Tuesday, December 6, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Above the clouds

Looking south from atop 432 Park Avenue. © Demid Lebedev
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

"Miss Sloane" Lobbies on the 86th Floor! Also, More on "La La Land."

With a million neon rainbows burning below me
And a million blazing taxis raising a roar
Here I sit, above the town
In my pet pailletted gown
Down in the depths on the ninetieth floor.
While the crowds at El Morocco punish the parquet
And at "21" the couples clamor for more
I'm deserted and depressed
In my regal eagle nest
Down in the depths on the ninetieth floor.

On Saturday night I couldn’t help but be reminded of Cole Porter’s lyrics — and Ethel Merman’s immortal interpretation — of Porter’s ode to luxurious ennui. I pondered Cole and Merman while a million neon rainbows blazed below me, on the 86th floor of 432 Park Avenue. This was the site of The Cinema Society’s “Miss Sloane” after-party.
Looking west towards the puny One57!
Jessica Chastain standing tall, in spite of the distracting views all around. Photo: Patrick McMullan
432 PARK Avenue is the third tallest building in Manhattan, and for those who desire a regal eagle nest, lay your eggs here, if you have a neat $20 or $30 or $40 million to spare.  The view from the 86th floor was incredible.

And although the star of “Miss Sloane,” Jessica Chastain, was in attendance, and supposed to be the center of interest, I fear many guests wandered through the (as yet) uninhabited apartment, taking photos out of the huge windows. Each room, including one for the kiddies, had a view to die for. (I don’t know that I’d raise children so high up. Kids shouldn’t look down on the world; they need to be face to face with reality.)

Piaget joined with The Cinema Society for this event. It was unusual, amusing and a bit disconcerting. The place was fully furnished, and at any moment, while I lounged, chatting, in various boudoirs and libraries, I expected somebody to burst in and demand, “Will you kindly get off my bed?!” 

Everyone rather got into the vibe.  When I greeted Cinema Society’s Andrew Saffir at the door, he said, deadpan: “You’ve never been to our place, have you?”  He waited until I went pale before, he laughed, “kidding!”

Among the throng: David Muir ... Scott Gorenstein ... Edie Falco ... Bobby Flay ... Ellen Von Unwerth ... Lee Radziwill ... Devlin Dolan ... Brooke Shields ... Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti and Dana Delany.  Miss Delany, in the elevator on the way up to the party — as our ears popped — exclaimed, “You know, I’m really afraid of heights.”   Somebody said, “Dana, you’re afraid of heights, in those shoes?”  The heels on the actresses evening pumps were a thin, treacherous four inches. She had the good humor to laugh. (Still, I didn’t see her near any of the windows.)
Dana Delany holding onto Daniel Benedict and David Kuhn for dear life!
Ellen von Unwerth and friend.
Brooke Shields. Edie Falco.
David Muir and Kelly Ripa.
Michael Stuhlbarg and Jessica Chastain.
Caroline Dean, Celine Rattray, Alina Cho, and Debbie Bancroft.
Andrew Saffir, feeling very much at home, with Gian Luca Passi.
Jon Madden, Jake Lacy, Sam Waterston, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Stuhlbarg.
AH, yes, “Miss Sloane.”  I categorize this as a political/thriller/fantasy that might have been counting on Hillary Clinton winning the presidency. Gun rights advocates will not appreciate it.

The film, although entertainingly twisty, suffers a good deal from what I call Aaron Sorkin-itis.  He didn’t write the script — Jonathan Perera did. But “Miss Sloane” is full of Sorkins’ kind of rat-a-tat-tat smart-ass talk that one rarely if ever hears in real life.
Sometimes this works. Sometimes not. If the recent election and ongoing tsuris surrounding the incoming administration hasn’t been enough to make you hate politics, “Miss Sloane” will finish the job.  The film also stars Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (very good!), Mark Strong, Alison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg and Christine Baranski, who makes the most of her brief appearance.
The movie’s big selling point and reason for being is Miss Chastain’s intense performance as Miss Sloane, the ruthless lobbyist. It is impressive go-for-broke work, earning her a place of honor in the onscreen woman-of-steel category. (Faye Dunaway’s Diana Christensen in “Network” needn’t stand aside, but maybe make a little space for Miss Sloane.)

Christine Baranski puts it best in conversing with Miss S: “Well, you have everything except a dick.”  Okay, it’s not “We’ll always have Paris,” but it sums things up, more or less.
“WHY do you say ‘romantic’ like it’s a dirty word?” 

