Good Movie Redeems Bad Week

The headlines in politics and entertainment over the past several days have been disheartening – sometimes, downright maddening, And I know a movie can’t make the world go away, but a good one at least lets you think about something else for a couple hours.

Some weeks, it seems, can only be redeemed by a Friday night in with a glass of wine, your favorite takeout, and a good movie, and I was able to start this weekend by indulging in all three.

The movie I’m talking about is The Meyerowitz Stories, Noah Baumbach’s new film. Reading some Twitter conversation about the New York Film Festival on Friday (it played there), I was reminded that it was also watchable on Netflix – so that immediately became my Friday night plan.

I was predisposed to like Meyerowitz because I haven’t met a Noah Baumbach film I didn’t like. Frances Ha and Mistress America in particular are two films I could watch endlessly; as a young woman finding her way and making her life in New York, hardly a week goes by without something in real life echoing a moment from one of those movies.

Like those two, Meyerowitz is about Manhattan artist types, but I found its characters a lot more lovable. Especially Danny Meyerowitz, played by Adam Sandler, who’s perfect in the role. He’s warm, particularly in scenes with his daughter (played by Grace Van Patten, who I’d never seen in anything before this and also gives a fantastic performance). They capture a father-daughter relationship in which he’s clearly an authority figure and advice-giver, but they’re also friends, and he values her advice, too. I loved their scenes together.

Danny Meyerowitz is also too proud to ask for help, but not too proud to accept it. I liked that about him. I wouldn’t say this is a huge spoiler, but there are a couple instances in the film where Danny accepts help from his wealthy brother, Matthew (played by Ben Stiller). Given what you come to know about the brothers over the course of the film, I got the sense Matthew’s generosity is somewhat guilt-driven – he’s the sibling who escaped New York and got out from under the thumb of their difficult father (played by Dustin Hoffman), and is only beginning to understand the weight Danny bears in dealing with him day-to-day. But as the story progresses, their relationship deepens, and the film ends with Danny accepting a particularly special gift from his brother – one that would require more than monetary sacrifice on Matthew’s part.

Maybe I’m making it out to be too dramatic; it’s not like Matthew goes to the guillotine for him. But it was touching, and I felt as proud of Danny for accepting the gift as I did of Matthew for offering. And honestly, only now as I’m writing this am I realizing how much affection this film made me feel for its characters.

It may get lost in the shuffle of awards season because it’s a Netflix release, and it’s coming out a little before the crush of Oscar bait, but Adam Sandler deserves special attention. This is such a warm, wonderful film, though, that its awards potential shouldn’t matter. See it anyway and be moved by a great family story and a great New York story.

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Ellington at Newport, in the Catskills

Spring term of my sophomore year in college, I took a jazz history class, mostly for kicks and giggles, though I think it fulfilled some American cultures credit requirement. I became a jazz music fan because of it.

We learned about Duke Ellington and “Take the A Train,” and that song was magic to me – how Billy Strayhorn named it after the directions Ellington gave him to his Harlem apartment. It became synonymous with New York in my mind.The version we heard was from the 1956 classic recording, “Ellington at Newport.”

That record, man. I don’t even remember everything we learned about it, and I’m sure we never listened to the whole thing, but I was captivated by the story surrounding Ellington and his orchestra at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. Paul Gonsalves’ saxophone solo and how the whole performance revived the Duke’s career and how insanely great the music is.

Ever since that class, I have been on a mission to find that record in a real record store. I’m sure I could just buy one online, but for years I have thumbed through all the Duke Ellington albums any time I’m in a record store, holding my breath in hopes that “Ellington at Newport” lurks somewhere in the stacks.

So after almost five years of searching, where did I find it?

In a mountain barn in the Catskills, miles from anywhere, tucked among the coolest collection of jazz records I’ve ever seen. I went away with some friends for the weekend, and this house was legitimately the coolest place – incredible high ceilings, rooms and staircases popping out left and right, tucked away in the middle of nowhere. As I was exploring its hidden corners, I found a long shelf of records. Lots of Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis. Then Duke Ellington. Then “Ellington at Newport.”

It was glorious. Maybe this record is only elusive to me, or maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places. But since I’ve been on my search, this was the first time I found it. I couldn’t keep it, obviously. But I found it, and I loved it.

In a cruel twist of fate, we couldn’t find a turntable to actually listen to the record with, but I savored the liner notes – an essay by record producer George Avakian, mostly about Paul Gonsalves’ sax solo during Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue – and photos of Duke and his orchestra from the performance. I didn’t need to listen to it, anyway. Finding it in the first place was the big deal.

For whatever strange reason, holding a physical copy of “Ellington at Newport” is more important to me than listening to the music. But in this collection, I came across the physical copies of a couple albums I’ve only ever thought about in terms of their songs.

One was “The Count Meets the Duke,” a Basie-Ellington collaboration, which had incredible liner notes playing off the royal titles in the musicians’ names. “All this business about royalty has always thrown me. Just who outranks whom and how and why has never been very clear….To get straightened out, I went straight to the only Count I’ve ever known, who immediately put the Duke in the top slot.”

