Last Train to Apatown: This Is the End

From Superbad to Pineapple Express to The 40 Year Old Virgin, I’ve always dug Judd Apotow and his free-association nation of weed-addled, court-jester-smart, body-dysfunctional projects and stars. What can I say? Despite the fact that they treat women like mean mommies, the gross dork in me likes the gross dork in them—all gross, dorky metaphors attendant. Maybe it’s because, at heart, the Apatownies seem like the good boys I flirted with in high school until I landed a boyfriend with a car.

In This Is the End, the latest in the Apatow lineage (it’s written and directed by Seth Rogen and his professional BFF Evan Goldberg), title is pretty much destiny not just because of this movie’s apocalyptic premise but because an expiration date looms for this crew’s boys-will-be-boys schtick. You can only play impotent and guileless for so long when you’ve developed as much Hollywood clout as these kids have. To their credit, they seem to know it—even building questions of are we good people? and does that matter? into this crazy-ass story of who among them would survive should the Rapture ever rain upon their heads. Rogen plays himself as does pretty much everyone else in his universe, including James Franco, smoovegrooving Craig Robinson, Rihanna, Paul Rudd, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, an orgiastic, coke-whoring Michael Cera, an axe-wielding Emma Roberts (paging mean mommy), Jonah Hill, Mindy Kaling, my boyfriend Jason Segal, and, uh, the Backstreet Boys, and it’s great fun to see them send up how they’d navigate Judgment Day, not to mention a typical Hollywood partay. Once most of them have been offed, Rogen, Franco, Hill, Robinson and Baruchel hide out at Franco’s pad and fight over their scant resources, including, naturally, their one remaining spank book. While the story may take its cue from their now-30ish physiques by sagging in the middle, it includes many, many funny bits. And while the winkingly meta self-mockery may exude a whiff of have-your-jay-and-smoke-it-too, that don’t mean it don’t get you hiiiiigh. I say, hit it, baby—though maybe via a home-delivery system at 3 am—and rest tight with the knowledge that this crew may not be damned to devolve into Grownups 2.

The Church of Signs and Sirens: Ladybug

En route to the coffee shop at 7 am today I was feeling fine. Unfettered by the longing I always carry and rarely articulate. It was cool and grey, my favorite sort of summer morning this year. I was wearing a dress with pockets so deep they could store everything necessary for my jaunt—keys, wallet, lipstick—which left me free to swing both arms and legs as I strode. I’d slept the night before in braids, and my hair, only recently grown out enough to be considered really long, swung too, and in the rippling mermaid waves I’d always hoped they would. All in all, it was as if a crease had been folded in the time-space continuum and my hopeful 7-year-old self had temporarily been granted control of my grown-up body. Once again I was the girl who’d never had her heart broken, not even by her daddy. The girl who remembered all her magic. It felt great, though I hoped she liked coffee as much as I do.
I wasn’t wearing my glasses since at 7 I didn’t need them and in general I always find it relaxing to be liberated from too many details. But my nearsightedness worked against me when a man began sprinting down the other side of the street. He was copper-colored with close-cropped hair and, as he ran closer, I could see how elegantly the muscles in his limbs and shoulders tapered though I still couldn’t see his face. I saw that he was wielding a slightly forlorn bouquet of flowers, the sort you buy at the deli in a last-minute rush of love or forgive-me-baby. I saw too his bald spot, large enough that most men would have shaved their whole head in order to make that baldness seem deliberate rather than a vulnerability. It was the last detail that got me. I had always found that bald spot painfully endearing in my last big love, a man I’d once been sure was no less than my destiny, my heart, my reward for all that had come before. All that jazz. Continue Reading →

L’avventura and a New York Summer, Naturally

I spent two of yesterday’s most sweltering hours at New York City’s Film Forum, transported to the big black-and-white glamour of L’avventura, Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960 travelogue. Many of my colleagues swoon over this film’s contribution to film grammar, its exploration of the myriad faces of love, and they’re right to do so. I sat amongst some of them yesterday and their faces looked uncharacteristically sweet, even innocent, as they watched, rapt, in that screening room. That innocence is part of why I gladly, worshipfully surrender to the Italian director’s films again and again, especially in summer. In his still and silent and perfectly framed worlds dwell the purest respite I know outside of actual nature.
For Antonioni’s films almost—almost—compensate for the terrible swamp that New York invariably becomes every summer. I know many who sing New York summers’ praises, and when I was young I was one of them. To people’s complaints that they missed nature in New York, I’d reply that in New York we humans were the nature. I still think that’s true. Bumping against each other with virtually no personal space, we prowl about, sniffing each other’s butts, brandishing our feathers and guarding our turf as fiercely as any beast in the wild. If our jungle happens to be concrete, what of it?
But every year I feel less charmed by the gorgeous mistakes we New Yorkers tend to make in our unbearably hot summers—by our flaring passions, our sticky bodies, our business exposed every which way. I long instead for the one thing that’s hard to order up in this crazy apple unless you’re on a billionaire’s budget: quiet. A silence, uninterrupted by anything except for the ripple of a pond, the warble of a bird, the rustle of wind snaking through trees. Maybe the ice clinking in your glass.
A reverent hush used to prevail in movie theaters no matter what was playing but now the volume of soundtrack-booming movies and moviehouse attendees can deafen you. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Nothing is more glorious than the denizens of Downtown Brooklyn dancing along to Step Up, and what would a crash-and-burner like Fast and Furious 6 be without the satisfying crunch of metal? But mostly the noisiness of a movie-going experience makes me feel like I’m in the middle of Times Square. Today.
L’avventura doesn’t, though. About a woman and man who fall in love while searching for his missing girlfriend, the movie is blessedly quiet, as if it doesn’t wish to miss any detail of its own sensuality. And nor should it. Antonioni’s characters are always animalistic—nearly mute in their raw expressions of envy, sorrow, fury, desire—and thereby even more purely human. With L’avventura as with all of his films, plot is to some degree besides the point and time moves glacially, if at all. What matters is staying as present as a cat, as a child, as a lover, as a beginning and as an ending. And that entails listening as well as looking.
There in Film Forum yesterday I succumbed happily and wholly to the roar of the ocean, to the shadows cast by lovers kissing against a sea wall, to the whisper of bedsheets against a woman’s skin, to the ecstasy of her legs, nude, as they kicked in the air, and to the click of her shoes upon the cobblestones of a city street. It all looked and sounded wonderfully cool and even more wonderfully lonely. Much like nature herself.
L’avventura can be seen in a lush 35mm restoration at Film Forum July 12-25. Go see it.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy