Movie Review: The Personal History Of David Copperfield

Of all the things that I miss about life in the before times, I was missing my weekly trips to the multiplex the most. I miss brunch, and bars and going out dancing, and hugging my friends.

But I missed the movies so much, that I actually danced for joy when Governor Phil Murphy announced that the state of NJ was going to allow 40% capacity in movie theaters starting on September 4th.

I was at the shore when I found out and sitting out on a patio drinking Chardonnay with some family friends, one of them asked me what the first movie I would go see was.

I exhaled. I’d given it some thought. I miss superheros so I was psyched for New Mutants, and it’s always exciting to see what’s going on in Christopher Nolan’s weird brain, so Tenet was also in the mix. But honestly? Bookending my COVID based cinema gap with interesting and exciting adaptations of classic novels seemed correct.

So I went to go see David Copperfield, which, if you read everything I’ve ever written you might remember is a novel I did not care for, despite usually liking Charles Dickens quite a bit. (Part of that is finding David himself insufferably virtuous.) I did however really enjoy this movie. My issue with the narrator was solved by him being played by the impossible not to love Dev Patel. And my issues with the narrative, that it leans into the worst of Dickens’s quirks with coincidence and black and white elements of virtue, vice, reward and punishment, are solved by the sharp and cynical eyes of it’s co writer and director Armondo Ianucci.

There was no way that the man behind Veep was going to fall into the sinking pit of melancoly and sentimentality that is so easy to fall into with David Copperfield. And indeed he did not.

I am here for this new trend where we adapt classic novels and actually lean into their comedy. I was cackling at the performances in this movie, Darren Boyd and Gwedolyn Christie play the wicked Murdstone siblings that sweeping ghosts. The flight but loving Micawbers are magically and affectionally played by Peter Capaldi & Bronagh Gallagher (A Doctor and a Commitment? DELIGHTFUL) but the true triump are Hugh Laurie and Tilda Swinton as David’s loving a loving but eccentric relations. (Ben Winshaw is also great as sleazy and villainous Uriah Heap)

What’s most fascinating about the film, to me though, is how it feels like play. Most of the characters have only one costume, the performances and broad and straight faced, and with the exception of Jairaj Varsani as young David, no one is aged, despite the story taking place over a lifetime.

Overall, I was extremely impressed and I think I made the right choice for my triumphant return to seeing movies out in the world.

Bittersweet And Strange: Howard Shines a Bright Light on The Voice Of My Childhood

It is absolutely impossible to calculate the depth of Howard Ashman’s influence on me, and countless other people like me, who fell in love with musicals as a medium because of his work with Disney.

The new documentary on Disney+, directed by Don Hahn, who produced Beauty And The Beast is of a piece with Hahn’s equally wonderful, Waking Sleeping Beauty, chronicles Ashman’s life, from his working class Baltimore roots, to his tragic death from complications from AIDS in 1991.

The movie deals with his early work and relationships sensitively before settling into his life long partnerships, creatively with Alan Menken and his life partner Bill Pausch, both of whom tell some of the most touching stories about him.

What I like so much about Hahn’s approach here, and why I think it surpasses Waking Sleeping Beauty (which I happen to really like a lot) is that here Hahn doesn’t have an axe to grind. He wants to share his friends life and work, especially his work, with people. And the work so often speaks for itself.

Old footage of Ellen Greene singing “Somewhere That’s Green,” or Jodi Benson recording “Part Of Your World,” or an incredible demo of Ashman singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” or the joyous look on Jerry Orbach’s face as he listens back to “Be Our Guest” for the first time, this man wrote such wonderful, perfect, musical theater songs. There are no talking heads, narration is provided by Hahn himself, or by stories told over old photographs, which makes it much more intimate. Occasionally an old interview with Ashman will pop up, and listening to him talk about his work is transfixing.

Thinking about AIDS is something I do, and have done A LOT, in my life. I was too young for the most dangerous time of this disease, but I live in the New York area and love art, so pretty much every bit of the art I love was shaped by the disease, by the generation of men who were lost.

Watch this one with tissues, y’all. It’s going to break your heart. And be prepared for one final punch in the gut over the credits.

Weirdest Summer Ever Heatwave Rum Punch

My nearly six month long quest to teach myself to bartend recreationally, (I’m not good enough at customer service to be a pro bartender. And I’m pretty good you guys.) is coming to a head in teaching myself to make stuff I can scale up.

