My middle-west: Gatsby Day in Ann Arbor

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books of all time. I can’t even remember the first time I read it, but I think it was in eighth or ninth grade. I know I never had to read it in school. I *think* Uncle Tom told me to read it (this would be around the same time he told me to read On the Road – Uncle T. has pretty great taste in books). I’m pretty sure my first copy which has long since went missing came from Gran’s basement.

gatsby

I hadn’t read the book for a few years when we moved to Connecticut in 2007. A late-night conversation in Hanafin’s Pub with several literary-minded friends (Kevin Doyle or Amanda Lester or Scott Rottinghaus) inspired me to re-read it then. To a midwesterner living on the Long Island Sound, Nick Carraway and his musings on the east coast being a different place suddenly became a little more relatable.

Gatsby infatuation reached a frenzy in our crowd that year when Kevin started throwing his annual Gatsby parties. Held on/around the solstice (“the longest day of the year”), the Gatsby party was the opportunity we all wanted to wear (in some cases extravagant) costumes, experiment with mixing prohibition-era cocktails, and play yard games such as bocce ball and croquet – Kevin’s yard was a bit small for Tom Buchanan’s beloved polo ponies; also, we weren’t actually rich enough for polo.

Gatsby 2009. New London, CT

Gatsby 2009. New London, CT

(By the end of these nights, the boys would be wearing the sequined headbands, we’d be drinking rum and cokes or vodka tonics, and the croquet contingent would have moved on to beer pong – still, we were classy up to that point.)

When we moved back to Michigan, I made two attempts to re-imagine the Gatsby party here, but it never quite translated – simply put, a Gatsby party is an East Coast garden party, not a Midwestern bar party. Not that they weren’t fun in their own ways; they just weren’t quite right.

Gatsby 2011, Ypsilanti, MI

Gatsby 2011, Ypsilanti, MI

Despite reading the book multiple times and attending/throwing multiple themed parties, I had never watched Gatsby on film. Part of this is because Mia Farrow kind of creeps me out (I can’t explain it) and partly because Robert Redford just seemed a little bland. The movie itself seemed like it would be a little bland. I just never had any desire to watch it (though when in Newport, I did visit Rosecliff, the house where several scenes were filmed). 

Rosecliff, Newport, RI

Rosecliff, Newport, RI

Then, a year or two ago, people started talking about a new Gatsby, this time helmed by Baz “Mouling Rouge” Luhrmann. Baz + Gatsby sounded anything BUT bland.

I kept tabs on the movie for the next year and a half or so. The main cast was announced. Leo as Gatsby! (That could work, I thought.) Tobey as Nick! (That seemed weirdly perfect, actually.) Carey Mulligan for Daisy! (This one sold me; I loved her in An Education.) I got hyped up for a Christmas 2012 release date…only to have it pushed back to May. (This was ultimately a good thing; otherwise I would have spent Christmas day holed up in a movie theater watching Leo wear the heck out of his pastel suits in two movies – Django Unchained was released the same day and I’m a huge Tarantino fan – instead of with my family.) 

Gatsby day drew closer. I re-read the book (I actually hadn’t read it since 2008). I started to get nervous. Would it be TOO cartoony? Would Tom Buchanan be too much of a buffoon-y racist? Would the Gatsby/Daisy romance be treated as something much more innocent and romantic than it actually is? Reviews were not helping (they never do, though, do they?).

Ralph also re-read the book, though he fails to see what all the fuss is about.

Ralph also re-read the book, though he fails to see what all the fuss is about.

No matter how I ultimately ended up feeling about this movie, I was determined to see it. I gathered up some girls – girls, who I might add, have been very supportive of my obsession with Gatsby/Fitzgerald/cocktail-mixing/costume-wearing/theme parties/etc. – and we headed downtown to the Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor’s beautifully-restored 1920’s movie palace and the only place in town I could fathom seeing this film (sorry, Rave Motion Pictures and your stadium seating). 

The Michigan Theater marquee

The Michigan Theater marquee

While I didn’t go full costume (I would have had we gone on opening night, no doubt), I did deck myself out a feathered hair piece, several long, tasseled necklaces and an absurd amount of makeup for 4:00 p.m. (Actually, we all showed up in a lot of makeup and blingy headbands – lingering after-effects of the previous years’ parties, I guess.)

(This next portion contains plot spoilers – if you’re not familiar and want to be surprised, I’d suggest you stop here just to be safe.)

