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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Winners and losers: What a week!

I did not expend a lot of mental energy worrying about the US election, but not because I felt confident that the Joe Biden and the Democrats would easily win it. It’s simply because, after therapy, I have gotten better about not spending a lot of time worrying about things I have no control over. And as a Canadian, it’s really no control. I couldn’t vote, couldn’t donate, couldn’t campaign. Just watch it happen.

Tuesday, Wednesday

I was surprised how bummed I was by Tuesday night’s result. Because I’d still been reading up on the election (as avoidance also isn’t a particularly good strategy for managing worry)—and it was playing out exactly as predicted. That we would not have a definitive result that night. That Republicans were more likely than Democrats to vote in person, with those votes counted first, so the Trump side looking stronger initially—but with that changing as the mail-in ballots got counted. That the Democrats were very unlikely to take the Senate.

But those polls, eh? It was hard not to dream of Biden taking Texas, and Florida, and Lindsay Graham losing his seat. Repudiation! We wanted it! But we just had to sit with the uncertainty. (And my therapy module on tolerating uncertainty was not proving as useful as I’d like.)

I happened to be listening to a podcast called Hidden Brain on the topic of “moral convictions” and how they apply to politics:

Most of us have a clear sense of right and wrong. But what happens when we view politics through a moral lens? This week, we talk with psychologist Linda Skitka about how moral certainty can produce moral blinders — and endanger democracy.

Hidden Brain: Moral Combat

Which definitely crystallized that I was doing that with this election. The list of Trump’s moral failings was just so long: racism, sexism, cruelty, environmental damage, theft, dishonesty… To vote for that, to me, is morally wrong. I was just bummed that so many Americans supported that.

The New York Times opined that this a really common sentiment for Canadians.

Since then, watching Mr. Trump politicize the coronavirus, vilify his opponents and attack democratic institutions, many Canadians say it has become a question of morality…

“Beyond despondent,” one reader wrote in a haiku competition hosted by The Toronto Star. “That so many support his bigotry and hate.”

Catherine Porter

Of course, per podcast, it’s not really that black and white? Some Trump supporters are so steeped in conspiracy theories that they see a vote for Biden as the morally wrong choice—there’s a reason QAnon picked child abuse as the supposed crime that Trump was supposedly preventing the Democrats from committing—what could be more repugnant? (The whole Q thing is so truly bonkers, isn’t it…) Then there’s your pro-choice people who make a moral choice on that issue above all else.

And, not everyone even sees a vote as moral choice at all. They just consider policies, like, lower taxes. Or they might not like Trump’s “tone”, but just find Biden too “liberal”. Party affiliation is a thing in the US the way it just isn’t in Canada—there are apparently registries there of whether people are Democrat, Republican, or Independent?

We don’t have that here.

Of course, for the die-hards (so visible, those die-hards), Trump’s corrosive approach and how upsetting others find it is exactly what they love. It’s exciting! The New York Times profiled such a voter this weekend:

he spent the past few months campaigning for President Trump, taking special satisfaction in offending Biden supporters.

Ellen Barry

These last two groups, by the way, I judge as morally wrong, to some degree. I just can’t see this vote any other way! We all have our blinkers.

Thursday, Friday

Of course, as predicted, things just started to look better here as more votes were counted. It was interesting, as following this largely on Twitter, I was increasingly confident that Biden had this. But Jean was looking at the raw numbers, alarmed, and reporting back how close everything still was.

I follow political scientists and respected journalists on Twitter; I was pretty sure they knew what they were talking about. But still, Jean would say but it’s so close, and I’d go digging to find out why the Twitter folks felt confident. I always found solid data—which I shared with Jean. I would then find the more cautious mainstream news approach a bit puzzling.

To most of the world, the confirmation occurred Saturday. To me, it was on Friday.

(“But it’s not official yet, is it?” whispered Jean.)

Saturday, Sunday

Called it, and we partied, and it was a beautiful day, too…

Iced cappuccino in the sun on a patio. You don’t see that every November in Canada…

But I must admit the whole thing was tempered by more local news. Ontario’s also running an experiment in having elected a plain-spoken businessman with little political experience to lead the province. Fortunately, he did not turn out to be a narcissistic sociapath, and he did surprisingly well in managing the first wave of the pandemic.

But the second…. Hoo boy. Hard not to notice that each day more Ontarians are getting sick and dying… And that this isn’t much of an exaggeration of his “plan” for dealing with it (such is his reluctance to actually shut down any businesses):

Ford’s new tiered pandemic system politely suggests a change in business hours if all your customers are hospitalized or dead.

Barney Panofsky

So I was glad America was there to lift me up (man, haven’t said that in four years) Saturday night with some excellent speeches (such eloquence, such decency) and still-improving vote counts.

Morally, America looks better than it had initially. The vote wasn’t really that close. That turnout–in the middle of a pandemic–was inspiring. And it’s so tough to remove an incumbent. Yet Biden took Arizona! And Georgia! (Is that official yet? I don’t even know.) And more votes than any Presidential candidate in history.

But because our expectations were set by a raft of overheated polling… the idea took hold that Trump’s mean brand of nativism hadn’t repulsed a clear majority of Americans.

In fact, it had. There was a clear message that what we think of as Trumpism — the cult of personality, the white nostalgia, the contempt for all institutions and rule of law — isn’t a viable national strategy, and will only become less so.

As a friend of mine put it, the repudiation wasn’t really overwhelming or underwhelming. It was just whelming enough.

Yes, Trump was repudiated, Washington Post

I just found the above tweet, but seriously, before and after the speeches Saturday night, we watched The Notebook!

Just like the election, you’ll want to make it to the ending. It’s worth it!


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Not an open and shut case

Both Ontario and Toronto hit record numbers of COVID-19 cases this week, yet Doug Ford, it seems, wants the shuttered restaurants, bars, gyms, and cinemas to reopen. Is that really wise?

Nobody much cares what I think about it, but I can’t help thinking about it anyway. So now I’m inflicting my thoughts on you.

A leopard and his spots

Ford’s dilemma is that he is, of course, a Conservative, and therefore very much inclined to support business and disinclined to support government spending as a solution. So if businesses are suffering, he’d much rather allow them to reopen and earn money directly from citizens than to compensate them for loss of business with government funds.

Ford’s government has generally prioritized our ability to be consumers over our ability to gather with family and friends. Or rather, we are only allowed to gather with family and friends if we are also contributing to the economy.

