Movie Review: After Hours (1985)


Title: After Hours
Release Date: September 13, 1985
Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Company: The Geffen Company | Double Play Productions
Summary/Review:

Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), a nebbish computer data entry worker, meets Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) at a coffee shop and they apparently hit it off and exchange phone numbers.  Calling Marcy later that night, she invites him to come to the SoHo loft where she’s staying with her friend the sculptor Kiki (Linda Fiorentino).  Paul begins to feel that he’s not connecting with Marcy and decides to leave. But because he lost all his money, and eventually his house keys, he finds himself stuck in SoHo involved in increasingly bizarre situations and eventually pursued by a Frankenstein-style vigilante mob.

This is a movie that could not be made in the time of cell phones and ATMs, and of course SoHo has long since been tamed and commercialized so that it no longer feels eccentric to outsides.  When you think about it there’s a lot that doesn’t make sense about this film but it all holds together with a kind of dream logic.  The most unbelievable thing about this movie is that almost everyone in mid-80s Manhattan is white, with the major exception of Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin who are stereotypically cast as burglars.

The biggest flaw of After Hours is that Paul is just an unlikable character which makes it hard to care about him as the protagonist.  The great performances by the women in this film make up for it though, starting with Arquette and Fiorentino. Additional great performances include Terri Garr as a waitress with a beehive who becomes mysteriously obsessed with Paul, Catherine O’Hara as a Mr. Softee truck driver with a twisted sense of humor, and Verna Bloom as a sculptor who helps Paul out.

By all accounts this is a quirky outlier in Martin Scorsese’s oeuvre, but I like it a lot more than his violent crime thrillers.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Triangle The Fire That Changed America by David Von Drehle


Author: David Von Drehle
Title: Triangle:The Fire That Changed America
Narrator: Barrett Whitener
Publication Info: New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, [2003]
Summary/Review:

At closing time on Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire started at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the Asch Building in New York’s Greenwich Village.  146 people – mostly young women and girls – died as result of the fire, many of them jumping to their deaths because locked doorways prevented their exit.  The fire proved pivotal in leading to legislation for factory safety and the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), a union that lives on today in UNITE HERE.

Von Drehle provides a thorough but concise history of the fire, with all the grim details, and the ensuing trial which failed to find the company owners guilty of manslaughter. There’s also a lot of background before the fire.  This includes the history of the factory owners, themselves immigrant strivers who rose to wealth and prominence.  The stories of many of the garment workers are also included, most of them immigrants from Eastern Europe and Italy, who had survived pogroms in Poland and volcanic eruptions in Italy before seemingly finding stability in New York.  A massive strike lead by the ILGWU in 1909 is also covered in some detail.

If there’s any flaw in this book it is that it doesn’t quite live up to it’s subtitle “The Fire That Changed America.”  For the aftereffects of the fire, Von Drehle emphasizes the rise of progressive Tammany Hall politicians Alfred E. Smith and Robert F. Wagner, and how they brought about an urban liberalism that lead to the New Deal.  I wouldn’t say this is a stretch but I think it’s a more high-level approach to history than it would be to detail what women and immigrant communities did in response to the fire.  Nevertheless, I did find the book to be very interesting and informative.  The building that housed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory still stands and I paid my respects to the workers killed in the fire on a visit to New York in 2007.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

TV Review: Russian Doll (2022)


Title: Russian Doll
Release Dates: 2022
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 7
Summary/Review:

In the first season of Russian Doll Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) and Alan (Charlie Barnett) must figure out why they keep dying and returning the same moment of their lives.  The second season, set 4 years later, finds them traveling in time on New York City’s 6 train.  Nadia ends up in 1982 in the body of her mother Lenora (Chloë Sevigny) when she was pregnant with Nadia.  Alan ends up in his mother’s body in East Berlin in 1962 when she was an international graduate student from Ghana.

The show feels very different from the first season although maintaining the same level of humor and cleverness.  The main theme of the show is dealing with generational trauma and Nadia coming to terms with her disappointment in her own mother while also anticipating the grief of losing her mother figure Ruthie (Elizabeth Ashley in the present day, and Annie Murphy in the past).  I feel that Alan’s story gets short-shrift and the whole series concludes rather abruptly.  But these are small quibbles regarding an entertaining and high-quality series.

 

Performance Review: La Nozze de Figaro


La Nozze de Figaro performed by the Metropolitan Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, April 16, 2022.

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: James Gaffigan

My mother wanted to take my daughter to the opera.  I was uncertain about how well that would go, but on the night before Easter the three of us watched Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” from the Family Circle and we all made it through the three and a half hour performance with no complaints.  It was fun to used opera glasses to get a closer look at the fantastic costumes and stunning set design.  And the music is good too.  I personally think that soprano Ying Fang stole the show as Susanna.  The story doesn’t make a ton of sense but is basically a Twelfth Night style of comical pranks and revenge plots among a group of people who alternate between being horny and angry at other people for being horny.

