Star-Spangled Crème Pâtissière Redux

“every heart beats true for the red, white and blue…”

Last year, Mark made the confection, adapting a “scintillating strawberry” recipe by Jacques Torres, to celebrate Julie and her newly acquired American citizenship. This year it’s to celebrate our country–its goodness and resilience.

“All men are created equal,” originally referred to white men of property, but I’ve always chosen to take the words literally (well, with a bit of stretching to make the “men” part fit all genders). And I know that I’m surrounded by multitudes of Americans who make the same choice.

Happy 4th.

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(Not Your Average) Two for the Road

Kirsten Tan, NYC, 6/27/17

Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh), a successful but dispirited middle-aged Bangkok architect, grown distant from Bo (Penpak Sirikul), his glamorous wife, and tired of working for a young slickster with dubious taste, is in need of redemption, or at least a major break from his routine. Writer/director Kirsten Tan’s funny and melancholy debut feature, “Pop Aye,” pairs Thana with Popeye (Bong), an elephant working as a street performer, and sends them on an unexpected road trip (which repeatedly zigs when it seems it will zag) from the capital to the architect’s childhood home in the countryside.

Recognizing Popeye as the elephant rescued decades earlier by his Uncle Peak (Narong Pongpab) after hunters shot the animal’s mother, and raised in their village, Thana is distressed by his old companion’s rough condition. He buys him from his handler and soon begins walking home, to return Popeye to Uncle Peak and Loei, the idyllic village stored in his memory.

Both Tan and her duo take their time on the road to Loei. Thana, with his rounded glasses, grey hair and goatee and lovely, lumbering Popeye, receive the kindness of strangers, and are on the giving end as well. None of fascinating characters encountered play as a device or is reduced to the sum of quirks.

But you can’t go home again and Thana recognizes that there was real value in the journey, if not in the disappointing destination. He returns to Bangkok, and with Bo, surreptitiously visits Gardenia Square, an early project, an upscale mall, now shuttered and slated for demo. She tells Thana that she was at the mall when the earthquake hit but unlike the other patrons, felt no need to flee (he comments on the appropriateness for Bo of “death by shopping”), as she adds that she felt safe at Gardenia because he had built it.

“Pop Aye” will open on Wednesday, June 28 at Film Forum for a two-week run. There will be a Q&A with Kirsten Tan at the 7:00 pm show on both opening day and Friday, June 30.

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I Laughed! I Cried! (I Just–Uncharacteristically–Used Exclamation Points)

Michael Showalter

“The Big Sick,” is a giant-hearted, irresistibly funny romcom with serious things on its mind–romantic love, love of family and corresponding responsibility, ethnicity, immigrant culture coexisting uneasily with the American mainstream, illness, and the need to do fulfilling work, even if success is not guaranteed. Michael Showalter directed the film from an autobiographical script by real-life couple Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (who also stars, with Zoe Kazan, two perfect performances).

They meet cute (of course), when Emily, a psych grad student, heckles Pakistani-born Kumail during his sly standup set at a small Chicago club. They go home together, no expectations, and as their one-night stand expands into many nights, they try to deny the rightness of their less-than-likely relationship, self-preservation in brave new dating world, and a tacit understanding of their different backgrounds.

Low-key, good-natured Kumail has dinner on Sundays with his close-knit, traditional Muslim family, lying about LSATs and meeting a parade of lovely, brainy Pakistani bachlorettes, each of whom “was just in the neighborhood.”

When Emily finds a boxful of photos of the potential brides, she realizes why Kumail won’t introduce her to his parents, and refused to meet hers when they were visiting. Squeezed by an impossible choice, he says, “I can’t lose my family…can you imagine a world where we’re together?” She replies, “I don’t know.” They split up.

An unexpected medical crisis brings them back together. A grad school friend of Emily’s, needing a break from the hospital to take finals, informs Kumail that Emily has been hospitalized with a diagnosis-resistant illness and has been put into a medically induced coma. He awkwardly begins to visit her daily and slowly wins over her parents, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, two more perfect performances), who have frantically arrived from North Carolina, and are aware that Kumail had dumped Emily.

As the doctors begin to stabilize and cure Emily, Kumail, Beth and Terry form a familial bond. Kumail acknowledges his love for Emily and that he wants to marry her. Terry, originally a New Yorker, whose southern in-laws had rejected him, explains how Beth’s family grew to accept their marriage: “Lots of fucked up dinners.”

Waking up, healthy but weak, Emily is unaware of Kumail’s vigil (with stuffed giraffe), love and plans for the future. Saying, “You made me sad in my heart,” she asks him to leave her room and send in Beth. A second reconciliation attempt, with props, at a party to welcome Emily back to her life, also fails. Kumail, heart-broken, and estranged from his family (he had told them about Emily), moves to New York to pursue his comedy career.

But don’t worry about your investment in Kumail and Emily’s happiness. Suffice it to say, “The Big Sick” ends full-circle cute and I guarantee you’ll cry.

“The Big Sick” opens today at AMC Lincoln Square 13 and UA Union Square 14, and in Los Angeles, with a national rollout to follow.