This results in absurdities such as: A mask-required, no dance, no supper, outdoor wedding to be held in a backyard in low-incidence Timmins being cancelled when the province decreed that private events were to be limited to 25 people outdoors, 10 indoors. But paying for an indoor wedding of over 100 guests in high-incidence York region was allowed to proceed. And then… At least 44 people diagnosed with COVID-19 after large wedding in Vaughan

Testing, testing

Not enough of it is being done, results aren’t being turned around fast enough, the backlog persists. So the data’s not great. What data they have, the Ontario government is currently trying to spin to make the case that a continued shut down isn’t necessary.

Take what I heard on CBC Radio this morning, that only 2% of cases are linked to restaurants, 5% to gyms. Sounds like hardly anything, right? But that’s not the whole story! They were only talking about outbreaks; not all cases. I’ll let Ottawa Public Health fill you in:

Furthermore, their data was for a 13-week period that included 4 weeks in which all these establishments were closed. As one might imagine, there aren’t a lot of communicable disease outbreaks that occur in empty gyms, restaurants, bars, and cinemas. So that makes that supposedly tiny percentage even less valid.

Who’s on first?

The Atlantic had this fascinating (though long) article, This Overlooked Variable Is the Key to the Pandemic, which makes the case that, because 20% of people cause 80% of the infections, contact tracing efforts should focus more on finding out whom the person caught the virus from (backward contact tracing) and less on warning people whom that person might have been in contact with since becoming infected (forward contact tracing):

Even in an overdispersed pandemic, it’s not pointless to do forward tracing to be able to warn and test people, if there are extra resources and testing capacity. But it doesn’t make sense to do forward tracing while not devoting enough resources to backward tracing and finding clusters, which cause so much damage.

Zeynep Tufekci

I don’t believe Ontario has made this switch in focus which, given their testing challenges, sounds like it would make sense. And, it would also give them actual solid data on where people are becoming infected.

Though they might not like the answer.

Hell’s kitchen?

The restaurant industry feels unfairly targeted by the shut downs and hey, it’s an industry close to my heart. But now that we know that COVID-19 can be transmitted through airborne routes, we have to face the fact that restaurants (and bars) have some inherent dangers that cleaning and six-feet distancing simply can’t overcome.

People sit in there for an hour or two, unmasked most of the time, talking and laughing. So you’re definitely at risk from anyone at your table. But you’re also at risk from people at other tables, because aerosols can float around much farther than six feet, and stick around after they leave—particularly in establishments without great ventilation.

Example (which also speaks to the benefit of masks!):

That doesn’t mean I think that all restaurants in all of Ontario should be closed. I do believe in a regional approach. Where community incidence is low, so is the likelihood of that special combination of factors that can result in you being infected from strangers at distant restaurant tables.

But when per-capita community spread is greater than a certain amount—and I do think it would help if the government set a clear target for what that is—they need to close, and stay closed, until the numbers go down again.

It would also help if the provincial government would give these shuttered businesses the financial help they were promised, but has so far yet to materialize.

Working it out (in a gym)

Not being a gym person, I’m ill-equipped to speak about whether closing them is justified. Certainly, Ontario had that infamous spin class outbreak: 69 people infected in COVID-19 outbreak at Hamilton spin studio, Spinco—another case that points to airborne transmission, since everyone was six feet apart. But, also maskless and breathing really hard for an hour.

So, couldn’t gyms solve a lot of their problems by making people wear masks? Of course, I realize it’s not pleasant to be masked when doing an activity that makes you sweaty and hot, but if the alternative is no gym…

I also agree with the argument that while group aerobics are clearly risky, other types of workouts aren’t as much. Small numbers of people moving around to distanced weight equipment, masked while moving, and maybe even when lifting… to me is not wildly different from people moving around a store. Or, one-on-one training, especially if the trainer is masked the whole time.

So I can see a case for coming up with different rules that allow gyms to reopen instead of keeping them shuttered. Especially as there is a health benefit to exercise that not everyone can get at home or outdoors (especially in winter).

Going to the movies

Ah, poor cinemas. Even where open, things aren’t going to great, given that Hollywood doesn’t want to release its big movies now.

But without that supply of blockbusters, I think theatres probably aren’t that dangerous—how many people are going to go anyway? Surely the attendance will be rather low for the foreseeable future. And there’s also the fact that you can wear a mask there, except when eating popcorn, which most people don’t do for the full 2 hours. And that talking is discouraged.

Going to concerts

Concerts? When did those reopen?

Well, they haven’t, except for a few drive-in and virtual events. And I don’t see how they can, given that the economics of them doesn’t support distancing (masks can only do so much).

So as we feel sympathy for those industries having to repeated open and close, let’s remember those that have been dark since March, with no end in sight until the vaccine rolls out.

Lessons from Europe… and Manitoba

Of course they have time to change their minds, but the Ontario government’s idea seems to be to reopen and accept that some 7000 Ontarians a week are going to continue to get infected with this disease, and just hope that it doesn’t increase to 14,000, 28,000…

Only, it’s not like they haven’t already tried this elsewhere.

Morris said Toronto is in danger of following in the footsteps of countries in Europe, which tried to tolerate having a large number of cases.

“They go on for a certain period of time and it seems rather stable, and there’s no new admissions to hospital or the number that do go to hospital seems rather acceptable, and then it takes off.

“That pattern has happened repeatedly,” said Morris, citing France, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium and Germany as examples. [Belgium, for example, has closed all non-essential businesses and banned family gatherings!]

Ford, Tory want to lift restrictions on restaurants, bars after 28 days, but epidemiologists warn this could have tragic consequences (Toronto Star)

Next door, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, they are cancelling “elective” surgeries and diagnostic again, because they just don’t have the hospital capacity. (What’s been the effect of Ontario having done that in the spring? Now hospitals are seeing many more patients with advanced cancers.)

It just doesn’t look like time to fully reopen, to me.


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Second wave sojourn

Whereas our last vacation took place in the comfort of declining case numbers and the ease of doing activities outdoors, this time, case numbers were steadily increasing, and it was Fall. The need to use vacation days remained, however, and the idea of just staying home for a week wasn’t that appealing. Road trips remained the only feasible option, but to where?

At one point we were to head north for a wedding, but that all changed when the private gathering rules changed to a drastically reduced number, such that we were no longer invited.

