Monday, December 26, 2016

Make the Yuletide...

Well, against all odds, we managed it.

Our Christmas may not have been quite as riotous as that so clearly enjoyed by the very naughty Santas seen above, but we did in the end have a fairly merry Christmas. This year, that feels like an accomplishment.

On Christmas Eve, something unexpected happened. Mr. Muscato, who usually works weekends, got the afternoon off, a holiday boon from the usually relentless taskmasters that run the place. We celebrated by braving the madness that was our favorite little dim sum place, and - a Christmas miracle! - we didn't even have to wait in line (sometimes the queue snakes out the door and down the pavement of the dismal strip mall in which it hides). Not for the last time over the weekend, I threw carb-cautions to the winds and dug into the dumplings.

Then we once again took a risk; wanting some good cheese and a little this and that, we decided to venture in to the nearest Whole Foods. Once again - a Christmas Miracle! - a parking space materialized in the packed garage just as we appeared, and while the lines there did snake back into the aisles, a new register opened just as we finished up, and out we sailed in record time, loaded down with excellent cheese, a little paté, and several pints of my current favorite not-quite-decadent treat, a frozen confection called Halo Top that is  (a) delicious and (b) both low carb and relatively low calory. I can confirm that their new peanut butter cup flavor is a complete success, and if their red velvet is marginally less so, it's still pretty damn good.

And so home, and a quiet evening in. A little cooking, a little Christmas music, and some good hearty sparkling red; pretty much a recipe for content, if you ask me. On top of that, it came up in the course of conversation (inspired by, of all things, an inauguration meme - a still from "Springtime for Hitler" captioned "The Rockettes rehearsing for their trip to Washington") that the Mister had never seen The Producers, so we closed out the evening by redressing that serious lapse. It had been years since I'd seen it, and I'd forgotten how anarchically funny and how incredibly swift it is, racing from joke to joke, pausing only now then to savor the remarkable partnership between Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, so completely different in their comedic approach and yet so totally in sync.

A good day. And Christmas just as lovely, with pancakes (carbs be damned!) for breakfast and a gift or two to open, then a long walk in the sunshine with Boudi, beside himself at the chance for an outing with both of us in his favorite park.

In the afternoon, we decided to continue the weekend's cinematic trend with a trip to the movies and headed out to see this season's most festive-seeming hit, La La Land. Far be it from me to be anything but evangelistic in my joy at having a musical (and one not from the animation factory, at that) be such a palpable hit, but while I found wonderful things in the movie, it's not an unmixed blessing.

I see relatively few new films (so few seem to escape the modern plagues of movie-dom: gore, explosions, unnecessary "origin stories," excessive computerized visual doctoring, 3D, and many more), so until now I've been more familiar with the movie's stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, by reputation than by their actual work.  They're very pretty, but they do seem, like so many other current actors, to be curiously both undeniably charismatic, in the sense that the camera loves them, and oddly, somehow, wan. Both - and especially Stone - have some marvelous moments, but neither are really suitable for musicals. They sing like actors and dance like singers (indicating rather than inhabiting the steps), and watching them I couldn't help but wish they could have foregone the box-office names and found two young prodigies - from Broadway, from Juilliard, from a road company or a Vegas show - who could have done justice to the production, which really is lavish and at times quite, quite beautiful.  The lilting score - Demoiselles de Rochefort meets Shaiman on a California beach, with here and there a tropical touch - is blessedly free from the aggressive Disneyfied bombast that infects so many new musicals. The music mostly doesn't take itself too seriously, keeps things light, which lifts the sometimes leaden plotline and, at least once, truly catches fire and becomes heartbreaking.

That moment - when, in a last make-or-break audition, would-be actress Stone recalls the aunt whose bohemian life has inspired her - for me made the rest of the film worth it. On the whole, La La Land is alternately exhilarating and not-quite-enough, but "Audition: The Fools Who Dream" is truly lovely (and yes, I cried; if you didn't, don't tell me). But even here, if you go and listen to it, on its own - it really needs a singer. I hope someone takes it on who can do it justice.

Oh, and one more beef: why is Hollywood today apparently entire unable to write supporting roles or supply the character players to act them? One reason we so love the classics (the ones to which this movie is so clearly paying homage) is that they were far more than their stars. We love Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in Singin' in the Rain; of course we do. But what would Singin' be without Donald O'Connor and Jean Hagen; without, even, Rita Moreno in her delicious little bit part and the immortal Kathleen Freeman enunciating for the ages? Even the greatest stars (and while Gosling and Stone are competent, that they're not) need a little respite, a little leavening, and there La La Land more or less leaves us flat. John Legend pops up and is very good in his one number, but otherwise isn't given much to do as the "sell out" foil to Gosling's jazz purist, and we're introduced to the character of Gosling's sister as if she's going to be important, but she's gone after one scene. Stone has some roommates who similarly disappear, and there's a couple we never properly meet whose wedding we eventually go to, but that's about it. Whatever happened to wise old landladies, to recurring cab drivers, to pals who cheer the principals up and help resolve the plot?

Which is something, too, that La La Land could have used. The movie tries - and, to be fair, it in many ways very nearly succeeds - to have its cake and eat it, to be a serious story and a frothy confection. I'm old-fashioned, I suppose, but I don't mind a happy ending, even a fairy-tale one. I hope it's not a spoiler to reveal that, in the end, that's not quite what we get, and while that may be more grown-up and "real" than simply letting the ever after take care of itself, I couldn't help feeling just a little cheated. What we're left with is only a little better than the one tacked onto On a Clear Day, whose estranged principals are left hoping for the best in the next lifetime or two. That wouldn't have worked for Fred and Ginger, and it doesn't quite work for me.

So: I'm glad La La Land exists, and I'm glad it's such a success. It's good to have a "real" musical out there, and while it's far from perfect, there's much that's admirable in it. And at least nothing blows up.

So that was our holiday, and I hope yours was all you wanted, too. Today has been a lovely lazy blur, and now we're off for the rest of this usually fairly useless work week before we face the next hurdle, getting ourselves into the New Year. There is still plenty to worry about out there, and even in the midst of our fine days were sorrows and surprises. But for the moment, just now, our troubles are, if not quite miles away, temporarily at bay.


  1. I think "a lovely lazy blur" is exactly what everyone really needs to get out of this otherwise quite tawdry season. We, too, have just about managed that here at Dolores Delargo Towers - all our energies will be put into celebrating the New Year, as every year... Jx

  2. Oh honey, I just read the NYT "appreciation" of George Michaels wherein the compared him to David Bowie and pRince and called him "radical." And not in reference to his highlights either.

    So hearing that this is the best we can look for in the category of "Musicals" I guess is just more confirmation of what a sad little time we find ourselves in. Mary Boland would probably be shilling Depends fit flex confidence wear.

    1. ... And she'd do a damn fine job at it, too. "L'incontinence, l'incontinence - how it does get one down!"

      As for GM, it's sad, although mostly for what he meant back in my misspent youth. And one does feel terribly badly for poor dear Debbie Reynolds...

  3. And one nice thing I realize that I forgot to say about La La Land: it actually photographs the dancing - in that it doesn't slice it up into millisecond-long shots en style the film of Chicago, in which you could barely tell whether or not Miss Zellweger and Mrs. Douglas could dance or not, so fractured was every moment in which they attempted to do so (you could tell that Mr. Gere can't, but that's another story). The music (the whole thing, really) was mostly beautifully shot.