Sure I probably won’t actually be entertaining for a while, but when I do, I want to be able to give my guests fun cocktails. If there’s more than ten people, which given the size of my social circle is possible, I want to be able to handle it.

Hence, realizing I need to learn a rum punch.

Here’s what, after a few test runs, I’ve come up with. The NJ/NY/CT tri-state area is currently in a serious heatwave, and if you can think of a better time to play around with rum than that, I can’t! (Maybe literally living on an island?)

Weirdest Summer Heatwave Ever Rum Punch

Ingredients

1 Shot Dark Rum
1 Shot Gold Rum
1 Shot Malibu
2 Shots Pineapple Juice
2 Shots Orange Juice
2 Shots Cranberry Juice
1 lime Juiced

For serving:

Pint Glasses Chilled
Ice

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, and add all ingredients and shake

Pour into a chilled Pint Glass over ice

Drink and pretend you’re at the beach. (Or be at the beach. I don’t know your life.)

Story Time!

The first thing I do when I look for a vacation spot is make sure the hotel has a bar, especially when I’m travelling alone. There’s something about spending the weird space between wrapping up your day of activities and dinner at a bar chatting with the bartender that I really love.

And, my mom taught me an excellent trick for starting that conversation. Ask, “Hey, do you have a rum punch?”

If there’s one on the menu it’s probably pre mixed, and well tested and delicious. If there isn’t, the bartender probably has one in their back pocket and will happily make it while chatting. Also, rum makes me friendly. (Sometimes too friendly as many men in Brooklyn bars ten years ago will likely tell you)

Some of my beloved people have them too, that are excellent for parties, as they make them in huge batches, enough to libate large groups of people at a house party. Juli, my cousin Suzie, and my brother Mike have my favorites, in that order. Though Juli and Mike would be offended at not using their preferred names of “Juli Buckets” and “Boat Drinks”. Juli Buckets go great with drinking games, and Boat Drinks will kill you. Suzie’s Rum Punch is more refined and belongs at the kind of yacht club party described in Taylor Swift’s “Starlight.”

But those big batch rum punches do me no good when I’m stuck by myself in my apartment and it’s 90 degrees out and I want to pretend I’m on vacation.

So, I started playing around, with the expressed purpose of creating a rum punch that I could both enjoy on my own and scale up when I’m around people.

The portions here are easily scaled up for a pitcher or larger, this recipe yields two pint glasses full.

Mostly though, I was glad to come up with my own rum punch. I’m looking forward to a dinner party next summer where I get to make a pitcher to go with like, fried rice and some grilled fish. Which I think this would go perfectly with.

Reenie’s I’m Drunk In My House Disco Fries and Chocolate Milkshake

If you’re anything like me, social distancing has lead to a couple of nights where you drank too much and you had to throw together drunk food because the places you get it from are closed. Hence, I had to teach myself my favorite late night diner food:

DISCO FRIES

IMG_1922

Disco Fries are on any half decent tri-state area diner menu. They are the Jersey approximation of Poutine, French Fries, drenched in gravy and topped with mozzarella cheese. (Proper poutine is steak fries and cheese curds)

I started eating Disco Fries before I even started drinking when I was 15. (I didn’t really start party drinking beyond a snuck beer with my cousins until I was 17).

ANYWAY it wasn’t until alcohol that I learned how good they are with a chocolate milkshake, hence this relationship.

Fries

I don’t make my own french fries because I’m not insane, also this recipe was meant for when I’m drunk alone in my house, so frying is a no-no. I keep frozen fries in my freezer AT ALL TIMES.

I toss them in oil (Olive or Vegetable, whatever you’ve got around) and black pepper and kosher salt. Then I stick them in a toaster oven for 45 minutes. About 1 table spoon of oil and two shakes of salt per cup of fries will do you.

Cheese

Much like the fries, I have store brand shredded mozzarella in my freezer at all times (also taco cheese). Use as much as you’d like for this recipe, I use about a quarter cup. 

Gravy

The real key. 

Do you keep stock or broth in your pantry? If you don’t this whole recipe will do you no good. I keep beef stock, chicken broth and veggie broth around all the time. If you don’t, and you do keep bouillon around you can take another few minutes to MAKE some broth. The point is, you need about 2/3 a cup of stock or broth, and then 1.5 Tablespoons of flour.