We instead settled on Ottawa, followed by the Kingston area. Ottawa had became something of provincial hotspot for cases (Code red: Ottawa reaches highest level on pandemic scale), but we stuck with it anyway, using the following chart as a guide to what activities to do (hike, stay at a hotel, visit museums), and not (meet with friends, go into a bar).

Source: https://informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/covid-19-coronavirus-infographic-datapack/#activities

Activities

We started in Ottawa on a Sunday evening and were there through Thursday morning, figuring it would be less crowded earlier in the week. Sunday we arrived late afternoon, and just did a little walking around town in the drizzle… But it was still kind of lovely. (And largely felt as though we had the streets to ourselves.)

Jean commented that the leaves were so brightly coloured, they looked fake in the photos. This is not Photoshop! They were that red!
Pretty Ottawa in the Fall, even on a cloudy night

Monday we made our way to Gatineau Park. I had done a little research on it, and picked out a hiking trail to attempt first. But we kept getting frustrated in our attempts to get there by road closures.

It took a while and a fair amount of driving to realize that some main arteries in the park were closed to cars to encourage “active transportation” (and perhaps to reduce to crowding? Though the arteries were opened part of the day on weekends, so… I dunno. Nor why said closures weren’t emphasized more on their website.)

Anyway… We did eventually come upon another trail that we could park at and walk on. A little challenging, but nothing we couldn’t handle, and it really nice! The colours were just magnificent this year. The only notable covid change on it was that everyone was encouraged to walk in the same direction on the loop. We didn’t run into too many others on it.

On the Luskville Falls trail in Gatineau Park
The titular falls
Views while on the trail
And more views

Tuesday we did a long walk in Ottawa proper, along the river, that was also quite enjoyable. And we visited the Market area in the afternoon, picking up some cheese and a few other edibles.

While quite nice in the morning, Tuesday clouded over later on

Wednesday was rainy, so we made it a museum day. We had been hoping to visit the National Gallery, but it was closed Wednesdays—open only Thursday to Sunday. All museums required advance booking of tickets to limit crowds, so after some debate, we decided on the War Museum in the morning at 10:30 (as we hadn’t been there in a decade), then the Nature Museum at 2:45 pm, when tickets were free (but still required pre-booking).

When time came to go the War Museum, we decided to walk. We figured that with rain jackets, hats, and an umbrella, we’d be OK.

We were wrong.

What had been a light sprinkling in the morning turned into a downpour, with wind. And the War Museum was not that close to our hotel. Our upper bodies stayed dry, but the pants—not so much. And that resulted in leaking into the boots as well. Yuch.

But it’s a big enough place (and not that crowded) that we managed to stay long enough to mostly dry off. Most notable addition from last time: The Holocaust memorial, outside, which reminded me of the one in Berlin.

After lunch, we went back to the hotel to change, then had to scurry to the Nature Museum. Here they had created a guided path through the museum exhibits to reduce the amount of contact. That worked quite well. The museum closed at 4:00 (the reason the 2:45 tickets were free), so we had to hurry our way through a bit. But Jean still got some pictures.

Knowledge (street sculpture)

Our destination upon leaving Ottawa Thursday was Prince Edward County. We visited Wapoos Winery first (as we often do when visiting the County) for lunch and a wine tasting, which they did outside, under a tarp. We got a nice overview of all five wines we would be tasting, then we had to take the glasses to a nearby table to actually do the trying.

They seemed to have fewer wines this year than in the past (possibly due to the times), but we really liked the grapefruit-y Gensenheim and their appassimento Cabernet Franc. We’d also quite enjoyed the Gamay Noir we’d had with lunch, but the only one in the store was a $47 reserve version which didn’t seem like it would be the same one we’d had (as it wasn’t that expensive) and if so, we didn’t like $47 much, so we just bought bottles of the other two.

Next stop was at Del Gatto, which Jean thought we had been to once before, but I didn’t. Regardless, it was a good stop. They did their tastings inside, at a good distance from the only other couple also visiting. We left with some Riesling, a sparkling, a Frontenac Noir, and a wine called Quattro that was blend of Baco, Chambourcin, and Foch (not sure why it’s called Quattro when it’s three grapes, but whatever).

Finally we got ourselves to Black Prince Winery, who did tastings outside. They had both wines and vinegar on offer, and it was a fun experience going through the options—on vinegar in particular, he was good about steering us toward the more promising options. But also with wines—he was right that we enjoyed the oaked Chardonnay, which used local rather than French oak. We bought a couple bottles of that, along with some Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc reserve.

On the vinegar front, we went with peach, maple balsamic, and a red wine vinegar called Holy Jumpin’.

Friday was nice, so we did more hiking, this time at the Landon Bay section of Thousand Island park, near Gananoque. We quite enjoyed our morning here on a sunny day, adding on loops and repeating parts to get a longer walk in.

A rather magnificent tree we spotted on our journey

Saturday was somewhat rainy in afternoon (after a nice morning), so instead of going to Wolfe Island, we just took a drive on the Thousand Island parkway. And did a bit of walking around Kingston on our return.

Restaurants

We had noted that both takeout food and outdoor dining were on the low risk spectrum, whereas dine-in was at the further edge of the medium risk. So, we thought, best avoided. (Dining in has since been prohibited in Ottawa, but we were visiting before that happened. Just before.)

Of course, patio dining was trickier in October than it had been in August. There was not only rain to worry about, but cold. Trying to figure out which places had not only covered, but ideally heated, patio space wasn’t always easy. But we did spot some just from walking around. And the Ottawa Citizen did have one helpful article: The future of outdoor dining: Ottawa restaurants brace for the cold.

Breakfast was sometimes so big we didn’t need lunch. Then for dinner, we more or less alternated between patio and takeout—including from some pretty fine places (that probably didn’t used to offer takeout at all…).

Restaurant roll call

The first dinner was takeout from Whalesbone, a restaurant we had given up dining in long before covid, simply because their reservation system was too convoluted to deal with (and they were too popular to get in without one). It was lovely to be eat their food again—so good! And it went well with the white wine we had brought from home. (When picking up, we were a little shocked how loudly they were playing music in the restaurant, though. Didn’t seem wise.)

Cooper’s Gastro Pub, attached to the Embassy Hotel we were staying at, had a heated patio, so that’s where we had our first two breakfasts. Our sense of safety was enhanced by having the whole patio to ourselves. The meals were good but large; we opted for takeout from nearby cafes for the next two breakfasts. We especially enjoyed The Ministry of Coffee.