The good parts of The Great Gatsby were indeed great: it was visually stunning; I loved the stylized depictions of Long Island and New York City and the miserable valley of ashes. One of my favorite scenes from an aesthetic standpoint was when Nick walks in to the Buchanans’ house and into the room where Daisy and Jordan are languishing on the couch: the flowing white drapes, the breeze, the laziness of the women in white dresses, the bejeweled hands draped over the couch…that was Fitzgerald’s slightly magical description somehow brought perfectly to life.

The casting was spot-on. Gastby himself has always been a hard character for me to formulate visually in my mind; I thought Leo nailed it. Young-ish, handsome but not TOO perfect-looking, capable of the occasional crazy eyes, the ability to appear extremely vulnerable AND extremely confident…loved him. (Although having recently seen Django, I did sort of expect him to invite everyone into the parlor for WHite cake.) Jordan Baker looked exactly how I wanted her to look – she even looked a little sneaky, though the movie largely avoids those small mentions of her character. Carey Mulligan was a wonderful Daisy – she has such an interesting face and expressive eyes. However, my favorite from a casting perspective was far and away Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan. I think I gasped when he walked onscreen with that pervy little mustache and those fantastic riding boots. The looks were right and he nailed the character – he’s a bigot with a mixed-up moral code, but he doesn’t veer into cartoon territory.

Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan

Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan

The bad…well, the framing device (Nick in the nuthouse; Nick writing a novel) was totally lame. The typed words appearing on the screen were beyond cheesy. I get that we want – even need – Nick’s first-person narration; this just seemed like such a cop-out way to provide it…not that I have any better suggestions. Also, some things were a bit too literal…do we really have to show Gatsby physically reaching toward the green light?

I thought Daisy’s hard edge was softened a bit. A favorite scene of mine in the novel is when Nick describes seeing Tom and Daisy sitting at the table eating cold fried chicken and talking quietly together after the big hotel blowout. To me, that scene sums up Daisy: she loves attention and she loves drama and she probably does love Gatsby a little bit, but she can walk away from anything. The scene (sort of) appears in the movie, but it doesn’t translate the same way it does for me in the book. However, the Gatsby/Daisy romance is not simplified/overplayed the way I feared it would be, so overall I was pretty happy.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the movie’s use of modern music – it’s distracting at first, but once you settle in to the style of the film, it works. You just have to go with it. (If anyone remembers that Heath Ledger monstrosity A Knight’s Tale, this is wayyyyyy less jarring than when David Bowie starts playing at the ball.)

Overall impression? I liked it. A LOT. Maybe even loved it. I’ll probably (read: will) see it again and find more things to both swoon over and pick at. It’s over the top and a little melodramatic, but hey, so is the book.

Also, if you see this movie in Ann Arbor, go to the Raven’s Club after viewing – the lack of signage, dark room and bulbous light fixtures will make you feel like you’re in a speakeasy and the cocktail menu and glassware will only enhance that feeling. You can order the “Old Pal” (if you like whiskey, that is) and refer to it as the “Old Sport”… but just so you know, your companions/waitress will think that gets old fast.

The Old Sport - I mean, Old Pal

The Old Sport – I mean, Old Pal

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Aut and Black

When I woke up feeling extremely queasy on the morning of December 31, I did not have high hopes for either New Year’s Eve or the beginning of 2011. Luckily, a nap on the car ride home from Indianapolis and an additional nap when we arrived seemed to do the trick (I think I was suffering from severe indigestion due to the junk food I ate continuously throughout the week) and by around 8:00 I was feeling good enough to partake in our group’s New Year’s Eve tradition.

There’s not much to our tradition – Jess, Soph, and I put together a smorgasbord of snacks, Jess and I drink sparkling wine all night, we find something sweet and preferably peach-flavored for Anthony, and then we alternate playing video games and watching Dick Clark.  Last year’s game of choice was Rock Band. This year we opted for a dancing theme, with Just Dance and Just Dance 2 for the Wii and Dance Central for the Kinect. A most excellent time was had by all.

With 2010 going out on such a high note, it seemed appropriate to ring in 2011 in style as well. Patti, Ricki, and I decided to celebrate New Year’s day with brunch at the Aut Bar and a screening of Black Swan.