Bring the stock or broth to a boil, then add the flour and whisk until it thickens.

Combine

Once the fries are brown, transfer them to an oven safe bowl. Pour the gravy over the fries and then add the cheese on top. Set the toaster oven to broil, and then stick the bowl in for 5 minutes. 

Chocolate Shake

Do you not know how to make a shake? Two scoops of ice cream, a quarter cup of whatever milk, into a blender and blend until smooth. If you don’t have a chocolate based ice cream, add either syrup or cocoa powder and you get chocolate. Or do whatever flavor you want. I’m not your mom.

Story

There’s no specific story here. If I’m out with friends and we hit a diner, this is what I order. I got drunk at home and am feeling sad and hungry a couple of times so I figured out how to make it. If you want to REALLY replicate the experience you require an older Greek man winking at you as you order and at least one friend who is belligerently drunk and arguing with you about something pointless. (Or if you’re alone in your house, just put Legends of Tomorrow on, it mirrors that dynamic. It is the diner food of Superhero TV) (Also I might sometimes be that friend. I will neither confirm nor deny)

Happy Fourth of July everyone. Our founders set some lofty principles for us to live up to that they themselves did not even live up to. Let’s do better and get closer. Sign a petition, join a protest, donate to an anti racist charity today! 

The Series Series: The Bone Witch Trilogy by Rin Chupeco

We aren’t supposed to judge books by their covers but the cover of The Bone Witch looks like THIS:

The Bone Witch

So…yeah. That’s that.

The Books

The Bone Witch

The Heart Forger

The Shadowglass

The Author

Rin Chupeco began her career as a technical writer who was obsessed with horror and fairytales and now blends them together.

I will be reading everything she’s every written, because I loved this series. Did I give away the end of this blog? Seriously though, this was a delight.

Series Structure

This is a trilogy, three books that tell the story of Tea Pahlahvi, a Bone Witch or Dark Asha, magic users who’s role in society feels like something in between university professors and geisha, in the society of 8 kingdoms in the book. Tea’s power allows her to raise the dead as well as commune and subdue legendary creatures known as daeva that often threaten her world.

The story alternates between Tea’s telling her own story and a bard (who is more than he seems) who she has engaged to tell it for you. Tea has done terrible things and she is ready to reshape the world, if she has the strength to do it.

Themes

Oh there’s a lot at work here, responsibility, accountability, civil inequality, the redeeming properties of true love (and all true love, not just romantic.)

Favorite Book

It’s probably The Heartforger although The Shadow Glass grew on me as it went along. But I devoured The Heartforger which answered a lot of questions and mysteries from the first book and did actually have me thinking that we were watching the birth of a supervillain. (We weren’t, but in the interest of spoilers, I won’t elaborate)

Least Favorite Book

The Bone Witch was lovely and sucked me into the world, but Chupeco has a lot of world building and character introduction to do. This is where the two timelines and narrators came into play as important. I wanted to know how Tea got to where she was in the flash forward sections, so I was willing to get through, “This is how I found out about my powers, this was my training” even when I wasn’t overly invested

Favorite Character

There are, alas, not direct pop culture paralells this time around for me to default into love, but I was deeply fond of Tea’s great True Love, Kalen. He’s a stalwart captain of the guard type…he uh, reminds me of someone…a little…can’t put my finger on it…anyway.

Reread Possibilities

I don’t know that I’ll reread this, but I’m not opposed to it. I very much enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to Chupeco’s other work, but I don’t know that I’d pick up this series again.

Our next series will be Throne Of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, I’m already halfway through it. Waiting on Book 5.

She Used To Be Mine

Last night I was curled up on the couch reading Maybe You Should See Someone by Lori Gotlieb (I’m not going to review the book, but OMG READ IT! So good!) eating a salad and I got caught up on my podcasts for the week.

I had a few thoughts, I could get myself set up with CBS All Access and watch Picard something I’d been looking forward to all week. Or I could throw some music on, and hold to my, “trying to watch less TV” plan which I’d failed miserably at this week. (I watched so much TNG in prep!) So instead I flipped on my phone to music and scanned, looking for a radio station or playlist.

