Wednesday

On 'probable cause'
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Great interview with David Simon regarding the current situation in Baltimore.

Monday

"The king ordered it!"
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Well, he did.
Couples Therapy
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I went into Noah Baumbach's latest really hoping (and honestly, expecting) to like it a lot. Halfway through, I was convinced that I didn't (or wouldn't?) like it much at all. By the time Bowie's "Golden Years" played over the closing credits, I had come around somewhat, though I'm still not sure how much (or maybe more importantly, why) I like(d) it, if indeed I did. Because it's one of those movies that constantly made me think of other (in most instances, better) movies, perhaps the best way to work out my jumble of thoughts on While We're Young is through a series of short compare/contrasts.

While We're Young and The Mindy Project I like The Mindy Project. It's a good single-camera half-hour sitcom that thoroughly embraces its slightness--its sitcomness, in the best sense--in an age of 'cinematic' TV shows. It's also consistently funny and sweet. While We're Young is, surprisingly, not particularly funny, and its attempts at sweet mostly fall flat, but at least for the first half of Baumbach's film, it feels very much like a sitcom, in the most facile sense. The generation-gap gags--hip hop dance class, a street 'beach' party, a mescaline-fuelled spirit quest, etc.--were too obvious, and felt like a half-baked episode of Mindy, except that Danny's determined squareness would've made for a funnier contrast with the 'youthful,' bohemian rituals, and the ostensibly up-to-the-minute pop culture references would've been fresher on Mindy, too. Despite the presence of Adam Driver playing a very Adam-from-Girls-type character, this stretch of While We're Young traffics more in old-fashioned sitcom silliness than the Quality Television mode of Lena Dunham's show.

While We're Young and Greenberg This comparison is important less for how While We're Young fits within Baumbach's oeuvre than for the stark difference in cadence between these two films. Greenberg, an inexhaustibly terrific movie and the number-one reason why I expected to unequivocally like While We're Young, is so unhurried in its pacing, taking its cues from the sun-slowed rhythms of a lazy summer. I keep finding new ways into Greenberg each time I revisit it. I never found a way into While We're Young, a way to be genuinely engaged and care. Even when the new film becomes a leaner, meaner affair in its last act, it's still too plotty and airtight. I also much prefer Ben Stiller's full-on malcontent in Greenberg to the milder, more Woody Allen-ish malcontent he plays this time.

While We're Young and Reality Bites Winona Ryder was my first movie-star crush. When I saw Reality Bites as a kid, I really wanted her to choose Ethan Hawke's Troy. He was cool, and smart, and sensitive--read italics as scare quotes---and women like Winona should end up with cool, smart, sensitive people, no? Watching Reality Bites again a couple years ago, for the first time in a long while, I was rooting instead for Ben Stiller's Michael, partly because he now seemed the lesser of two evils and partly because, for christ's sake, he was at least a fucking grown-up. While We're Young, in a nutshell, is about re-watching Reality Bites twenty years later, pulling for Troy because your own life-circumstances are maybe a little too Michael, then abruptly pulling an about-face when you remember what should have already been obvious, which is that Troy is, at best, full of shit and, at worst, completely insufferable.

While We're Young and Before Midnight On the other hand, maybe Troy turned some decisive corner and grew up to be Jesse, who is far from perfect, but is at any rate a thoughtful, interesting adult in a way that Troy wasn't (yet?) and Stiller's Josh in While We're Young isn't quite. Having a partner like Celine certainly doesn't hurt in turning brooding, "sensitive" boys into fully-formed, if imperfect, men, though Naomi Watts's Cornelia (her best performance since Mulholland Drive) is no slouch, and even though (or very possibly because) her character is under-written, she's the MVP of Baumbach's film (Charles Grodin is a close runner-up). But as (like Before Midnight) an ultimately resilient portrait of domesticity, While We're Young lacks both the affection and the necessary seriousness of Jesse and Celine in Greece. Maybe Jesse and Celine live lives much like Josh and Cornelia when they're back in Paris going about the grind of their everyday obligations? Maybe between films they're taking MDMA with the Euro hipsters from the "Prayer in C" video? Maybe. But I really hope not.

While We're Young and Neighbors I thought occasionally of the Before... films, and even once or twice of Eyes Wide Shut, while watching While We're Young, but far more than either I thought of Neighbors. The couple played by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are much closer in spirit to Josh and Cornelia, with Zach Efron and Dave Franco serving a similar narrative function to Driver and Amanda Seyfried here. The difference, though, is that Neighbors is, purportedly, a broad/dumb, gag-to-gag comedy that only secretly has a big, generous heart and some smart things to say about marriage, parenthood, and the generation gap (if not, regrettably, the toxic, misogynistic culture of fraternities). While We're Young is, purportedly, an incisive critique of marriage, mid-life crises, and overconfident millennials, but it's too broad and silly and on-the-nose. Until it's not...

While We're Young and The Shape of Things...and it morphs into something like Neil LaBute's 2003 film. Remember that one? It's been over a decade since I last saw it, but I can still recall feeling awful for poor Paul Rudd following the third-act meta-twist. While We're Young employs a comparable, late 'gotcha', but I didn't feel...much, either for the duped party or the duper. Which is a fairly serious problem given that, unlike LaBute's chilly exercise, wherein the theatrical quartet are pawns arranged just so, While We're Young is a character piece--it's about people first and foremost. Unless it's not...

While We're Young and F for Fake (??!) ...and it's really about authenticity, and forgery, and the role of Truth in Art. If so, and this might well be the case, it would help to explain both the (seemingly) autopilot first half and the suddenly schematic later section -- but the Welles comparison is still sacrilege: Catfish is closer. Or Woody Allen doing Bergman.

Wednesday

(Re)Start Together


In less than a month, I get to see my all-time favorite band again - for the first time in a decade!
'Excited' is an understatement.