The first dinner out was at Rivera on Sparks Street, which we tried mainly because we had seen that they had a big enclosed patio (in a tent), with heaters. It was very cozy, and while not a cheap place, it was very good! Burrata with tomatoes, ricotta gnudi, lamb cavatelli…

We were next planning to get takeout from Beckta, an old favourite that had only indoor dining, until we realized we’d have to pick the food up mid-day and later cook it ourselves at the hotel, which didn’t seem very vacation-y. So instead we got food from their sister restaurant, Play (who had closed their patio at the end of September). Their “small plates” were all quite tasty, even after the relatively long walk back to the hotel with them. And the Exultet winery Pinot Noir rose we had brought from home was flexible enough to match the variety of dishes.

On that rainy Wednesday, though, our finally honed plans for safer dining got foiled. Leaving the War Museum, it started to pour again. We were still far from both our hotel and any restaurants with fully covered patios. And we’d had a smaller breakfast and didn’t particularly want to skip lunch.

So… We did have one indoor meal, at the Mill St. Pub. It wasn’t very full, and the tables were definitely distanced. But to play it safer, we kept our masks (KN95’s) on most of the time. (Mask off, take a drink, mask on.) And we ordered only one course, which we were able to eat fairly quickly, and which limited overall time spent there. It was quite decent pub food—they had matching beer recommendations for each dish (I had a curry).

Dinner that night was at Back to Brooklyn, because the Ottawa Citizen had focused on how much they had invested in weather-proofing their patio, and their menu looked decent. The patio was gi-normous, covered in sheeting, and had heaters. I’m not sure how much air was actually moving through it (though it did have a big opening), but we weren’t worried, as we were the only ones dining in it on this cool and drizzly night.

Back to Brooklyn’s elaborate and large patio, that we had all to ourselves

We were actually pretty impressed with the quality of the food, and would consider this place again (if they survive), even though, for whatever reason (this wasn’t a tapas place) they brought our appetizers and entrees at almost the same time. And had almost no dessert menu.

Our first meal after leaving Ottawa was at Wapoos Winery, who were fine with serving us on their patio, even though everyone else was eating inside. Menu was smaller than previous times, but still good.

In Kingston we dined twice at Jean’s favourite, Tango Nuevo, which had taken over much the sidewalk for two large, covered patio areas (which were quite popular). We were a little under-dressed for it the first time and got a bit chilled, but we knew better the second. They were still offering quite a large menu, and we had a completely different set of tapas dishes each time. All excellent.

We got ourselves to Riva, in Gananoque, for lunch on the Friday. It was brisk on the patio, but we managed, and the food was excellent as usual.

Scallops a la Riva

And we also frequented Kingston’s famous Chez Piggy. The first time we got their terrific charcuterie board as dinner takeout. We had enough left for breakfast the next day. Then Saturday, which was pretty nice in the morning, we sat on their patio for brunch.

Fancy takeout from Chez Piggy

Hotel life

We were pleased with both hotels we stayed at: Embassy Hotel Suites in Ottawa, and the Four Points Marriott in Kingston. In both cases we got suites, which gave us the extra space of a kitchen and living room area for the extra time we spent there eating takeout and watching TV.

The Ottawa hotel really wasn’t busy, so we never had trouble getting the elevator to ourselves for our trips to and from the seventh floor. The Kingston hotel got a bit busier as the weekend approached, but still no real elevator issues. (We were again on the seventh floor. Guess that’s where the suites are.) The TV at the Marriott had Netflix, YouTube, and Prime integrated with the cable (as I have at home), which I enjoyed. At Embassy Suites, we used an HDMI cable connected to a Chromebook to watch Netflix on the TV.

Book, TV, movie

The audiobook for the drive was a recent release by Nick Hornsby, Just Like You. It tells the story of the budding romance between the recently divorced Lucy and the younger Joseph, who also happens to be Black. The narration alternates between the point of view of each character. Though on the surface they have little in common—separated by age, class, race, and education—somehow, it works. But not without some bumps along the way.

It was quite an enjoyable read, very funny at times. The sections discussing the pending Brexit vote made me a bit anxious, knowing how that turned out… But well illustrated the ridiculous-ness of asking the populace to vote on such a complex issue.

At one point Lucy and Joseph muse about going to see the movie Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep. They don’t quite make it, but it did inspire me to watch that one night. It’s hardly a must-see, but it’s an enjoyable film, quite good-natured.

We (along with much of the world at that time, it seemed) tore our way through Emily in Paris that week.

Sure, it traffics pretty heavily in French stereotypes, but it was still lovely to see glimpses of Paris. Jean thought Emily was cute, and I enjoyed her wardrobe. And appreciated her crush on Gabriel—though Camille deserves better from both of them. It was like candy—not great as a steady diet, but fine in the small doses (10 half-hour episodes) available.

As counterpart, we did try watching Ozark, but that was seeming just too dark. So, we switched to The Crown. Less dark than Ozark, less candy than Emily, and Jean, to his amazement, is quite enjoying it.


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Movie night

The world is on fire and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. So I’ve decided to write about movies.

The last movies we saw before the theatres shut down were Knives Out and Parasite. Knives Out was a terrific, twisty, murder mystery with an incredible cast. ****

Parasite was last year’s Academy Award winner as Best Picture. In it, a low-income South Korean family con a rich family into gradually hiring each of them. Then things get twisted… ***½

Those are both available for streaming rental now.

Warming up

Since then, we’ve been dubbing one night each weekend “movie night”, making the popcorn, and watching a flick on the TV. Initially, it was an anxious time, we wanted something not too heavy. Eddie Murphy’s Dolemite Is My Name (Netflix) was a great inaugural, telling the story of how failed comic Rudy Ray Moore (a real guy!) reinvented himself and became an unlikely success. Reminded me of The Disaster Artist. ****

Then we tried The Greatest Showman (Netflix), a movie that critics dumped on but audiences loved. Jean was skeptical about a musical based on PT Barnum, but we ended up siding with audiences and enjoying it. *** As we did Shazam (HBO), a humorous superhero movie from the DC Comics universe. ***

Tom Hanks

Was one of the first famous people to come down with coronavirus (remember that?), which somehow inspired us to catch up with a couple of his movies. Sully (cable) told the story of the pilot who landed the plane on the Hudson River, saving all 150 passengers. We hadn’t realized there had been some doubt as to just how heroic his actions were. *** And Charlie Wilson’s War (Netflix) told the rather interesting story of the US’ involvement in supporting Afghanistan rebels in their fight against the Soviets—without ignoring how that all went wrong in the end. ***½

Girls behaving badly

While not viewed in sequential weeks, for whatever reason we seemed to be drawn to movies about women breaking the law. Or maybe it’s just that they’ve making more of these lately? At any rate…

Ocean’s 8 (HBO) is part of the movie franchise that started with George Clooney’s Ocean’s 11. Kind of a trifle, but entertaining. The difference is that the group of eight are all women, and that does add a layer of fun. ***

Molly’s Game (Netflix) was written and directed by Arron Sorkin, so there is a whole lot of smart, fast-paced dialogue in the telling of the story of Molly Bloom, a former champion skier who ran an exclusive poker game for rich people, including some very famous ones. Initially run legally, ultimately it was not, and the movie starts with her legal troubles and flashes back.

