Friday, August 24, 2018

The right way to love

Linda Yellen with the cast of “Fluidity" after the screening.
Swipe Left, Swipe Right, Text, Record — "Fluidity" Zeros in on a Millennial Wasteland. Also — The Great Barbara Harris ... Fun with "Crazy Rich Asians" ... Robin Williams ... Elephants ... and the worst time travel movie ever!
by Denis Ferrara

“AND finally we arrive at today — a social world, stripped down to its core until there’s nothing left but a veneer of sexual equality and freedom. We take the morning after pill like it’s a fucking vitamin. No effort. No commitment. Just swipe, fuck, and swipe again. A generation of stimulation consuming everything around us — with no thought of what we leave behind.”
Isabella Farrell in “Fluidity.” 
That’s actress Isabella Farrell, one of the two conflicted main protagonists of director/writer/producer Linda Yellen’s right-on-the-pulse-of-our-times movie, “Fluidity.” 

I saw a rough cut of the movie last year.  I liked it a lot.  It’s done now, and I like it even more. Last week, Linda had an intimate screening of “Fluidity” at HGU (34 East 32nd Street) for friends, members of the cast and New Yorkers who want to get in on the first and fastest elevator to something special. (The cast who could make it included James Chen, Lenya Bloom, Isabella Farrell, Jesse James Keitel, Rafael Silva, Matt Namer and Bloom Davis. Also on hand: famed author and humanitarian Dr. Jane Aronson, cinematographer Neil Hallsworth, media maven Laura Vogel, PR wiz Scott Gorenstein, producer Joanne Roberts and Vogue’s Corey Seymour.)

Linda Yellen with one of the film's stars, Nico Tortorella.
Days before the screening, Linda was the subject of terrific CityWatch profile by Leonard Issenberg, titled oh-so-appropriately “Prolific Filmmaker Linda Yellen: If She Were a Man, She’d Already Be Famous.” 

Issenberg mentions some of Linda’s many credits, “Playing for Time,” “Chantilly Lace,” “The Simian Line,” “Parallel Lives,” “Second Serve,” “The Last Film Festival,” and a few of the remarkably eclectic batch of actors she has worked with — from Vanessa Redgrave to Anthony Hopkins, Liza Minnelli, Lynn Redgrave, Dennis Hopper, LeVar Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Eric Stoltz, Peter Weller, Diane Keaton, etc.

But in Issenberg’s piece this is what struck me, what I agree with most about Ms. Yellen:

What has always impressed me about Linda is her drive and passion for film and life, and that she's not only grown as a filmmaker but stayed on the cutting edge of the world around her, both socially and politically ... Linda Yellen has made beautifully fashioned films driven by exquisitely crafted scripts that develop both story and characters into what in modern movies has become an all too rare movie going experience, a film that allows the audience to forget they are in a theater watching a movie.”  Hear! Hear!

With her latest film, Linda’s ability to connect, understand and vividly present a time, a place, and people who are searching, one way or another, is wonderfully captured.
Ford E. and Leyna Bloom.
“Fluidity” is a ruthlessly candid, funny, sometimes sad, sexy look at millennials — right now. (Let me repeat — sexy.  Ms. Yellen does more here with intimacy of every variation — and almost every aspect of nudity — than she has ever attempted before. Didn’t shock a jaded old type like me, but for those who know Linda’s work, she’s broken some moist new ground here.)

This is a hot crash course through modern life, showing the unapologetic but inevitably vulnerable side of the social media generation — hordes of young people who grew up on selfies, swiping left or right, perhaps not understanding — or ever knowing — real empathy or intimacy.
Nico Tortorella.
“Fluidity” has no shame but considerable visceral sensuality, confusion, disengagement, all-too-instant connection, and — but of course — the search for a “real” love; that natural human desire for an occasional power blackout in a world where everybody is connected to the nth degree!  (In a way, it reminds me of a 2017 version of “Sex, Lies and Videotape.”)  It’s searing, honest, realistic and — as everything about sex and relationships is — very funny! “Fluidity” looks fantastic (highest kudos to cinematographer Gabriel Kosuth). Produced by Alyxzander Bear, it is pungently written by Yellen, Michael Leeds and Stephanie Wahlstrom.
James Chen & Miles McMillan.
Tommy Dorfman and Danni Wang.
The film exploits and explores with equal parts of ruthlessness and sympathy the concepts of “normal” romance, without judging or pretending to know the answer to the disconnection of today’s world. No preaching, just presentation. The human condition always faces a void of feeling and understanding.  It all  seems less human and more obvious now. But is it for those who know nothing else?  Is it more our problem? “Fluidity” shakes the box and puts a spotlight on that age-old question:  what is the right way to love?
Nico Tortorella & Rosa Parks Community School Dance Ensemble.
Every performance hits the mark, including luscious Nico Tortorella, known to fans of TV’s “Younger” (he couldn’t make the screening), and star-making turns by Tommy Dorfman as a sexed-up dentist (he’s the “13 Reasons Why” guy) and gorgeous Lenya Bloom, who has perhaps the films funniest, saddest line, as a catastrophic evening of revelations ends, “I can’t go home. It’s Friday night!” But everybody is right on, beautiful and completely invested.