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107.333331 (In Dog Years)

Leo, Stone Ridge, NY, 6/17/17

Leo was 15 1/3 today. We didn’t celebrate with marrow bones and raw beef, foods that wonderful Dr. Kristie Williams at the Animal Medical Center (who discovered that Leo’s frightening sickness was being cause by the NSAID prescribed for his arthritis) labels as “dietary indiscretions” for an older Lab.

But Leo, wearing his red life preserver, retrieved a tennis ball thrown repeatedly into the Esopus, soaked in the Groverkill and walked in the woods through the suddenly tall ferns. A good day, like many past Saturdays.

Happy birthday, Schmoo, and many more.

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Violence Begets Violence

Alan Clarke, NYC, 7/8/87

Alan Clarke’s once-banned “Scum” (1979), an unflinching look at violence, racism and suicide in a British reform school has lost none of its punch-to-the-gut power. The film was originally made for the BBC in 1977, which refused to show the intense depiction of the borstal system. Clarke, determined to expose the abuses, re-shot “Scum” as a longer, more scathing theatrical feature.

A young Ray Winstone, in a ferocious performance, stars as Carlin (#4737), a “hard case” who alternates between tightly coiled silence and explosive ultra-violence. Newly arrived at the stark, colorless institution, he’s marked by the authorities for a humbling beat down from another inmate, Pongo (John Blundell), a “big lad.” Not a snitch, Carlin explains his livid bruises to Sands (John Judd), who runs A wing, as the result of a fall on the concrete stairs–and bides his time. In a shockingly brutal attack in the bathroom (“Next time, I’ll fuckin’ kill ya”), Carlin gets his revenge and takes over the role of the “Daddy” of A wing.

As the guards increase their aggression toward the “trainees,” the institution’s Governor metes out punishment for perceived infractions, and tension between groups of the boys builds, the situation becomes dangerously unstable.

Clarke, who died in 1990, worked primarily in TV and only made a few feature films. His work, which often depicts the British working class, ranks among the most original in his country’s cinematic history.

“Scum,” shown in a 2K restoration (done by Pinewood Studios in 2012 from the original 35mm camera negative held at the BFI) opens today at Metrograph for a one-week run.

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Greeting Summer With Great Cinema

BAMcinemaFest 2017 Filmmakers

The ninth edition of BAMcinemaFest, the eagerly anticipated annual Brooklyn banquet of fiction, documentary and hybrid independent films, includes 28 features (24 New York premieres, one North American premiere and two world premieres) and nine shorts.

Gina Duncan, BAM’s Associate Vice President, Cinema, says. “From (Michael Showalter’s) endearing comedy ‘The Big Sick’ to the micro-budget ‘Princess Cyd,’ (directed by Stephen Cone), and ‘Lemon,’ the audacious first feature from Janicza Bravo, the line-up truly reflects the breadth of American independent cinema today. (A few of the) other highlights include the (Centerpiece selection), the world premiere of Jim McKay’s, ‘En el Séptimo Día,’ an instant classic, all the more powerful for its relevance, Aaron Katz’s sophisticated genre piece, ‘Gemini,’ (which opens the festival), ‘Common Carrier,’ a cinematic mixtape from the Bushwick-based filmmaker, James N. Kienitz Wilkins, and for the first time, two features from the same filmmaker, Michael Almereyda–‘Escapes’ and ‘Marjorie Prime.’”

BAMcinemaFest 2017 Filmmakers

Alex Ross Perry’s fifth feature (Closing Night) and his third to screen as part of BAMcF), “Golden Exits,” is a jarring and often humorous observation of an interlocking group of Brooklyn residents who have too much (including buckets of neuroses) and are unsettled by the arrival of a lovely young Australian woman.

This year’s Spotlight selections are Gillian Robespiere’s “Landline,” an “irreverent 90s-set comedy about sex, lies, and discord within a Manhattan family,” starring Jenny Slate, Edie Falco and John Turturro; and David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story,” his second feature to pair Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, who is inexplicably moving as he–and I’m taking it on faith that it is the great actor–spends most of the film (and a journey through time) under an oversized sheet with two expressionless ovals cut out for eyes.

“Our Song” (2000), Jim McKay’s exploration of female friendship, featuring Kerry Washington, Melissa Martinez and Anna Simpson as teenage BFFs in Crown Heights, dealing with big and small crises, is this year’s free, outdoor screening in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

And for the sixth year, I’m really happy to be working with BAMcinématek, photographing the filmmakers in my studio.

BAMcinemaFest opens today and continues through June 25.

BAMcinemaFest 2017 Filmmakers

Top Grid, clockwise from top left: Andrew Dosunmu, Aaron Katz, Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein, Gillian Robespierre. All images © Robin Holland.

Middle Grid, clockwise from top left: Alex Ross Perry, James N. Kienitz Wilkins, Jim McKay, Nanfu Wang. All images © Robin Holland.

Bottom Grid, clockwise from top left: Alex Smith, Rachel Wolther and Alex H. Fischer, Ana Asensio, Jim Strouse. All images © Robin Holland.

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Flag Day 2017

Protest is patriotic.

I’ve resisted absorbing that the incompetent-in-chief was born on Flag Day. No patriot, he. If our system works as designed (and if the members of the majority party in Congress grow a collective backbone–so far, no profiles in courage there), I have hope that the liar-in-chief’s future birthdays won’t be observed in the White House.

Happy Flag Day. RESIST.

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