And then I remembered I hadn’t listened to Kristin Chenoweth’s For The Girls an album she released in the summer. (I had listened to the duet version of “I Will Always Love You” with Dolly Parton from the album, because HELLO????) I searched her name and clicked it on. The book is about therapy and the ways we change and don’t. And I realized while a lot of writers I know did big “Decade Wrap Ups” and I didn’t.

At the time I didn’t have the bandwith but then I started thinking about the girl I was in 2010, and the woman I am now. I’m proud of who I am and the life I’ve built, but there are days when I miss her. The girl who never could have waited six months to listen to an album where her favorite soprano sings songs written by women.  Who would have talked about what the decade behind had meant to her.

But then I remembered how afraid she was. Of everything. Of her talent and ideas and interests, her body, her sexuality, her illness.

And then I’m so grateful for the past ten years. For finishing school and my time in Brooklyn and Tom Foolery and The Plaza and Comic Con and The Desk Jobs and Disney World and Marina and Montclair and Therapy and Meds and Yoga. And I’m grateful to myself, for realizing who I am rules. That I’m fun, that saying “I’m not feeling up to it” will not make the people I care about abandon me or hate me, that I can bond with people even when our superficial stuff isn’t the same. That you can outgrow people while still wishing them well, while others will grow with you and both things are beautiful and normal.

I also want to hug that girl, I want to tell her it isn’t going to look how she thinks but it’s still going to be wonderful. That she won’t have the wedding, house or kids she wanted (yet) but she’ll have dancing until dawn with the people she loves and a space that’s just hers and a wall full of smiling snapshots.

It’s been a nice ten years, is my point, and I’m happy to have grown up.

It’ll Be Important If You Write It

I am not to be trusted when it comes to stories that I love and criticism, and I more than love Little Women. 

Little Women is my favorite book ever. Little Women is me in so many ways, it’s shaped the way I think, the way I feel, the way I interpret stories and especially how I feel about adapting stories I love. (But we’ll talk about that later in the week)

Greta Gerwig is a talented writer and director and she’s found a great collaborator in Saorise Ronan. This Little Women feels vital and new and yet stays faithful to it’s source. The March sisters are rowdy, loving and full of life, Laurie Laurence feels of them and apart from them at the same time. They learn, they grow, they love, they lose. I wept through most of the film, but that’s not a surprise. Timothee Chalamet is the Laurie I’ve always wanted, both dreamy and dorky, brooding and awkward. Ronan is born for Jo, Emma Watson is charming as Meg (Meg is the least challenging of the girls, really) and Eliza Scanlan is heartbreaking as Beth. But this is a version of Little Women that belongs to Amy March in many ways and Florence Pugh runs away with the flick. Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk and others aquit themselves well.

Rankings

  1. Knive’s Out
  2. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
  3. Jo Jo Rabbit
  4. Frozen 2
  5. Little Women
  6. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  7. Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise Of Skywalker
  8. Avengers: Endgame
  9. Rocketman
  10. Detective Pikachu
  11. Zombieland: Double Tap
  12. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters
  13. Downton Abbey
  14. Joker

Trailers

I Still Believe: I’ve been listening to the podcast Good Christian Fun, and I really can’t wait for them to review this movie, but I’m not going to see it. KJ Appa’s natural hair is disconcerting.

Spongebob Squarepants: Sponge on The Run: Is this the fourth or fifth Spongebob movie?

Respect: 2 OSCARS FOR JENNIFER! Let’s do it!

Ghostsbusters: Afterlife: Did we not just go through two weeks of gnashing of teeth at unnecessary grandpa connections? DO I CARE ABOUT EGON SPENGLER’S GRANDKIDS BUSTING GHOSTS? I do not.

In The Heights: This did not help…with the crying. You are going to have to mop whatever theater I am in when I see this. I am going to cry buckets.

 

60 Books In 2019 #40: Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck

If I could pick anywhere at any time to go on vacation, it would be Paris, 1925-ish, get to hang out with the Lost Generation, and drink champagne and eat in cafes and where fabulous linen dresses.

I have no illusions about who those men actually were, assholes at best and monsters at worst, which is why I wouldn’t want to live among them, just go on vacation.