Jean liked this one more than I did. It’s definitely an interesting story; my problem was in the great effort to turn Molly into a noble hero, which I didn’t quite buy. ***

Hustlers (Prime) told the story of strip club employees who, after the Wall Street crash, started drugging their clients to lower their inhibitions and get them to spend more than they otherwise would have on booze and women. Definitely behaving badly! But what’s really compelling is the relationship between the women. It’s like friendship porn. And this one, I liked more than Jean did. My score would be ***½.

Arty farty

Have you heard of Tubi? It’s another movie and TV streaming service, only free—ad supported. Very few ads, in my experience, so I wouldn’t let that put you off.

I noticed they had We Need to Talk About Kevin, based on a good but disturbing novel I’d read of the same name, about a woman who decides to have the child her husband wants, but she doesn’t. That it doesn’t turn out well is a bit of an understatement.

I got it in my head that I’d like see how they adapted the novel to film. They didn’t do a bad job of it—Tilda Swinton is very good in the lead—but overall I preferred the novel’s elaboration of the story to the movie’s inevitable compression of it. As for Jean, he might not forgive me for having him watch this. The story haunted him for days afterward. **½

The movie also led Tubi to recommend a whole series of other disturbing movies to me, none of which I would ever watch. To try clean that up, I selected The Lady in the Van as my next Tubi movie. This British film tells of the relationship between an educated homeless woman and a single male writer. It’s pretty enjoyable—Maggie Smith is terrific—but it is based on a true story that wasn’t overly “Hollywood-ized”, leaving the overall narrative arc a little less satisfying. ***

And I don’t know that it’s truly “arty farty”, except that it’s now an older classic, isn’t it? But we watched Saturday Night Fever (Hollywood Suite), the first time either of us had seen it. Since it’s mostly remembered for John Travolta’s disco dancing, the grittiness of it is a bit shocking: the casual use of the n word, the date rape… But it is a movie worth seeing. ***½

The Princess Cinema started offering some streaming movies recently, and in support of them, we rented The Trip to the Greece. It’s the fourth in a series, and we hadn’t seen any of the previous ones, so it was a bit odd to just jump into this one. Not that there’s a whole lot of complex plot to follow, mind. It’s just two guys who take a road trip, banter with each other, see spectacular scenery, and eat great meals.

The banter is often amusing, but very pop culture–driven, and Jean, particularly, often couldn’t get into it as he didn’t know what they were on about. The funnest part was us saying “Bastard!” every time they sat down for another amazing restaurant dinner, the likes of which are not accessible to us right now, of course. **½


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So instead, I’m writing about “Little Women”

I haven’t blogged in ages because I keep thinking that I should write something personal and insightful. But when I start trying to do that, I just get bogged down. I don’t want to seem preachy, I don’t know how much I want to reveal–I just don’t enjoy it.

So chuck it. Let’s talk about Greta Gerwig’s Little Women.


I work at a tech company, and before the Christmas break, the chatter was all about Star Wars. Who would see it when, how many times, in what format, and at which theatre. So much excitement.

… Which I couldn’t share, ’cause I didn’t care. I did see the first two in this new Skywalker set. I thought the first one was too much of a rehash of the original Star Wars. I found the second better, more interesting. But this one, somehow, really seemed primarily aimed at the super-fans (who are legion). I’m sure it’s an entertaining enough movie. But I’m in no hurry to see it.

When I first saw the trailer for the new Little Women, I wasn’t sure it was necessary, given that the 1994 version was so good. I was intrigued, though, by the near suggestion that maybe Jo… Doesn’t get married?

And then all the amazing reviews started coming out, so I started really anticipating its release. I had visions of seeing it at the VIP theatre–lounging in my comfy chair, being served appetizers and wine–but then realized that while it was playing at that theatre, it wasn’t in the VIP room. (Not with stupid Star Wars hogging a bunch of those screens.) So instead we trundled off to see it at on a regular screen at a regular theatre, with regular seats and not even any popcorn, because the lineup to get that was too long. (Stupid Star Wars.)

Jean’s been watching a bunch of women-centred shows with me lately: TV series Fleabag (which he loved), the movie Girls Trip (which he did not; must agree it was pretty stupid), and the movie Booksmart (I liked this one more as it progressed; he remained unmoved by the main characters).

With Little Women, he loved the cinematography and found the characters interesting, if not always likable. He’s never read the book and doesn’t remember the 1994 Little Women (which we saw together), so the story was all new to him. He declared he wished there was more plot. (Does Fleabag really have any more plot, though?) And he kept mixing up the actors playing Beth and Amy (declaring they looked too much alike), which made for a certain amount of story confusion, as you might imagine.

Me, I read the book multiple times in my youth, so it was all about seeing how the famous scenes were interpreted this time. And the unique approach here is that much of the story is told in flash-back form, as the movie begins with Jo in New York, meeting Professor Bhaer. As events occur in that time line, she thinks back on moments from her youth.

It’s kind of an exhilarating way of presenting it, as those of us who are familiar with the story are also, basically, looking back on those scenes with nostalgia. Giving away Christmas dinner to the Hummels. Getting in trouble over pickled limes. Oh right, the ice skating accident. Beth and her piano. The burnt dress. The burnt dress. The burnt stories! (So much burning!)

The movie just skitters along at a contemporary pace, moving across scenes before we can get bored with them, but without seeming rushed.