Aut Bar interior (autbar.com)

The Aut Bar is one of the most welcoming brunch settings in town. The first-floor interior of the bar retains a house-like layout, with lots of cozy nooks to settle into. The walls are painted in shades of warm reds and yellows. The staff is always friendly and the food is very good. Much of the Saturday brunch menu has a Mexican theme, an ode to the owners’ previous career of operating a Mexican restaurant.  All the better for the patrons – I can think of very few brunch foods I would prefer to a plate of Huevos Rancheros with black beans and rice (and a side of the Aut Bar’s terrific guacamole!) A nicely-spiced Bloody Mary (served with e garnish of celery, a hot pepper, and an olive) completes the feast nicely. A cup of locally-roasted coffee didn’t hurt, either.

Properly fueled up by our fantastic brunch, we headed over to the Quality 16 for Black Swan. All three of us girls are big Natalie Portman fans, so we were very much looking forward to what some critics say is her best performance yet.

All I can say after viewing this movie is WOW. First of all, it made me think of “Swan Lake” in an entirely new light (a pretty messed-up story, when you consider it). Secondly, this film is perfectly cast. Not only does Natalie make the best little-girl-turned-psycho-ballerina, but after seeing Barbara Hershey as her mother and (my favorite) Vincent Cassel as the director of the ballet company, I couldn’t  begin to imagine anyone else playing those parts. Bonus: Mila Kunis does a complete 180 from her role as ditzy Jackie on “That 70’s Show” playing a rival ballerina. Third, it’s a beautiful film to look at – the costumes and sets for the ballet scenes are extravagant and sumptuous.

All that said, this movie is not for everyone. It’s got a horror movie feel (and using classical ballet music instead of cheesy horror movie music during the scary scenes very effectively adds to the suspense). You really identify with Natalie as she starts to mentally break down. It’s pretty intense – but if you can handle it, it’s amazing. (I would recommend going to a movie theater near a bar – the three of us had to decompress with drinks at Weber’s.) Check out the trailer below if you’re interested:

I hope everyone was able to send 2010 out and ring 2011 in as pleasantly as I did. Happy new year, and here’s to a new year’s worth of adventures!

 

Summer in the City

While living in New London, Connecticut, one of my favorite things to do was go to the Wednesday night movies at the Hygienic Art Gallery. The Hygienic had a beautiful little courtyard space and made use of it on summer weeknights by screening an eclectic variety of films. We watched everything from “The Muppet Movie” to “Rebel Without a Cause.” We’d go across the street to Thames River Wine and Spirits, pick up a bottle of something (usually rose, since it was summer), grab a hunk of stinky cheese from Brie & Bleu, and settle in for the evening.

The Top of the Park movies at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival are not quite the same thing. For one, the summer festival is a large, three-week event that includes live music, performers, and DJs – not just movies. Also, the Summer Festival takes up the better part of a block and most of Ingalls Mall (over by the Rackham Graduate School building) – a far cry from our little “art park.” Visitors to the summer festival are discouraged from bringing in their own food and drink – local restaurants have food for sale, and the festival itself sponsors several concession and beverage tents with all proceeds geared toward keeping the festival free of charge.

As long as I can see a classic (I’m using the term fairly loosely) movie under the stars for free, I’m happy with almost any format.

Photo from AnnArbor.com

The Summer Festival movie line-up this year – my first summer back in the area – has not disappointed. The other night, Rose, Amelia, and I watched the Alfred Hitchcock classic “The Birds”and coveted Tipi Hedren’s classic look and style. An eclectic line-up of movies is still to come over the next two weeks, including “Casablanca,” “(500) Days of Summer,” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (have I mentioned that I am totally in love with Indiana Jones?)

Tipi Hedren in "The Birds" - stylish even under duress

While I used to go to the Summer Festival strictly for the movies, I have grown to appreciate the other parts as well. The music represents a variety of styles, ages, and genres. Rose and I danced barefoot in the street to the sounds of the Kielbasa Kings, a polka band, and I hope to make it downtown on Sunday night for Greensky Bluegrass, a (duh) bluegrass ensemble.

Dancing in the street

While I wish it were permissible to bring your own food and beverages, when it comes down to it I don’t really have a problem shelling out five bucks for a glass of drinkable Sauvignon Blanc if it ultimately keeps providing me with three weeks worth of free entertainment every summer. I miss the Hygienic, but I can’t deny that it’s good to be back in Ann Arbor.

Five (well, six) Movie Men Worth Loving

Jess and I went downtown on Thursday night for the screening of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Michigan Theater. We both love the book and movie, but hadn’t seen the movie in probably seven or eight years. It turns out that To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those movies that just gets better as you get older – more sad, more affecting, just more everything. And of course, Gregory Peck just gets more handsome. Peck as Atticus Finch is one of my favorite all-time screen men, both character-wise and looks-wise (the floppy hair, the nerdy glasses, the three-piece suits – all of this adds up to perfection in my mind).