And then there was one of my favorite albums of all time, “Sinatra-Basie: An Historical Musical First.” I honestly think I’ve seen this in record form before, but I must never have stopped to read the back, which I know was written as promotional copy but actually speaks some serious truth: “…when Sinatra touches a song, it never subsequently sounds quite right sung by anyone else…” Ahhh.

Obsessing over these jazz records was actually a pretty small part of a wonderful, lazy weekend. Now that I’m out of the mountains and in the city, my quest for a copy of “Ellington at Newport” continues.

Beach Weekend

This weekend, I went to Virginia Beach with a big group of friends. What was billed as a long weekend wound up feeling more like a legitimate vacation. We left Thursday evening on a bus to Richmond. After spending Friday at my friend’s parents’ house there, we drove to Virginia Beach for the rest of the weekend.

Even after only two and a half days there, it almost felt routine. Wake up, have a cup of coffee, head for the beach. Spend all day reading, soaking up good music, deepening old friendships, creating new friendships…and working on covering up awkward tan lines from an old bathing suit.

It was a break from my New York routine that I needed more than I realized. And it was a chance to spend a whole weekend appreciating an amazing community of friends.

A few random tidbits, because I’m still on a vacation high and if I don’t write them down now, I’ll forget them:

Richmond, VA is a really cool city, especially if you’re into Civil War history. Friday evening, we drove around the city checking out notable spots. Driving down Monument Avenue, you pass incredible statues of Confederate notables like Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis. My personal favorite destination was the state Capitol building and this statue of George Washington, which sits outside it. So elaborate, with so many connections to various figures in early America (hey, Meriwether Lewis).

This song made it onto someone’s beach playlist and now I’m addicted to it.

On our flight back this evening (yep, we took the bus down and flew back to maximize beach time), I flipped through the Sept. 1 issue of the New Yorker and laughed so hard at this week’s fiction: “The Referees,” by Joseph O’Neill. A quick, funny read if you need one. “What does this e-mail even mean? She wants to recuse herself? Who is she, Sonia Sotomayor?”

So now I’m back in the city, unpacking and watching Silver Linings Playbook (It’s become my unofficial summer movie. I play it all the time. Just so dang good.) and thinking about how I don’t just feel refreshed after this vacation. I feel completely reset. Tomorrow morning and the week ahead will bring what it may, but I feel new. And it’ll already be Tuesday.

“Milk Hyper.” (Or, “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”)

Since Hurricane Sandy hit a week ago, I’ve been collecting and piecing together thoughts about the storm, and want to post them, if only selfishly so I can process all this week has held for people in this region. I am lucky to live in a neighborhood that suffered minimal damage (mostly just a few downed trees – we never lost power or anything), but seeing how many New Yorkers’ lives have been turned upside down, and how their leaders and neighbors have responded to them, has dramatically changed my perspective on community, local government and the city of New York.

But first…family.

Sandy almost canceled their trip, but my dad and little sister Beth had been planning to visit New York City and West Point for a couple months. After a last-minute hotel change and frantic rental car rerouting, they arrived in New York City on Friday morning. The plan had been for them to rent a car and drive from Newark airport to my apartment in Queens, but Sandy was still making a mess of New York traffic and we realized trip would take them hours out of their way. Since we needed to head north toward our hotel in Poughkeepsie anyway, I took Metro-North and met them at a station in White Plains.

My dad visited in July, but I hadn’t seen my little sister since leaving for New York in June. My first reaction after seeing her was disbelief at how TALL she was. Beth’s always been a big kid (I’m of average height now, but was short for my age as a kid), but now she seemed practically as tall as I am. Four months can change so much about a person. Obviously, she was the same kid, but she was just. so. tall.

I’ll spare you the play-by-play of a weekend filled mostly with your typical family hangout activities, but we had a wonderful time together.

 

 

Highlights:

Kids say the darndest things. Last night, my dad and I were having some college football-centric conversation that included mention of Mel Kiper. “Milk Hyper?!” Beth exlaimed. “His first name is ‘Milk’?!”

Autumn in New York. Between drives up and down the Hudson Valley and a walk through Central Park, we were treated to the beauty of fall in New York. Colors everywhere. I’ve never experienced winter here, but I know those colors will soon leave us for bitter cold so I’m appreciating them while I can.

Driving. For the first time in over four months, I operated a motor vehicle. And it felt good. I love driving, and between my parents selling my beloved ’94 Corolla this summer and living in an area where owning a car is completely unnecessary for me at the moment, I was feeling a little deprived of time behind the wheel. I drove less than a mile from our hotel to the nearest Starbucks (could I sound like more of a child from the ‘burbs?), but it was glorious.

Can’t ask for much more from a weekend than allowing you to see two of your favorite people. Dad and Beth, thanks for toughing it out through less-than-ideal conditions. Miss you already.