Linda, like any filmmaker wants to see “Fluidity” on the big screen.  Me too.  But given the currency of the subject matter and the sea change in movie world, it’s also more than perfect for Netflix, and has tremendous potential as a series, too.  We shall see.

Talent, ambition and fresh ideas are evergreen, at least they are for Linda Yellen.

Barbra Harris with Alan Alda and Larry Blyden in The Apple Tree.
FAREWELL to the deliciously quirky stage and screen genius Barbra Harris.  She never did quite enough, to satisfy me, but her work was always delightful — comically vulnerable, sexy but a little sad, a little off-center.  She had that rare quality — you wanted to embrace her.  She appeared in films such as “Who is Harry Kellerman and Why is He saying Those Terrible Things About Me?” (Her one Oscar nod), “Plaza Suite,” “A Thousand Clowns,” “Nashville,” “Family Plot,” and others. Lots of TV.

But she is most ardently remembered for her all-too-brief theater career.  She originated the role of “Daisy Gamble” in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” and then her masterpiece, “The Apple Tree.”

I never had a chance to see Harris in this Jerry Bock Sheldon Harnick musical — directed by Mike Nichols — which co-starred Alan Alda and Larry Blyden.

But around 1970, I was at a party with friends and somebody put the cast album on — I was hooked.  The three part show, “The Diary of Adam and Eve,” “The Lady and the Tiger” and “Passionella” knocked me out.  Especially “Passionella,” a witty, withering spoof on movie fame. I memorized within days the entire score. (I did see the 2006 revival with Kristen Chenoweth.  Good, but apologies to Kristen — ain’t no Barbara Harris.) 
RIP, honey.  Tonight I put “The Apple Tree” on my turntable.  Or, I’ll find the CD.  The vinyl might be buried under ... more vinyl.
... INITIALLY, I had determined NOT to see “Crazy Rich Asians.”  It seemed offensive, yes? And I am not even Asian.  But always in need of a lift, I decided to go.  Smart move.  Simply delightful film. It’s as deep as a petri dish, and you won’t be overburdened with what Chinese culture and real people are actually like.  If you want that, take in a documentary.  It’s called “Crazy Rich Asians.”  Don’t go expecting to see 1948’s “Springtime in a Small Town” or 1989’s  “A City of Sadness” or 1990’s “Farewell My Concubine” or the now rather dismissed “The Joy Luck Club,” which I love. 
1948’s “Springtime in a Small Town.”
“Crazy…” is a fairly typical, mostly unimaginative rom-com — there are no new ideas, really. Anywhere. But it’s done with such élan, and good humor, Gorgeous cinematography and mind-blowingly beautiful people. I’ve always had a soft spot for Michelle Yeoh, and she really delivers here as the mother-in-law all prospective brides (Constance Wu) fears.  She’s great!  There’s a sequel already planned.  Will this begin a groundswell for Asian actors — Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc?  I don’t know, but get yourself to a local Cineplex and grin happily for 120 minutes. 
Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding, and Constance Wu star in “Crazy Rich Asians."
... THE other night I couldn’t sleep and thought I might as well stay up and watch TV.  This is what I caught, one after another — the new Robin Williams documentary on HBO, a 2013 documentary titled “An Apology to the Elephants” narrated by Lily Tomlin, and then 2009’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams.  Good grief.  I was ready to jump out the window. 

Never much of a fan of Robin Williams — mostly the opposite, except when he was very young and I thought kinda sexy — but this film, with so much of Williams speaking seriously, not doing his “stuff,” was deeply affecting. I don’t know that I’ll ever really like most of his work — and maybe that was because he was, I always felt, hiding and in pain.  To me, it was hard to look at.  But I now appreciate his struggle and accomplishments much more.
Then the elephants.  Brought me right back to the only time I went to the circus, about 15 years ago.  It was one of the most deeply sad, depressing afternoons of my life, watching all those beautiful animals being made to do their tricks for us.  I felt ashamed to have even seen it. (I turned to my friend who had encouraged me to attend and said dramatically, “Why did you bring me here?!”  She didn’t see my point and told me to get a grip — “auditions for ‘Camille’ are down the block, Miss Garbo.”)

As for “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” this was the most pretentious, badly-plotted, incoherent, hopelessly sad, sci-fi “romance” I have ever seen.  Not a thing made sense. Utterly frustrating and confusing. I know time-travel isn’t real, but come on!  Bana and McAdams work admirably hard to make sense of what they are given to do, but their strenuous efforts simply point out that they are working with crap.
The sun was coming up as the movie ended and I was ready for a Bloody Mary and an Adderal1. Luckily I keep a dry, speed-free house.

I should have stuck with my original plan to reread “Auntie Mame.”
Contact Denis here.