The actors are all terrific. Among the famous are Saiorse Ronan as Jo, Emma Watson as Meg, Timothy Chalumet as Laurie, Laura Dern as Marmee, and Meryl Streep as Aunt March. Not previously known to me were Florence Pugh as Amy and Eliza Scanlen as Beth, which I assume contributed to Jean’s confusing the two of them. They stood up among this cast, with Pugh doing an especially great job with Amu. And I would note that both actors had startlingly rich, deep voices, which was really striking (to me; Jean claimed to not have noticed).

But does Jo marry? (Spoiler alert, I guess?) That’s the thing: it’s not clear. By that point in the story, Jo is working on a novel called Little Women, based on her life. She is discussing the fate of the fictional Jo with her editor, he of the opinion that women characters must end up either married or dead. There is a scene of Jo and Professor Bhaer kissing in the rain. But did that really happen or is it just written into the novel…?

Brilliant.

This Vox article–The power of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is that it doesn’t pretend its marriages are romantic–gives a great take on Little Women‘s “marriage problem”: that it’s hopelessly unsatisfying that Jo ends up with Professor Bhaer (especially the way he’s described in the novel) while Amy gets Laurie. Apart from making Jo’s marital status ambiguous, Gerwin makes the Laurie / Amy partnership much more palatable partly by, as the article says, spelling the economic reality for women at that time.

Sorry, Star Wars fan, for dumping on your movie, which I haven’t even seen. Just a joke. I do hope you enjoyed it. Because I do understand loving something in your childhood / teenagehood and wanting to see it re-created on-screen. Only for me, that something is a novel about four young women in the time period of the American Civil War.


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Movie review: Yesterday

The movie Yesterday has a great premise. And a great trailer about that premise.

Yesterday movie trailer (YouTube)

In case you missed it (and don’t want to watch it now), said premise is that after a mysterious, world-wide blackout, the entire world has forgotten that The Beatles ever existed. Save one guy. This guy–Jack Malik, a failed singer-songwriter–capitalizes on this anomaly to ignite his career by singing Beatles songs, claiming they are his own.

Even though I know–I know–that great trailers can be made for really poor films, I liked this one so much I made a point to go see this movie on opening weekend.

And… Maybe it’s not quite as great as the trailer? But it was still a very enjoyable, funny, fun, romantic movie.

Romantic? Yes, at heart it’s a romantic comedy about Jack and his manager, Ellie. Ellie has been carrying a torch for Jack for years; Jack has somehow failed to notice. Now she’s letting him know. But his increasing fame is, as one can imagine, nothing but a complication.

It actually fits in well with the story of him trying to build a singing career on singing Beatles tunes, given that they wrote so many love songs. And that part of the movie–Jack introducing the world to The Beatles canon–is as fun as you’d hope. (“Interesting you called it the USSR [re “Back in the USSR”]. Russia hasn’t been called that since before you were born.”) I especially liked the detail that Jack keeps munging up the lyrics. He knows the songs–of course he knows the songs, we all do–but he doesn’t necessarily deeply know the songs. He’s no Beatles guru, and he can’t look up the lyrics on Google. So he has to wrack his brain trying to remember them, and doesn’t always succeed. We get changed words here, reordered verses there, and a truly epic struggle to put “Eleanor Rigby” together.

Also good? While there is plenty of appreciation for The Beatles work (look, those are some catchy songs), it’s not instantaneous nor universal. Many of Jack’s early attempts to revive his career by singing their songs is met with a shrug.

I enjoyed the film’s twists, including the controversial one that I don’t want to spoil (but you, unlike Jack, can Google what that is). You can’t ponder the premise too deeply, of what the world would really be like had The Beatles never existed (no Oasis, sure, but who else…?), or what the nature of this “blackout” really is. You really just have to go with it. And thereby be rewarded with a film full of people that are great to spend time with.

And some pretty nice interpretations of the songs…


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And now, for something more trivial

Jean says I need a new post to replace the sad one. So, how about them Oscars, eh? (This is a topic Jean will find boring, but I assume that’s a preferable feeling.)

I have the PVR set to record the Academy Awards (plus the News at 11:00 pm that will, in fact, be the Academy Awards, continuing into overtime). But I do plan to watch the opening live. Because this:

Can you say squeee!!! (Even though the news has brought out the Adam Lambert haters. Get over yourselves!)

But, I can’t say how much of the rest I’ll watch live, since there are only some categories I’m interested in. And the show does go kind of late for a school night.

Best Picture

Unlike the actual awards, I’ll start here. No clear front runner this year! I don’t really expect Bohemian Rhapsody to take it, though if it did, I would be quite tickled. Can’t honestly argue that it deserves the honor, though. While I still think a lot of the criticism of it was on a weak foundation (that it should have aspired to documentary realism or portrayed Freddie in the way that individual imagined him to be), it remains true that some of the dialogue was clunky, and a number of the scenes were cliche (Freddie walks off in the rain, alone…[where is he going? Does he even have a wallet?]). It would deserve a Most Entertaining Picture award, but this is supposed to be Best Picture.

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Of the remaining contenders, I’ve seen four. Black Panther was a very smart superhero movie, and probably what I’d like to see win if not BoRhap. A Star Is Born hasn’t done too well this award season. I liked it, but it didn’t hit me emotionally the way it seems to have other people. BlacKkKlansman would be a real dark horse win, as most seem to admire it more than love it—me too, I suppose (though it was pretty entertaining, also).  And Roma? A real contender, they say, but too slow and low on plot for me. Of the ones I’ve seen, I’d rank it last in order of preference.

(And they do vote on Best Picture by ranked ballot, did you know that? Makes predictions even trickier, as people’s second and third choices can come into play.)

Of the ones I haven’t seen, it’s not due to lack of opportunity. Vice? Why would I see a movie about Dick Cheney? Green Book—actually, I’d probably like that one, and likely will see it at some point. It does sound rather Driving Miss Daisy, though, so I can see why it’s a controversial front-runner. And The Favourite? Is directed by the same person who directed The Lobster, which is not a selling point for me. The Lobster was creative and sort of compelling, but so disturbing! Too disturbing. And The Favourite is sitting at 94% with critics but only 65% with audiences. I remain leery of it.

The New York Times talked to 20 Academy Award voters about their Best Picture choice, and found no consensus (and a fair amount of mumbling about Bohemian Rhapsody being a guilty pleasure).

All 20, however, had the same pick for…

Lead Actor

And that was Rami Malek. So yes, he’s the favorite, and I would be disappointed if he didn’t win. He was so good in the role! And he gives the most gracious acceptance speeches, right up there with Alanis Morissette and Jared Leto.