That’s what Ryan Gosling says early in the movie “La La Land” defending his adherence to a strict musical code. His struggle to make people pay attention to what and how he plays, is a romantic concept, he feels; rejection will make him stronger, more like his heroes. “I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired.  Then I’m gonna hit back.  It’s the perfect rope-a-dope.”

So, if “romantic” is a dirty word to any of you, “La La Land,” a musical drenched in romance, is not for you. 
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in "La La Land."
Now that I’ve had time to absorb the movie and read a batch of reviews — I’d tried to avoid most prior to seeing the Damien Chazelle directed film last week — it is most of the marvelous things written up.  Exquisitely photographed, beautifully acted by the two leads — Gosling as the musician, Emma Stone, the aspiring actress, grown weary of waiting. (With smooth assist from John Legend, who tells Gosling, at a vital point, “Go ahead, keep playing for 90-year-olds at The Lighthouse. You want to be a revolutionary, but how can you be that, when you are such a traditionalist?”)
“La La Land” will be an intoxicating experience for those open for a musical, or those yearning for a musical. Or, if you prefer, a love story with music.  In a sea of re-boots and re-makes and lack of imagination by what seem to be 90 percent of Hollywood, Chazelle’s alternately dreamy but painfully realistic tale of  show biz striving, failing, compromising, giving up, and coming back, is a gift.

It is not, however, the cinematic equivalent of the cure for cancer. Some of the reviews have been so over the top I had to conclude these people had never seen a musical, or had forgotten all the base lines of most traditional love stories with a soundtrack.
Damien Chazelle directing the Gosling and Stone.
Boy and girl meet, in a cute/angry way.  They don’t like each other, but we know (and they know) they really do. There’s the I-don’t-like-you-but-come-a-little-bit-closer number, the individual solos that establish both character’s ambitions, all the way to the wow-we-are-so-in-love scenic montage.  And then, of course, there are problems.

The movie reflects many of the more refined MGM musicals (not all of them were masterpieces of subtlety) and of course Jacques Demy’s fantasy-like “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”  The already famous L.A freeway opening, “Another Day of Sun,” has more of a raw “West Side Story” vibe.
This movie, unlike the recent “Allied” is an out-and-out homage to old Hollywood, in modern dress, that doesn’t seem like a joke. There is no treacle, no saccharine, no intended or unintended camp, high or low.

Aside from the director and cinematographer — epics asides in this case! — “La La Land” rests heavily on the appeal of it stars, Gosling and Stone. That they are so different, works in their favor.  Gosling, whom I always think of as a kind of accidental sex-symbol, is compact physically, with small features, not given to over-emoting.  He is perfect as the too-cool-for-school jazz man who won’t compromise, until love walks in the room.
Emma Stone, with her wonderfully expressive mouth and huge brimming eyes, is his emotional and physical opposite.  She’s not too cool.  In fact, she’s tired of terrible auditions for shows that promise to be “a cross between ‘Dangerous Minds’ and ‘The O.C.’”  But the romance of movies is deep in her heart — there’s that big “Casablanca” poster in her room--and she can’t be cynical (realistic) until opportunity knocks.

What drives the appeal of these two are not just the nimble musical numbers (a poignant, charming score by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul) but what they are able to convey without being blatant.  We don’t see Miss Stone rolling around in bed in her underwear.  Mr. Gosling never takes off his shirt.  But we know without a doubt, this is one passionate affair! How will a gratuitously desensitized audience react?  Very well, I think. A sodden palate rarely turns down sorbet.
I’m not to going to spoil.  You must see the movie to find out who wins or loses, if love is all.

My last observation is how brilliantly Mr. Chazelle bookends his movie. There’s the visceral opening number, which leads in time to a climax, a dénouement that’s a punch in the gut, in a different way — nobody’s dancing in the sun, on their way to a possibly marvelous future.

The bittersweet “this is life” quality of the finale reminded me of Woody Allen’s “Café Society,” but Chazelle takes it to another level altogether. It’s not a totally original concept, but I’ve never seen this particular conclusion to a love story played out with such romantic power.  Tears were shed at my screening. (Along with some very committed opinions about what was really going to happen after the fadeout!)
Is “La La Land” the best movie of the year?  No. How can it be in a world of “Moonlight” and “Manchester By The Sea”?   Is it one of the best movies of the year?  It sure is.  It doesn’t change the face or future of cinema.  It can’t pack up all your cares and woes. The big musical, or even the little musical, is not coming back.

But this gem does remind us vividly, that even in the worst and most cynical of times, romantic is not a dirty word. 
Contact Liz here.