At the Michigan Theater

Men don't look like this in real life.

In honor of our recent swoon-fest, I’ve decided to re-tool a post from my previous incarnation of this blog. The post is from July 2008 and is titled “Five Movie Men Worth Loving” (you can read the original version if you desire by clicking the link). I left Atticus off this list not because he doesn’t fit the sexiness requirement (I’d boot Captain Von Trapp for him in the category), but rather because Atticus Finch just seems like too noble a character to put on such a shallow list. However, random scientists and humanitarians show up on People‘s “Sexiest Man Alive” list alongside George Clooney (double swoon!), so maybe my logic is misguided. Consider Atticus number six.

Five Movie Men Worth Loving

5) C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant)

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

When it comes to pure, classic charm, George Clooney ain’t got nothin’ on Carey Grant, and Carey is at the height of that charm as C.K. Dexter Haven, the rich playboy ex-husband of Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn). Besides having a most excellent name, C.K. Dexter Haven is handsome, witty, clever, and just a lot of fun all-around. Who wouldn’t love him?

4) Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando)

On the Waterfront (1954)

Terry Malloy is the complete opposite of C.K. Dexter Haven in everything except good looks. Where Dexter is rich, Terry is poor. Where Dexter is a suave society man, Terry is a washed-up boxer working on the docks. Dexter mingles with socialites, Terry mingles with the mob. So what’s so great about Terry Malloy? He is the ultimate brooding, misunderstood, trying-to-make-it-right guy you’re going to find in the movies. Plus, where Dex is handsome, Terry Malloy is sexy. It makes watching Marlon Brando’s later movies that much harder.

3) Captain Georg Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer),
The Sound of Music (1965)

Let me start by saying that Captain Von Trapp is not sexy upon his first appearance in The Sound of Music. He is kind of weird looking, and an asshole, AND has seven children to boot. This does not add up to sexiness. But Captain Von Trapp grows on you. Maybe it’s the singing. Maybe it’s that whole not-giving-in-to-the-Nazis thing. Maybe he just looks good in a fedora. All I know is every time I get to the end of The Sound of Music, I’m pretty much willing to escape to Switzerland.

2) Rhett Butler (Clark Gable)

Gone With the Wind (1939)

If you don’t think Rhett Butler is sexy, well, you’re just dumb. Yes, he is pompous and selfish and arrogant…and witty and passionate and did I mention extremely good-looking? Bonus points for wearing a cape and having a mustache and still being sexy. And underneath it all, he turned out to be a fairly decent guy. He sweeps women off their feet – literally.

1) Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart)

Casablanca (1942)

Like Captain Von Trapp, Rick Blaine is not the most classically handsome man in the world – but he is one of the best dressed. Watching Casablanca can cause one to think that white dinner jackets are overdue for a comeback. Whether in his dinner jacket and bowtie or his trench coat and fedora, Rick Blaine is always dressed for the occasion and tailored to the max. Personality-wise, he’s got it going on as well: the brooding “why-me” of Terry Malloy; the dapper society outlaw-ishness of Rhett Butler; some of C.K Dexter Haven’s witty comeback ability, and just enough of Captain Von Trapp’s “do the right thing” moral standard to be appealing rather than annoying. Plus, he owns a bar and that’s just cool. Also, Rick made smoking look hip and classy, a definite no-no in today’s movie-making atmosphere. All of these attributes add up to unequivocally give Rick Blaine the number one spot on this list.

I limited this list to older movies – there are definitely modern movie men worth loving (I could write a whole post on how much I love the character Indiana Jones alone) but these are movie men who stand up to the test of time.

Which movie characters do you love?

Tonight!

I’ll write up a post about this post-event, but on the off chance that my blog has readers in the Ann Arbor area that have totally missed seeing this on AnnArbor.com, Facebook, or in some other local publication, I had to put out a notice.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird – one of my favorite books of all time – the Michigan Theater is screening the 1962 film starring the perfectly cast Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch (insert swoon here) and a very young Robert Duvall as Boo Radley.

In addition, a panel of local book and movie experts (yes, we have local experts of this type in Ypsi/Ann Arbor) will be leading a discussion comparing and contrasting the book and movie.

You can read more about the event in the AnnArbor.com write up. I hope to see you there. THIS is why I love living in a college town!