HOTM: Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire Wednesday, Dec 31 2008 

The hottie of the month for December is Georgiana Cavendish, duchess of Devonshire, the subject of Keira Knightley‘s latest film, which PJ and I saw earlier this month. Here’s the trailer:

Georgiana lived a colorful life. She married the duke just before she turned seventeen. He was one of the richest and most powerful men in the country at the time. Their marriage is probably most interesting due to the fact that Georgiana’s best friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster, was the duke’s mistress for some twenty years before the duchess’s death allowed them to marry. Furthermore, the basic set up of their marriage, an older man who marries a younger woman, was satirized in Richard Brinsley Sheridan‘s School for Scandal. And finally, just as her husband had a mistress, Georgiana had a lover, Charles Grey, by whom she bore a daughter, Eliza Courtney.

Georgiana was also famous for her beauty, which she put to political use campaigning for the Whigs. She was regularly features in the newspapers and satirical prints of the day. In addition to her beauty and politics, she was an infamous gambler. When she died, she was deeply in debt as a result of her gambling losses.

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Protected: At This Point in My Life Sunday, Dec 21 2008 

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Les Chansons d’Amour: A Review Thursday, Dec 18 2008 

Last night, PJ and I rewatched Les Chansons d’Amour, a French film written and directed by Christophe Honoré and starring our favorite French actor, Louis Garrel. It premiered in the U.S. earlier this year, but we first watched it on dvd through Netflix. I liked it so much that I decided to buy it once the dvd became widely available. It’s a great film.

This quirky musical is ostensibly about ménage à trois between Ismaël, played by Garrel, his girlfriend Julie, played by Ludivine Sagnier, and his co-worker Alice, played by Clotilde Hesme. The film is divided into three acts. In Act 1, The Departure, the threesome, which, after a month of togetherness has begun to fall apart, is rocked by tragedy. Act 2, The Absence, looks at Ismaël’s attempts to deal with the absence of love in his life, but Act 3, The Return, presents him with an unexpected romantic opportunity in the form of Erwann, played by Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet. Here’s the trailer:

This film is unlike just about any other film I’ve ever seen. First, the music isn’t glammed up. The songs are relatively simple, and the actors sing their parts without sounding like professional recording artists. I really liked the tentativeness this brought to many of their duets (and trios), a feeling that often reflected the emotions the characters are expressing in the words of the song. Second, the opening act’s action blends realism with non-realism. Some of the characters’ dialogue (especially that between the three lovers) is playful and self-consciously performative, by which I mean that the characters know they’re performing roles for one another and that in self-consciously performing the role they are simultaneously making those roles “real.” These moments, however, are also recognitions that the three lovers are falling apart. They are trying to substitute these performances for the “real,” something that may only temporarily work. And finally, this film blends comedy, romance, and tragedy in a very sophisticated way. I think it’s rare for a musical to really explore the death of a loved one and to show how that loss can devastate lovers, friends, and family. This one goes there.

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Milk: A Review Sunday, Dec 14 2008 

While PJ and I were in NYC earlier this month, we took the opportunity to see Gus Van Sant‘s new movie, Milk, starring Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, and Diego Luna. Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk’s repeated attempts, and ultimate success, to become the first openly gay man to be elected to a major office in the U.S., San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, in 1977. Milk was also famous for having been assassinated by fellow supervisor Dan White in 1978.

Here’s the trailer:

There’s no reason to beat around the bush: I loved this movie. I’ll have to think about it a little more before definitely committing to this declaration, but it could very well be the best gay movie I’ve ever seen.

I have nothing but praise for this film. Let’s start with the film’s narrative device. It’s narrated by Milk, who tape records an overview of his life to be played if he is assassinated. I liked this device, since it helps to create a point of view and shapes our vision of Milk himself.

This device feeds into our appreciation of Penn’s performance, since it doubles his role — he’s both the present-tense narrator and the past-tense character. Penn is magnificent in this film. He’s already won an Oscar for Mystic River, which I didn’t really are for. (He should have won that year but for 21 Grams.) If there is any justice in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he’ll win his second Oscar for this role. His performance is transcendent. He beautifully captures Milk’s aspiration, energy, and humor. When he smiles as Milk, you can see why Milk succeeded in the ways he did.

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Visiting Ellis Island Friday, Dec 12 2008 

One of the highlights of PJ’s and my trip to NYC last week was our visit to Ellis Island. We took the subway down to Battery Park and then caught the ferry over to Ellis Island.

On the way over, the ferry docked at Liberty Island, where the Statue of Liberty stands. If we had wanted to, we could have gotten off the boat, looked around the Island, and then caught the next ferry over to Ellis Island. But we decided to skip the Statue of Liberty and just head on over to Ellis Island.

