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Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Writer's Life 12/3 - Nebbish/Savant

"The heart wants what it wants," said Emily Dickinson long ago. I remember hearing Woody Allen use that quote. It has been one of the major themes of his cinema canon, the way certain people easily change romantic partners. That's what I was thinking while watching his most recent work, Cafe Society (2016). In fact, the film seems like a recap of many of his others. He supplies the voice-over narration in a lower tone than usual that had me questioning if it was him. Jesse Eisenberg stars. What's different about his character than most of Allen's protagonists is self-confidence. He does not use the amalgam of nebbish/savant that Allen did for so long. He plays an ambitious young man who travels to the Hollywood of the 1930's, is dismayed by its shallowness, and returns to NYC, where he becomes the host of a successful nightclub owned by his gangster older brother. Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively play his love interests. As usual, the auteur attracted seasoned veterans to spout his intelligent dialogue: Steve Carell, Corey Stool, Parker Posey, Jeannie Berlin, Tony Sirico among them. The narrative is mostly light but features the dark overtones explored in Allen's best works. The soundtrack includes recordings of several jazz standards common to Allen's works, but also features fantastic interpretations of standards dominated by piano. I'm not sure who exactly did which cuts. Peter Yarin is the pianist for Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, who receive credit on eight tracks of the CD. Conal Fowkes is credited with two. The best line comes near the end, spoken by the protagonist's brother in law: "Socrates said, 'The unexamined life is not worth living.' But the examined one is no bargain." Typically, it runs only 96 minutes. I don't recall any of Allen's films running longer than that. 30,000+ users at IMDb have rated Cafe Society, forging to a consensus of 6.8 of ten, which seems about right. I'm not sure if anyone outside his legion of admirers would like it. As far as it place in his impressive canon, I'd place it above the middle.

After watching the movie, I took a cruise around the dial with the remote control and landed on PBS, which was airing a concert by a young male singer named Emin, who was accompanied by pianist/composer David Foster. He was crooning Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad, which I'm embarrassed to admit I'd never heard. Written by Bono and the Edge in the early '90's, it was the B side of a single. He sent it to Frank Sinatra who, unfortunately, was too ill to record it. It would have been perfect for him. Here's a clip of it from a 1995 tribute to Old Blue Eyes:

Hail, Broncos! My alma mater, Western Michigan, finished the regular season 13-0 after last night's win, 29-23, over Ohio U. in the MAC championship game. Frosh Butch Hampton kicked five field goals. The outcome was sealed by an interception in WMU territory in the final minute. Now the team awaits its bowl destination. Kudos to the staff and players.

My thanks to the young woman who overpaid for five books and wished me a Merry Christmas, and to Gina who bought Harold Robbins' The Raiders, and to Steve, aka Mr. Conspiracy, who donated a number of works of non-fiction, including one on his archenemy - President-elect Trump.
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