Lame Adventure 442: The Misery of Company

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that New York City’s population has hit a record high of 8,405,837, so the city with insomnia is getting even more crowded and that can undoubtedly bring out the worst in some inhabitants.

When I leave The Grind at 5:30 I hustle to catch the uptown express at the Chambers Street subway station back to my home base, the Upper West Side. On nights when the stars are in perfect alignment I can return home by 5:54. On other nights, when my train karma is comatose it might be closer to 6:15. On those nights when I have to do laundry, cutting it close is the cause for a level of anxiety that can almost merit professional psychiatric help. A mere nanosecond of delay can make all the difference in getting a washer or not at my laundromat. Last wash is at 6:30 and this is the only laundromat close to where I live.

To further fray what remains of my shredded nerves, the fleet of fully operational washers has been cut in half in recent months. I asked the attendant why the owner does not have the broken washers repaired. She explained that the repairman died. I remembered that guy.

Me: He didn’t look old and he didn’t look ill.

Attendant: He was fifty-five.

I thought:

Me (thinking): Ugh.

I said:

Me: What did he die of?

Attendant: He dropped dead.

Me (thinking): Ow.

I wondered why this dead guy is so irreplaceable? Does he not have a single successor in a city of 8,405,837, or now, 8,405,836? Was he really the only guy in the five boroughs that can work laundromat machine repair?

Last Thursday, my train karma was sluggish. It was rainy and I did not make it back uptown on laundry night until 6:10. I thought that the foul weather would work in my favor and deter customers from doing their laundry, but I was mistaken. When I arrived, every single load washer was in use. Customers avoid the larger washers because they cost more. I noticed that I had never seen any of these customers before. I thought that was strange. It brought to mind the lyrics in an old Doors’ song, People Are Strange:

The Doors: When you’re strange, faces come out of the rain.

I doubt that the customers in my laundromat were what Jim Morrison had in mind when he wrote those lyrics, but he was probably high so anything is possible. One woman hogged three washers. With the Washer Hog dominating forty-five percent of the single load machines, the attendant let me use a double loader, which usually costs $4.50, for $3. A single load machine is $2.50.

Half of the driers are also broken, but I was able to score one when the Washer Hog was plying the attendant with questions. I felt like I had won Powerball or at least five bucks on a scratch off lottery card. When I returned to retrieve my dried clothes, the joint was still jumping. There were three people, two millennials and a man in his sixties, waiting. I could feel three pairs of eyes on me as I removed my load. I figured that someone wanted to pounce on my dryer so I moved fast, what I consider basic public laundromat courtesy. What I didn’t realize was that in my haste to be considerate I dropped a green sock and a pair of blue underwear on the floor. None of my three witnesses said:

Three Witnesses: Hey, you dropped that!

Fortunately, the attendant noticed. Maybe I was mistaken and none of the three had seen my airborne garments. Possibly they had more pressing thoughts on their minds than my fallen sock and underwear?

From the Not Flashy but Practical Collection.

From the Not Flashy but Practical Collection.

When I was zipping my jacket to get ready to leave, the guy in his sixties weaseled over to my cart where I had placed my umbrella. He dipped his hand in and palmed it.

Me: What are you doing with my umbrella, Sir?

He let it go.

Would-be Umbrella Thief: I thought it was mine.

Me: Uh-huh. So your initials are also E.B. for Editta Bendix?

EB umbrella.

EB umbrella.

Would-be Umbrella Thief: It looked like mine. It’s black.

He scurried out into the drizzle, umbrella-less. I guestimate that ninety-one percent of the umbrellas in New York City are black, including the one Would-be Umbrella Thief didn’t bring to the laundromat. As for those initials, I’ll admit it here: they’re  for Eddie Bauer.

Lame Adventure 441: My First Public F-bomb

If dogs had life spans that equaled humans, my childhood canine companion, Mean Streak, would have turned forty-five this Friday. Meanie only made it to sixteen years and four months before he started leg lifting on the Pearly Gates.

Mean Streak was my brother Axel’s dog. We got him on December 26, 1969.  Axel wanted a dog for Christmas, but our parents were anti-dog. There was no puppy under our tree. Instead, they gave my brother $20 and extended anemic approval to him to find his pet.

With our sister, Dovima, driving our mother’s 1963 Chevy Bel Air, we spent December 26th combing San Francisco Bay Area pet shops in search of Axel’s four-legged friend. We discovered that the day after Christmas all that remained were the rejects. Axel felt that if we did not return home with a dog that day, we ran the risk of our parents changing their minds and telling us that we had to remain dog-less. We were determined to find a dog.

We met an adorable tan Cockapoo, but that dog was too small. We encountered a very exuberant Bluetick Coonhound mix that so desperately wanted to go home with us, her nails got caught in Dovima’s wooly sweater. Axel was concerned that she might be too big when fully grown. If he came home with the second coming of Marmaduke, he’d never hear the end of it. We kept looking.