Note: This trailer has the same set and costumes but a different cast than the production we saw.

Related Posts:

Movie Review: When Harry Met Sally… (1989)


Title: When Harry Met Sally…
Release Date: July 14, 1989
Director: Rob Reiner
Production Company: Castle Rock Entertainment | Nelson Entertainment
Summary/Review:

When Harry Met Sally… is kind of the uber-romcom, a story so successful that Hollywood spent the next 20 years trying to recapture it, often in movies starring Meg Ryan.  Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Ryan) first meet sharing a car ride to New York City after graduating from University of Chicago in 1977 (and good work by the makeup artists in making Crystal look convincingly like he could’ve graduated at the same time as Ryan when he’s actually 14 years older).  They meet again five years later on a flight.  Despite not getting along well on either occasion, when they meet for a third time in 1987 they form a friendship that gradually leads to romance.

The central premise of this movie – “Can a man and a women just be friends?” – and the gender essentialism (“all women/men think that way!), has always bothered me.  But on this viewing it doesn’t feel as didactic as I remembered.  There’s also the fact that for most of the movie, Harry is really a jerk (what in 80s parlance would be called “a male chauvinist pig.”)  It’s really a credit to Crystal’s charm that both Sally and the audience can grow to like Harry enough to care about this relationship.

The movie also succeeds on just one iconic scene after another enriched by Nora Ephron’s dialogue (not too mention Reiner and Crystal’s additions).  Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby are terrific in supporting roles as Sally and Harry’s best friends Marie and Jess.  And there’s the soundtrack of jazz standards with contributions from Harry Connick, Jr.  Really it all adds up to one of the best comedies, best romances, and best movies of all time!

Rating: ****1/2

Documentary Movie Review: The Queen (1968) #atozchallenge


Welcome to Panorama of the Mountains! My name is Liam and I enjoy watching documentary movies.  This month I will be reviewing 26 documentaries from A-to-Z!

Documentaries starting with the letter Q that I have previously reviewed include:

TitleThe  Queen
Release Date: June 17, 1968
Director: Frank Simon
Production Company: Grove Press
Summary/Review:

There was no before.

Set at The 1967 Miss All-America Camp Beauty Contest, this movie documents the preparation and competition for a drag queen competition in New York City.  In this pre-Stonewall era, when homosexuality and transvestism were illegal in New York State, this feels like a very dangerous thing to do.  And yet the mood among the participants feels surprisingly relaxed, apart from the catty in-fighting among some of the contestants.  The only sign of an outside threat is when the contest’s organizer Flawless Sabrina says they need to find a hotel “hip enough” to welcome drag performers.  Of course this scene also show’s Sabrina’s odd lack of organization in not reserving hotel rooms until the contestants had all arrived in New York.

The best parts of the movie are the more candid moments when the participants talk about their families and hometowns (where some of them found acceptance), whether or not they would undergo gender reassignment surgery, and encounters with the draft board.  The obvious comparison for this documentary is Paris is Burning which takes place 20 years later and uptown in Harlem.  There’s a largely unspoken racial dynamic in the mostly white Miss All-America Camp Beauty Contest that comes to a head in the films conclusion when one of the Black contestants, Crystal LaBeija (who would later organize the house and ball culture documented in Paris is Burning) protests the crowning of Sabrina’s protege Rachel.

The movie offers a fascinating time capsule view and shows that a lot of familiar aspects of gay and drag culture go back a lot farther than I’d realized.

Rating: ***1/2

Documentary Movie Review: On the Bowery (1957) #atozchallenge


Welcome to Panorama of the Mountains! My name is Liam and I enjoy watching documentary movies.  This month I will be reviewing 26 documentaries from A-to-Z!

Documentaries starting with the letter O that I have previously reviewed include:

Title: On the Bowery
Release Date:  March 18, 1957
Director: Lionel Rogosin
Production Company: Rogosin Films
Summary/Review:

The Bowery is one of the oldest streets in New York City, it’s name coming from the Dutch word for “farm” since it originally lead out of town to the more rural areas of Manhattan. In the early 1800s the Bowery was New York’s theater and entertainment district before Broadway.  But by the end of the 19th century, the street and the surrounding area fell into dereliction and became home to itinerants and the poorest of the poor.  Only in the last few decades has the area been cleaned up by gentrification, but that has also come at the cost of affordable housing and services for the poor.

On the Bowery is set in the 1950s, when the street was predominantly populated by men who came their to drink, sleep in flophouses, and maybe find work long enough to pay for more to drink.  This is “docufiction” rather than a true documentary, as filmmaker Lionel Rogosin shaped the actual narrative, but had actual “Bowery bums” play as themselves and create their own dialogue.  The film depicts a few days in the lives of Ray Salyer, a younger itinerant new to the Bowery, and his relationship with the older Gorman Hendricks, a long time resident of the area.  Hendricks actually died of cirrhosis of the liver before the film was even released, giving an indication of how true to life he was to his character.