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I don’t really care about the other acting nominations—I do think it would be nice for Glenn Close to finally get recognized, but I haven’t seen The Wife—so moving on to the key category of…

Sound Mixing

Admittedly, sound was one of the better aspects of Roma, with this surround thing happening that was something of an unprecedented experience. (But most people will see the movie on Netflix and miss all that.)

But Bohemian Rhapsody, people—that was one fine, fine-sounding film. Those were fantastic mixes of Queen songs, and they also did a great job of incorporating audience sounds (and making sure we could hear the dialogue)! I think it deserves this one.

Bohemian Rhapsody is also up for Sound Editing, but I’m not quite so sure what that is…

It’s also up for Film Editing, and I do know what that is, but also don’t feel qualified to comment on whether it merits that honor. (Though the American Cinema Editors thought it did, for what that’s worth.)

But getting back to sound…

Original Song

It’s got to be “Shallow” from A Star Is Born, right? And that’s fine with me. I don’t know any of the other songs, but I really like this one. Apart from Queen + Adam Lambert, the Lady Gaga / Bradley Cooper performance of it is the musical moment I’m most looking forward to.

And poor Mr. Cooper was snubbed for…

Director

Which most people think will go to Alfonso Cuaron for Roma. But I think it should be Spike Lee, for BlacKkKlansman. Because I liked that movie more, and because it’s absurd that Spike Lee hasn’t even been nominated until now!

Looking for anything else I at all care about…

Animated Feature

I only saw one of them, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but it was good, and is considered a leading contender. I’d be fine with that.

This weekend we might go see all the nominated…

Animated Short

films, but until or if that happens, I of course have no opinion here.

Well, that leaves a lot of Categories of Indifference. It would likely be wise to turn elsewhere after the Queen performance, and let the PVR pile up some footage that I could fast-forward through as required.

In the meantime, I shall distract myself with Adam Lambert’s new song, to be released tonight at midnight. (Bite me, haters.)


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Roma: The opposite of Bohemian Rhapsody

Critics are falling over themselves calling Roma the best movie of the year. It has won the New York Critics award, the LA Critics award, the San Francisco Critics Award. It was named top film by The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New York Times. Though it’s available on Netflix now, many of these writers emphasized the value of seeing the movie on the big screen in its limited release. So last weekend, we did that.

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We are not entirely in agreement with the critics. In fact, Jean declared it one of the worst movies he’s seen in a while.

Yet, it’s not one of those badly made, stupid movies. The black and white cinematography is, indeed, gorgeous. The actors, including the non-professional lead, are very good. It used surround sound in a way I’ve never experienced before–conversation coming from the side, ambient sound behind us. (In fact, at first I thought we were hearing bleeding from another cinema. Then I remembered it was a single-screen theatre.) The story has some sections that are quite moving, others rather shocking.

But. The story, inspired by writer and director Alfonso Cuaròn’s own childhood, hews very close to life. There are scenes of house cleaning, meal preparing, TV watching, house party attending. Events occur, some rather dramatic, but overall there isn’t much of a driving plot.

And that’s a problem. Apparently not for critics, but I think for much of the public. We want heightened reality out of our movies, because reality is kind of dull.

I realized that I should have researched more before heading out to see this one, but I was motivated by all the praise plus the fact that I’ve really enjoyed other movies by this director, including Y Tu Maman Tambien, Children of Men, and Arrival. I figured this one, like those, would have a strong plot. That was not the case.

It’s kind of the opposite of Bohemian Rhapsody, where many critics slagged the plot as cliche and superficial, and others criticized the many divergences from reality for heightened drama. But Bohemian Rhapsody was a crowdpleaser, likely in part because it did impose a dramatic arc on reality.

Whether you should watch Roma depends on what you’re looking for in a movie. It is on Netflix, so pretty low cost of entry to try it—though unless you have really great TV and surround sound system, it’s true that you’re going to miss out on some of what’s best about it. But if this is your kind of thing, I guess it’s a good example of that kind of thing.

Me, I like more of a story.


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Bohemian Rhapsody: The movie, the critics

220px-bohemian_rhapsody_posterWhat I wanted to do, really, was see Bohemian Rhapsody, the new Freddie Mercury biopic, on its first day out, so that I could make up my own mind about it without the critiques or praises of others clogging my brain. However, a combination of it being released in Europe a week before North America (theoretically, I could have flown to London for the premiere, but that seemed a bit much) and a lack of willpower on my part meant that I did read some early reviews.

Which were not exactly sterling, let’s put it that way (Bohemian Rhapsody review – Queen biopic will not rock you).

But I at least managed to keep my UK reading to a minimum and get to the North American preview performance.

My friends, I loved the movie.

Now, my husband’s said that it was Queen, so of course I’d like it. So I would just like to point out that I do not, in fact, like every Queen-adjacent product. I have this Queen Symphonic Tribute CD that I can’t stand, because the musical arrangements are crap. I’ve slogged through horribly written Queen bios. I did not enjoy the combination of Brian May, Roger Taylor, and Paul Rodgers performing Queen songs.

But this movie? It felt that it was made for me. I enjoyed seeing how they compressed events and use allusions to cover a decade and a half of Freddie’s life in 2 hours 15 minutes. I reveled in all the little in-jokes and references that only real Queen fans would catch: Jim Beach mucking with the sound board at Live Aid. Adam Lambert playing a trucker who catches Freddie’s eye. And I was totally captivated by Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie, which at times nearly brought me to tears.

All the music performance scenes are outstanding. And that whole final scene at Live Aid. Man. That’s every bit as good as you hope it will be. (And I love Live Aid almost as much as I love Queen.)

Being somewhat masochistic, and having seen it now, I can’t help reading the North American reviews. Now, some of them were positive (like the Toronto Star‘s), even if grudgingly (my favourite of these being the Washington Post’s: Bohemian Rhapsody is bad. Go see it anyway). But more were negative, some scathing (Globe and Mail: 1 star! New York Times: Mud on your face! Big disgrace! [that’s at least a clever diss.]). All adding up to a mere 55% (now 60%) positive critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

But a 92% (now 95%) positive audience score.

The most common complaint from the critics is that the movie is not that creative or edgy. And I’m going to grant that this is true. It’s pretty conventionally told, with a script that can’t seem to help but have its characters spell out its themes, however awkward the resulting dialog (The band is family. Freddie invents himself. Queen are a band of misfits.), rather than develop them through more natural interactions.