As our hunt drew to a close, we went to Teddy’s Pet Shop in West Portal, not far from where we lived. A litter of just weaned puppies was playing in the window. The pet shopkeeper told us that these pups were exactly six weeks old. Off to the side, Mean Streak snoozed by himself. Axel selected the little sleeper, erroneously assuming that that pup was the most peaceful one of all. We later realized that Meanie was just being his usual anti-social self.

Meanie was a feisty, mighty mutt who was born to bark. He was very protective of our house and made it clear to all visitors — friends, neighbors and extended family members:

Mean Streak: I take no prisoners!

Puppy Mean Streak on the alert for trespassers, or anyone.

Puppy Mean Streak on the alert for trespassers or anyone.

Even though Meanie weighed only thirty-five pounds, no one ever called our dog’s bluff. He was equal opportunity and would gladly rip out the lungs of any perceived intruder i.e., every single visitor outside of my siblings, parents and grandmother, but he granted an exemption to my pet turtle.

Mean Streak: I cut the turtle a pass.

When my turtle died and I buried him in the back yard, Meanie, who was not a digger, dug him up. I could have lived quite nicely without ever having seen that sight. My dad reburied my turtle in another hole so deep in our yard Meanie would have had to dig all the way to middle earth to reach that corpse again.

Axel said I could own a five percent stake in  Mean Streak. I was allotted Meanie’s tail. A few years later, when my brother got a part time job, he paid me a dollar a week to walk Meanie when I got home from school. I  liked the job, but there were these two old guys with big dogs that were bad news. They walked their dogs unleashed, flouting the leash laws. They lumbered slowly and their dogs walked far ahead looking for trouble.

One day when I was walking Mean Streak, we encountered the two old guys exercising their pony-sized unleashed beasts. Both hounds from Hell came barreling at us. They pounced Mean Streak. The two old guys thought this was hilarious. I was a whippet thin twelve-year-old whose dog was under attack. I didn’t get the joke.

Me: Get your dogs off my dog you bastards!

They quickened their pace and pulled their dogs off of mine.

One Old Guy: You’ve got a mouth on you, little girl!

Me: Fuck you!

That was the first time I dropped the f-bomb on anyone in public. I reported back to Axel what had happened, including my use of profanity. Axel approved. He hated those guys and had his own share of run ins with them. One of the bullying big dogs died prematurely. We attributed it to the owner’s bad karma.

Looking back, those “old” guys were younger then than I am now. If there is an afterlife, I hope that Mean Streak is nipping them in the ankles for eternity.

 

Lame Adventure 440: Destructive Forces

When I was a scrawny kid standing barely four feet tall and weighing no more than forty pounds, my mother viewed me as a condensed package of pure trouble. She never wanted me near anything mechanical. She was taking no chances to give me any opportunity to break anything. She was certain that if I held my father’s “electric eye” movie camera I would drop it, the mix master was for someone else to use as I watched, and I should just forget about ever making a milkshake in the blender on my own. When I would enter a room when guests were visiting I was subject to “the look”, a fiercely watchful eye that screamed:

Mom: Don’t touch anything!

My dad would allow me to blow off steam and let loose my inner maniac. I would sit in the driver’s seat of his car where I would go crazy playing at the steering wheel. The engine was always off so there was no chance I could floor the accelerator I couldn’t reach and drive through a wall.

Fast forward to this year, early October. I’m walking down Hudson Street en route to my bank when I see a sight so incongruous, I almost throw out my neck: a mint condition Beatles lunchbox circa 1965 hanging off the handlebar of a stroller. It’s being pushed by a nanny tending three small fry. That happened to be the exact lunchbox I wanted when I was in first grade, but it cost more, so my mother bought me a compromise solution lunchbox featuring the Flintstones. The nanny’s charges were a tot of about two, a toddler girl around four and their big brother, a boy, I guessed was six and probably in first grade.

Me: Excuse me; I remember that lunchbox in my youth. May I photograph it?

Nanny: Of course! His father loves the Beatles. Everything with his daddy is the Beatles.

Does Mom have the Hope Diamond lying on the coffee table?

Does Mommy use the Hope Diamond as a doorstop?

So this lunchbox belonged to the little schoolboy. I thanked her for her time and moved on imagining that Daddy was at least my age, obscenely wealthy, and Mommy was a trophy twenty-five years his junior. Later I researched what a Beatles lunchbox in mint condition is worth: about a thousand dollars. There’s one on eBay priced at $6,500. I wondered what that kid’s lunchbox would look like at the end of the school year. Dented, scratched and battered? Who in their right mind would allow a six-year-old to carry his PB&J sandwiches in a collector’s item that will only increase in value over time? This isn’t yeah, yeah, yeah, but no, no, no! I ordered myself to calm down. Who am I to dictate what people do with their collector’s items? Let it go, or how about, let it be?