Three for the weekend (and week ahead)

Ahhhh, here we are again. Another Sunday night, another blog post. I’d like to blog more consistently, so I feel a twinge of guilt every Sunday night when I realize that I haven’t posted in a week, but I remind myself that my time spent not blogging was spent working and exploring NYC. Both good things, I would like to believe.

I will make a concerted effort to post more this week, but for now, you’ll have to live with this random post detailing three great things about this past weekend and the week ahead:

1) Rainy day movie viewings

While my walk home from work on Friday was dry, the skies opened up later in the evening and the idea of going out wasn’t very appealing. So, we settled for a trip to Pinkberry and headed back to our building to watch the greatest romantic comedy of all time, “When Harry Met Sally…”. It’s definitely one of my top 5 favorite movies (trust me, I’ve ranked them). I LOVE it. Everyone was annoyed impressed with my ability to recite whole scenes from memory.

Michael Pineda sporting the best alternate jersey in baseball.

2) Michael Pineda as an All-Star

My new favorite Seattle Mariner, rookie phenom pitcher Michael Pineda, was named to the American League All-Star team today as a replacement for Justin Verlander. The guy is a freakin’ stud, outpacing King Felix as the team’s ace. I doubt he’ll get much playing time in the All-Star game (who does?) but it’s cool to see him named to the team so early in his career.

The All-Star game will be on FOX at 8 p.m. EST on Thursday. This year it’s being played at Chase Field in Phoenix, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and I think we can all agree it’s a real shame that the park can no longer be called the BOB (a nickname the park enjoyed during its years as “Bank One Ballpark”).

3) Bananas

I hate bananas. I haven’t eaten once since maybe age four (and even then, I probably just ate the chocolate off of a chocolate-covered banana). But, my dad sent me this interesting Wall Street Journal article on banana consumption in New York City, and it’s worth a read if you’re interested in bananas and/or the economy and/or New York. Apparently, New Yorkers are banana-crazed. This article takes a look at how the NYC banana business runs, how much they cost at different locations and what types of bananas people want to buy.

Well, I hope you enjoyed three bullet points about three completely unrelated topics. If you have three (or one or two) funny comments, links or thoughts to share about your weekend, please share; I’d love to read them!

Photo credit: NBC Sports Hardball Talk

What’s a Weekend Without an LLM?

Let us take a moment to review one of the most important concepts in the English language: the Liz Lemon Moment.

Liz Lemon Moment, n. – a situation one might find him/herself in that involves embarrassing, awkward, absent-minded or otherwise culturally unacceptable behavior. The name comes from 30 Rock main character Liz Lemon, aka my hero, who often finds herself in such awkward situations. Editor’s note: “Liz Lemon Moment” was actually the winning word in the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The idea of an LLM is best described by these 30 Rock clips:

I am inclined to define the Liz Lemon Moment because one of the greatest LLMs of my lifetime just occurred.

I’m in my dorm’s laundry room. (Note to self: never do laundry on a Sunday night again. That’s when EVERYONE does laundry.) I’m carefully sorting my clothes, making sure all the whites are together and ready for detergent. Then, I realize my little bottle of Tide is sitting in my room, eight floors up.

Detergent in hand, I return to the laundry room. I’m halfway to dumping a cup of Tide into the machine when I hear a voice behind me.

“You know that’s a dryer, right?”

Oh, um, yeah, I just usually put soap in with my clothes when I put them in the dryer.

I moved my clothes to the proper machine and scurried out of the laundry room as quickly as I could.

Embarrassing? Yes. But Liz would have been proud. If Liz Lemon can survive a day with lettuce in her hair, surely I wouldn’t let the dryer incident ruin all the great moments from the weekend.

Our Tuesday crew at the Met. (Photo credit: Jonathan Knight)

I’ve been lucky to have found a great group of people in my building who want to explore the city. This weekend, we took a stroll through the recently opened High Line Park in Chelsea, a converted freight train track that’s now a walkway offering views of nature (flowers and plants line the path) and the city (gorgeous views of the Empire State Building). We also saw Super 8 (definitely worth your money) and made a couple of visits to our local Pinkberry.

On Saturday, I went with a couple of friends to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is stunning. If you haven’t been, you MUST go on your next trip to New York. I actually went twice this week (we went for an hour on Tuesday night but had to go back for a longer stay) and still didn’t see nearly enough. I’m no art connoisseur, but these were a few of my favorite pieces:

This ad encouraging people to buy war bonds in 1918 was printed as a supplement to "Electrical World"

Edgar Degas, "Dancers, Pink and Green" (ca. 1890)

James Ensor, "The Banquet of the Starved" (1915)

It should also be noted that, in the midst of museum-hopping and Pinkberry-eating, the Mariners (1/2 game back in the AL West!!) took two games of three from the mighty Phillies, including a complete game shutout from Jason Vargas. It’s still mind-boggling that the M’s are good this year (knock on wood) so I have to give a shout-out whenever I can.

That’s about it for the weekend – relatively low-key, but a lot of fun. S’pose I should go put my laundry in the washer…I mean, dryer.

(Credit for the black and white Met photo goes to Jonathan Knight of JKNIGHTPHOTO.)