It’s just that I didn’t care. Cliches are cliches for a reason; they can be quite satisfying! The movie entertained me. But I guess when your job is to see all the movies, you need more from them to give them a good review. Fair enough.

But some other critiques? Deserve their own critique.

1. That the depiction of Freddie Mercury was disrespectful and inaccurate

The Globe and Mail review has that complaint, as does this Uproxx one. Interesting to me that these critics are so confident they know the essence of who Freddie Mercury was better than the people who actually knew and loved him, and who contributed to the film.

Yes, the movie depicts Freddie as, at one point, living a drug- and sex-fueled lifestyle while the rest of the band are settled with their wives and children. And this is a simplification—Roger’s marriages were rather turbulent, Brian fell in love with an actress he ultimately left his wife for, John used to drink vodka on stage, which doesn’t seem a good sign. But it’s a fact that the band was worried about Freddie’s behavior at this time, and that it did cause tension between them.

Overall, Malek plays Freddie as an essentially decent human being, one who struggled with loneliness, and who had a confidence in his talent that led to moments of arrogance. I’m OK with that depiction, and it squares with some of the stories I’ve read about him. I don’t get why it’s making some people so angry.

2. The movie skipped / condensed / reordered / simplified / added event x, y, or z

That it surely did, since otherwise the movie would have to be literally 15 years long. And admittedly, I had the advantage of knowing what was left out or added in, and just filling that in or correcting it mentally. And especially interesting are the bits they just assumed everyone knew and therefore didn’t bother depicting, like how enormously successful “Bohemian Rhapsody” (the song) was.

But OK, you can argue they didn’t make the best choices in how they selected or simplified events.

One common complaint was that it made Queen’s rise to fame look quick and easy, when in fact it was more of a struggle. That could have been interesting to show. But it probably wouldn’t have been as fun. Did you really want to see Freddie just hanging around with Smile for months, making suggestions, until Tim Staffell finally left? Or that one cute scene of him auditioning for Brian and Roger in the parking lot? Would it really be that interesting to watch the entire process of building a song like “We Will Rock You”? Versus just seeing it just go “whoosh” from studio stomping to stadium singalong?

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Then there are the things missing entirely: “How about his childhood in Zanzibar?” “What about all the drama with their first manager?” I could add my own: “What about Brian May contracting hepatitis and kiboshing their first US tour?” “What about Barbara Valentine, the other woman Freddie had a love affair with, in Munich? Wouldn’t that have added an interesting complication in this story?”

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The first cut of this movie was about 3 hours—maybe some of that is in there. If they ever release an extended version on DVD, that would be great. But I don’t think a theatre rock bio should be that long. And I’m not sure what I would drop from this version to add some of those other bits—though I would have scripted Freddie’s party scene differently. The band-mate fight they invented for the movie made them all look like asses; I think the other three getting alarmed at Freddie’s behavior and discussing that amongst themselves would have worked better. But some songs being out of order, the invented breakup… I can accept for the sake of drama.

Certainly the most controversial change was Freddie telling the band about his AIDS diagnosis shortly before the Live Aid concert. But in reality, that happened two years later. Some said that was unnecessarily manipulative.

But I don’t think it would have felt right if they had omitted AIDS from the movie entirely, to keep it in their selected time span. And, it’s an amazing scene in the film.

3. The movie isn’t gay enough

Likely fueled by Sasha Baron Cohen’s comments when he was dropped as the lead, has been the concern that Freddie would be “straight-washed”. Literally, before they even started filming, I read a whole ranty blog post rant by someone who was positive that would be the case. And then when the first trailer came out, and it showed Freddie with Mary Austin but not so much with dudes, same complaints.

But the movie very clearly (though not explicitly) covers the fact that Freddie had sex with men. Lots of men. And if it risks showing his being gay as a tragedy in his life (though that wasn’t, in fact, the easiest time to be gay), it certainly mitigates that by including the start of his loving relationship with Jim Hutton.

I’m too heterosexual to comment on whether the esthetic of this film is gay enough, but nobody’s going to come out of it thinking that Freddie was straight.

Conclusion

Freddie Mercury was a fascinating man. You could approach his life story from a lot of angles. I hope there are other movies, in the future, that have a different take, that focus on different parts of his life.

But for a first go, I’m satisfied. You might be, too.


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Juliet, Naked

Before the film Juliet, Naked, the following trailers were shown:

  • Colette, starring Keira Knightly, about writer Colette’s struggles to express herself as a writer in her own name, after her husband achieves success with the novels she ghost writes for him.
  • Mary Shelley, starring Elle Fanning, about what inspired Shelley to write Frankenstein, including a battle against the men who tried to take credit for it.
  • The Wife, starting Glenn Close, about a woman who gave up on her own ambitions to support her husband’s literary efforts, and what that cost her.

Wow. Can’t imagine why there are so many movies about women’s anger and their fight for self-expression right now.

#BelieveWomen #MeToo #StopKavanaugh

Juliet, Naked is a lighter film—but still the story of a woman. Annie (played by Rose Byrne) is dissatisfied with her life: the job she settled into in the town she grew up in, and especially, her long-term relationship with live-in boyfriend Duncan (played by Chris O’Dowd). Duncan has an obsession with an 1990s singer who released a single album: Tucker Crowe. Even before he has an actual affair, Annie feels she’s lost him to someone else.

Juliet, Naked refers to a demo CD that Duncan gets his hands on, featuring early versions of the songs on Tucker Crowe’s album. Annie writes a dissenting review of the album that attracts Crowe’s attention, and they begin an online correspondence. They finally meet when Crowe has business in London…

This was a perfectly delightful movie, largely because of the cast. Tucker Crowe’s kind of a wreck of man, but Ethan Hawke plays him with just the right amount of messy charm. He has very good chemistry with Rose Byrne. And Chris O’Dowd can’t help but be funny and somewhat likable as Duncan, which is important—you can understand why Annie might have fallen for him in the first place.

And the synopsis might make it sound as though Annie is “saved” by Tucker, but that’s not really how this goes. The impediments to their living happily ever after, often so contrived in romantic comedies, are pretty straightforward in this one: the continent between them, the very different places they are at in their lives. Really, Annie saves herself.

This is hardly a vital film you must see to understand the current state of our culture. It’s an enjoyable escape that you don’t need to feel guilty about. And it has a pretty good soundtrack.