Despite the fictional aspect of On the Bowery, it feels very honest and a sympathetic portrayal of poverty and substance abuse.  It’s almost more shocking to watch this film now knowing it was made in the 1950s because of the squeaky-clean image of that decade.  The stories told in On the Bowery are all-too-relevant to us today.  I think of Mass and Cass, the tent city in Boston where people with opioid addictions have gathered in recent years, and their stories can be very similar to Ray and Gorman’s.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald


Author: Lisa Grunwald 
Title: Time After Time
Narrator: Erin Bennett
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2019)
Summary/Review:

This charming historical romance takes place in the 1930s and 1940s, primarily in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.  The adventurous 23-year-old flapper girl Nora and a hardworking railroad employee, Joe, who is a decade her senior, meet at Grand Central in 1937 and fall in love.  The only problem is that Nora is dead.  Killed in a subway crash in 1925, Nora returns every year on the anniversary of her death to Grand Central.  With Joe’s help, Nora learns that she can maintain her bodily form only if she stays within 900 feet of the terminal.

Thus begins a strange romance, where the couple try to make a normal life, taking advantage all of the things a mid-century railroad terminal provides.  This includes the Biltmore Hotel, where the couple lives in hotel rooms, work for Nora, and even an education for Nora at the Grand Central Academy of Art!  There are problems, of courses, mainly that Joe can never bring Nora to Queens to visit his family and that Nora remains forever young while Joe continues to age.  It’s a clever and sweet narrative and it has a twist ending that I enjoyed.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: West Side Story (2021)


Title: West Side Story
Release Date: November 29, 2021
Director: Steven Spielberg
Production Company:Amblin Entertainment | TSG Entertainment[
Summary/Review:

A remake (or, in Broadway terms, a revival) of West Side Story seems unnecessary, and most of the reviews I’ve seen of this version make the same kind of comments about how “meh” it is so I will try not to repeat them.  The strengths of West Side Story include a cast of talented, young actors/singers/dancers with appropriate casting of Latin American performers as Latin American characters (addressing the greatest flaw of the original film).  Rachel Zegler is delightful as Maria, and Ansel Elgort is serviceable as Tony.  David Alvarez and Mike Faist are great as Bernardo and Riff, but feel underused.  Just like the original movie, the role of Anita is the best performance, this time played by Ariana DeBose.

For a remake to work you’d expect a lot of significant changes, but the movie feels largely to tell the same story. It does feel like they were trying to make it feel “grittier” and more realistic, but it doesn’t really fit the tone of the musical.  And there’s so much lens flare it frequently obscures the actors’ faces.  For all the Spielberg wanted to make a musical, this ended up with song and dance numbers that feel subdued.  The only set piece that really made me feel “Wow!” is “America.”

The things that they do change feel minor. The entire story is framed by the pressures of urban renewal/slum clearance, a meta-commentary on how the original film was shot on streets condemned to make  way for Lincoln Center. The drug store owner/neighborhood mentor is now a woman named Valentina, a role obviously created to give a much-deserved part to Rita Moreno, and she does an excellent job.  Anybodys is played by a transgender actor,  iris menas, adding a new layer to that character.  But all of these changes seem to just be another ingredient tossed into a big soup of the movie so they don’t feel like they amount to much.

In sum, this movie has some great shots, talented acting, and a few new ideas, but it doesn’t add up to being anything more than an adequate movie.

Rating: **1/2

 

Movie Review: The Daytrippers (1997)


Title: The Daytrippers
Release Date: March 5, 1997
Director: Greg Mottola
Production Company: Cinepix Film Properties
Summary/Review:

It came to my attention that there is an indie film from the 1990s starring both Hope Davis AND Parker Posey and I had somehow never seen it.  Davis and Posey play sisters Eliza and Jo who live on Long Island.  Eliza is married to Louis (Stanley Tucci), and grows suspicious when she finds a love note behind his dresser.  Eliza’s parents Jim (Pat McNamara) and Rita (Anne Meara) insist on driving into Manhattan so she confront Louis at his office, with Jo and her snobbish boyfriend Carl (Liev Schreiber) along for the ride.

In a day of madcap capers, the family looks for Louis, argues amongst themselves, and meets every type of white middle class New Yorker you can imagine.  There are some funny bits and Meara and McNamara are dead-on in the portrayals of Long Island parents.  Davis is solid as the good older child holding it together while cracking around the edges, while Posey is great as the wilder younger child.  The denouement of the movie is something that feels like it was supposed to really shocking in the 1990s but is just disappointing in 2022.

Overall this is an enjoyable, good but not great little film.

Rating: ***