Hemingway’s Girl takes place after that glittering era, about ten years later, when a nineteen year old girl named Mariella Bennett gets a job working as a maid in Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West. Mariella becomes smitten with the author, despite his marriage and a growing relationship with a far more appropriate veteran working for the EPA just north of the island.

I have a soft spot for historical fiction about the women near the “great men.” There’s a silliness to it, but a great deal of fun too, and that’s what I had with Hemingway’s Girl, Mariella is a delightful heroine, strong and willful and a little bit out of her depth. Robuck’s picture of Hemingway is bright and fun and intoxicating. It also got me looking at Air BnB’s in Key West for the winter, so we’ll see how that goes.

This wasn’t a great book, by any means, but did get me thinking I should give Ernest another shot. (I hated him in highschool, and even though I got it a lot more in college, still would rather read Fitzgerald for my bare bones prose of that era.)

Up next is City Of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert which I have been waiting all stinking summer to read and I am so so excited. (It just came in from the library last week!) 20 Books left in my challenge which I feel pretty good about at the moment.

60 Books In 2019 #30: Sounds Like Me: My Life In Song (So Far) by Sara Bareilles

Sometimes learning about an artist you love distances you from the very visceral way their work hits you. Especially with music.

This was not the case with Sara Bareilles, where learning more about her life just clarified why her music has always spoken to me. Her idyllic childhood spent playing outside with her sisters and cousins. Her obsession with musical theater. (She name checks Chess!) Choosing to change schools for high school because she can’t stand the world she’s been in. (In her case she went the opposite, from Catholic school to public school…) Her battles with depression and anxiety and her search for her voice.

It’s a book of essays, each one centered around a song Bareilles has written, which is one of the more creative ways into a celebrity memoir I’ve seen. (I’ve read a lot of them. Many by people not nearly as notable or talented as Sara Bareilles.)

But that also makes it a hard book to talk about, because the only through line is those songs, which, I was recently reminded of the quote that, “talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” It’s really hard to describe how hard I cried the first time I heard “Many The Miles,” or “Vegas,” or God bless the woman, “She Used To Be Mine.” It’s this deeply cathartic feeling that I wasn’t alone, that someone not only felt the things that I was feeling, but could articulate them.

So we’re halfway there you guys! I think I’m going to do this. I’ve managed to only read 2.5 books by white men! (Crisis On Infinite Earths, Heretics Of Dune and Fosse) I’ve opened myself up to a genre I’d always slighted (Contemporary YA) and found some new writers that I like a lot.

Up next is Let The People See: The Story Of Emmett Till, by Elliot J. Gorn, because I guess the news isn’t upsetting enough these days, and I’ve decided to make myself more upset? Frankly, I’m in a bit of  a non fiction space and I haven’t read enough not by white women books in my mission. I’ve broken out of my white man thing, but I still have some work to do to branch out further.

60 Books In 2019 #29: Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

I missed reading, “The Book,” for a few years because after I stopped commuting into Manhattan but before I started writing about my reading here, I didn’t read much except for series that I was already invested in.

Where’d You Go Bernadette was the book in 2012, but it didn’t seem like something that I’d like. (I don’t know, there were no vampires in it, I guess?) I’m sorry for putting this book off because it’s a sheer delight.

Bernadette Fox is the kind of bohemian genius that gets pushed a lot in fiction. She’s utterly brilliant, completely unconventional and as an old friend puts it, due to her mental illness causing her to stop working, “a menace to society.”

Where’d You Go Bernadette? is focused through the eyes of the people around the woman herself, mainly her adoring daughter Bee.

In addition to being a traditional, crazy brilliant artist story, Where’d You Go Bernadette? has a sharp sense of humor about the city of Seattle, the tech industry and social striving. There’s also this whole thing about Antarctica.

I don’t want to talk to much about the plot, which unfolds quickly and is actually important to the impact of the book. I will note that lots of the story comes through emails and notes, which makes this technically! YES! EPISTOLARY! I love epistolary novels! You all know this, I’ve talked about it before.

Anyway, the movie of Bernadette comes out in a few months and I hope it’s good. Because this book made me so very happy. Just deeply joyful for the way writing and stories work.

Up next is Sounds Like Me by Sara Bareilles. I’ve liked Bareiles’s music since the first time I heard “Love Song,” in college. I’ve only grown to admire her more, and you know there’s the Waitress of it all. Where’