Since going to Niagara Falls this past summer, I’ve discovered by fondness for ferry and ferry-sized boat travel. The ride around the Statue of Liberty was particularly fun, since the weather was nice and the trip really gives you a pretty close view of the statue.

This is just one of a couple dozen pictures I snapped of the Statue from various angles. This one is my favorite, though, because it gets everything into one picture — the statue, the little people in the foreground, and the beautiful, blue sky.

PJ visited NYC in 1987. Visitors could still go up into the statue’s head/crown back then. You can’t anymore, so we figured it wasn’t really worth a visit. I didn’t realize that there’s also an exhibit about the statue in the base. Maybe that would have lured me into visiting.

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Visiting the Tenement Museum Monday, Dec 8 2008 

While PJ and I were in NYC last week, we visited the Tenement Museum, a museum dedicated to telling “the stories of immigrants who lived in 97 Orchard Street, a tenement built in 1863 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.” We both loved this museum, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting NYC.

The museum offers guided tours of apartments in this tenement building. Each apartment recreates immigrant life in the nineteenth or twentieth century by focusing on a specific family. The tours also emphasize issues of health and the history of immigration in the U.S.

We went on the fourth-floor tour, entitled “The Moores: An Irish Family in America.” Our tour guide was great. She made the tour fun while also emphasizing the serious issues that this tour wanted to convey to visitors.

The Moores moved to the Orchard Street tenement in 1869, just six years after the building was built. One of the things our tour guide emphasized was just how progressive the building was for its time, especially in promoting sanity sewer and water conditions. Unlike many other tenements at this time, 97 Orchard Street was hooked up to the city’s sewer system, which prevented its outhouses from overflowing and contaminating the water supply, which was right next to the outhouses in the back yard.

As our guide noted, this tenement was a step up for the Moores, who had previously lived in a more crowded, less sanitary neighborhood. One of the interesting things about the tour is the information we got about the neighborhood and how immigration patterns in the nineteenth century are quite similar to the neighborhood’s current pattern, the key difference being the nation of origin for the immigrants. In the nineteenth century this neighborhood was largely German; today it’s right on the edge of Manhattan’s Chinatown.

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New York Theater 2008: Four Reviews Saturday, Dec 6 2008 

While we were in New York City this week, PJ and I saw four plays: Mouth to Mouth, off-Broadway, and three Broadway shows, In the Heights, The Seagull, and Gypsy. These four plays were all at least as good as the plays we saw last year, which was a little surprising since we hadn’t really planned on seeing two of them.

We arrived in NYC a couple of hours later than we had planned — airport delays — on Monday. So, we rushed to check in and then walked over to the TKTS booth to see what we could find to see. Unlike past years, we decided this time to only buy tickets at the discount booth, which obviously meant that we didn’t necessarily have control over what we saw. Furthermore, Mondays are mostly dark, which means that few shows are actually playing.

We had looked on the Internet before arriving in NYC to see what was playing on Monday. One of the shows we thought might be interesting was Kevin Elyot’s Mouth to Mouth. We also liked that this play was being performed at the Acorn Theater. Last year we saw Things We Want at the Acorn, and the year before that we saw The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie there. So, it’s now a bit of a tradition for us to see a play at the Acorn each time we’re in New York.

Mouth to Mouth is about a man who’s HIV positive, Frank, played by David Cale, who is racked with guilt over a secret he’s keeping from his best friend, Laura, played by Lisa Emery. Over the course of the play we go back and forth between the present and the previous year as we learn what Frank’s secret is and how it affects him and the people around him.

One of these people is Laura’s son, Philip, played by Christopher Abbott. Philip makes quite an entrance: he arrives onstage wearing only jeans. While the part calls for Abbott to be sexy and alluring, he manages to bring more than just a great body to the role. Philip is a complicated character, one that remains elusive since the play is more or less told from Frank’s point of view.

This elusive quality is one of the complaints I have about the play. I think it would work better and be far more engaging if we knew more about Philips’ motivations, behaviors, and point of view. Elyot is trying to explore very complicated ground in this work — I don’t want to summarize it too fully since that would lessen the play’s impact for anyone who might see it — but this ground could be even more complex and interesting.

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New York, New York [w/ update] Wednesday, Dec 3 2008 

PJ and I are having a great time in New York City this week. Liza opens on Broadway tonight (we’re seeing The Seagull instead), so here’s a clip of one of her signature songs:

We’re here until Friday morning. I’m looking forward to blogging about it when I get home. Here’s one more clip in honor of the city:

UPDATE: Posting this link on my blog was obviously some sort of magical charm. Chris Noth, Mr. Big himself, was in the audience at The Seagull on Wednesday night. PJ said that his being there was more exciting than the play itself. More about that later, when I blog about the plays and musicals we saw.