is often a term used as an insult. No, she just seems to be happy singing her big song and presumably basking in the adulation of whoever is out there in the dark, sipping vodka sodas and thinking “I can’t f—king believe I’m seeing this right now, Tyler is going to be so mad he stayed home.””—Amy Adams sang.
It’s my father’s 80th birthday today. 1934! He was 49 when I was born, so he’s always been an “old dad,” but 80 is something new, isn’t it? That’s firmly “old man” territory. It’s definitely younger than my mom’s dad was when I was born. By about 13 years.
I talked to him on the phone tonight. He’d just gotten home from playing tennis with friends and having dinner with my mom. He sounded good, clear in a way that he isn’t always these days. He’s not doddering, really, he’s just stubborn about not getting his hearing checked, and he’s a professor, or was a professor, so he’s always had a general absentminded quality. It can be charming and it can be infuriating, but tonight he showed no signs of it. After telling me about his day, he asked me about work, said he tried to follow what I was tweeting last night but couldn’t figure it out. (In his defense, neither could my mom, 20 years his junior.) He said he read the most recent issue of the magazine cover to cover. So my dad read a profile of Amy Adams! Born during the Great Depression, and then sitting on a couch reading about Amy Adams doing dinner theater and singing songs from “Wicked.”
He’s going to India next month, to teach English with a bunch of other old retirees. Kind of last minute, he decided to tack on a trip to Kathmandu. He’s going to see Mt. Everest! “I don’t have any plans to go back that way anytime soon,” he told me. “So I figured I might as well see as much as I can.” He’s also going to ride a boat down the Ganges, which sounds very spiritual, maybe a little too much like some sort of funeral rite for my taste, but he’s looking forward to it. And he should. Maybe I’ve just seen “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” too many times, but something seems very right about someone who’s just turned 80 traveling around that part of the world. And seeing Mt. Everest. There it is, the highest thing. That’s it! There are no more tall things after that.
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to… rearticulate myself, I guess you could call it. Just trying to fall into some kind of new rhythm of living that will feel right for longer than a few years. It feels like time to do that. To decide to stay in the apartment a while longer, to try to carve out a job that feels like something that could last. It’s an anxious feeling, I guess, but it’s exciting, too. Thinking, suddenly, that it might be nice to root myself in a few things. Being tingly, ambitious, restless is all well and good, but it could also be good to feel quiet for a while. Or if not quiet, at least settled, whatever that might mean. Recently I’ve found myself lingering on pictures of friends’ and acquaintances’ babies. And, if I’m honest, assessing their kitchens, the blocks they live on, their husbands and wives, wondering where contentment comes from, if it’s from there, from all that, or if that’s just what it looks like in photos. It’s a comforting kind of cliche to fall into, alone in my apartment and imagining a life full of immediate, tangible answers.
Who knows what any of that means! But I do know that it would be nice, someday, to do what my dad is doing next month. To go somewhere new, and, hopefully without feeling small or afraid or insufficient, appreciate its impossible scale. Maybe that only happens when you’re 80, though. For now, I can’t wait to see the pictures.
“Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and written by the novelist Nic Pizzolatto, this eight-part drama is concerned with bigger, deeper things than simply whodunit. Speaking in the same language of Southern creep and decay as True Blood, only at a much lower pitch, True Detective’s aims are unabashedly, floridly existential. And while it occasionally trips up on its own wordy moral pondering, it nonetheless represents a captivating and offbeat tweak of a well-worn genre.”—TRUE DETECTIVE, reviewed!
1. I took a Megabus home to Boston on Sunday and I was such a whiny little ponce about it. Not out loud! No, in real life I was just frowns and huffs and sighs and rolled eyes — which is bad enough, but at least not as bad as loudly complaining. But on Twitter I kept making dumb “isn’t bus travel for dopes??” jokes and instantly felt bad about it, because the bus is the bus, and people need the bus, and I’m one of those people. And it was a few days before Christmas, so of course it was busy and chaotic and it wasn’t the fault of the guy standing on the street corner with us in his Megabus polar fleece. It’s just how these things go. Anyway, the ride was actually pretty nice, no traffic, and there was a skylight, so I listened to some dreamy sad-bastard Pandora station and looked up at the sky and read a George R.R. Martin novella on my Kindle until it was too dark and then I was home. What was there really to complain about?
2. I took an Acela train back to New York, because my mom offered. It was the smallest bit snowy in Boston this afternoon and she’s a worrier so she just wanted to make sure I got home in one piece, in a reasonable amount of time. It was great, quick and easy, there was a cute scruffy guy across the aisle from me and he was reading Game of Thrones (well, actually, he was reading A Feast for Crows, but who’s counting, other than me), and I felt lucky, laden with presents and holiday food weight. What a dope I can be.
3. My sister’s on a plane to China right now. She and her boyfriend are going to Thailand and Cambodia for two weeks. They’re flying right over the North Pole. She was stressed about the long travel time — it’s a day plus, all told — but she’s excited too, to be going somewhere so new and faraway. But of course there is the stress part of it, the anxious waiting in lines and rushing to gates and the gnawing feeling that someone is getting somewhere before you are, that that is somehow wrong or unfair or just not the fastest way for *you* to do things. But then, whoosh, you are in the air, and you are flying over, what, Santa’s house! Just as he’s getting back home from the worst day of his year, and there’s all the ice and the polar bears skipping happily across it before it all melts again (unless they’re hibernating?), and seals and maybe some whales (if they haven’t gone south for the winter?) and who knows what else. Small foxes, little rabbits, other arctic life. And just a few hours earlier you were in an airport terminal, tired and frayed, angry and agitated about waiting to board. Or you’re home in Boston after a dumb, easy bus ride, or back in New York after rattling along contentedly on a train.
4. “You’re lucky, you know,” my mom said to me as we were finishing a walk around the pond near my house on Christmas Eve. “We’re lucky.” I nodded my head, nose running, and said, “I know.” And then we waited for the dog to smell one last thing before we climbed up the stairs and headed inside for dinner.
“It’s a sad little irony in the film, that way it aims to critique cheaply giving people what they want instead of what they need, all the while shamelessly doubling up on the stuff we loved from the first movie”—Anchorman 2, reviewed!