At month’s end, I spent a weekend on the West Coast with my siblings, Dovima and Axel. My sister lamented about how she wished she still had the Beatle fan book that she bought in 1964.

Me: It’s in Dad’s house.

Dovima didn’t believe me, but I assured her it was indeed there. It took us two days to dig through the entirety of our family archives, but finally, I unearthed it buried deep in a file box tucked high on a shelf that had not been opened in well over thirty years. My sister was elated. Hero-me gloated.

Back in the hands of its proud owner.

Back in the hands of its proud owner.

As we looked through it for the first time in decades, Dovima, in her excitement turned to the third page, but I insisted:

Me: Turn back; let’s look at it from page one.

On the lower right corner of page two we saw this.

Dovima was calm. I dropped a barrage of f-bombs.

Dovima was calm. I dropped multiple f-bombs.

I have no recollection of when or why I wrote my name on it, but possibly it was for  a school show and tell or maybe it was in frustration when my mother refused to let me set my own alarm clock or sharpen a pencil or ring the doorbell. Obviously, Mom did not keep me away from pens. I hope that that schoolboy with the Beatles lunchbox doesn’t follow my lead and do something stupid like give them all goatees. As for Dovima, when we saw that the autographed centerfold was still intact and unscathed, she breathed a sigh of relief. At least I managed to control my impulse to be the fifth Beatle, and I refrained from being the ultimate imbecile by signing my name with those of the lads from Liverpool.

John, Paul, George, Ringo and what a relief, no sign of me.

Signed John, Paul, George, Ringo and what a relief, no sign of me.

Lame Adventure 439: The Annual Halloween Scourge

As Halloween fast approaches, Jack O’Lanterns, black cats, creepy tales about ghosts and goblins abound. But my mind is drawn in the direction of something truly frightening. Something that has nothing to do with apparitions, zombies or cackling witches, but is infinitely more terrifying and gag-inducing:

Candy Corn

Candy Corn.

These pellets of tooth rotting mouth burn have been haunting the US and Canada since the 1880s. Made from all naturally bad ingredients — sugar, corn syrup, carnauba wax and artificial coloring, the National Confectioners Association estimates that 25 million pounds of this poison are sold annually.

Doomsday scenario: candy corn, roaches and rats inherit the earth.

Doomsday scenario: rats and roaches feeding on candy corn inherit the earth.

The name candy corn always sounded so appetizing to me as a child. I liked candy. I liked corn. I still like both candy and corn. But every time I ate candy corn I would feel bamboozled.

Me (as a child): This doesn’t taste anything like candy or corn! It tastes awful!

It was too sweet, too fake and if I ate more than two pieces at one time, I would feel like I had a sore throat for three days. To my sensitive palate, candy corn’s most prominent ingredient is irritation with tooth decay a close second. Possibly I am in the minority i.e., someone who is not drawn to foodstuffs that are derived from dual-purpose ingredients. Carnauba wax can also be used on cars, surfboards and to shine shoes. Shoe polish is more appetizing to me. I like its smell, not to imply that I’d also like it spread on a cracker.

As for candy corn’s artificial food coloring, what might it look like without it? Marlon Brando is famous for saying:

Marlon Brando: The most repulsive thing you could ever imagine is the inside of a camel’s mouth.

As I imagine what candy corn looks like in its natural state, hardened repugnant fluids are crossing my mind. I’d much rather take a gander deep down a camel’s gullet, but while wearing nose plugs.

As I think about rank scents, the overly sweet, cloying smell of candy corn is noxious to me. When I whiffed the contents of this bag of it …

Purchased from It's Sugar, first cousin of It's Tooth Decay.

Purchased from It’s Sugar, first cousin of It’s Cavities.

My eyes started watering and I suffered a wave of nausea. If Wayne Newton had been playing on the radio, I would have become physically ill.

It baffles me why something so toxic does not come with a Surgeon General’s warning. Anyone pregnant, nursing or would like to live beyond age sixty should not eat this cacophony of bad chemistry. I looked at a cross section of a piece of one where the bottom fell out. It appeared stuffed with something. My first guess is bad vibes. My second is the active ingredient in toenail fungus.

Candy corn innards.

Candy corn innards channeling Dr. Scholl.

Considering that 25 million pounds of this blight is sold annually, someone must do the unthinkable: eat it. How can this be? Who are these people? Could it be scoring a big hit with small fry who have underdeveloped taste buds? Or, the elderly who are so heavily medicated that their taste buds are obliterated? Who likes these toxic lumps? I want to know. Are they inbred, do they have the intellectual acuity of a small soap dish, do they hail from the town of Stepford?

25 million pounds is 12,500 tons. The Statue of Liberty weighs 125 tons. Who in the US and Canada is contributing to ingesting the equivalent of one hundred statues of liberty made out of sugar, car wax and artificial food coloring instead of the infinitely tastier combination of copper and steel? Here’s a scary thought: could I know someone that eats candy corn? I must, but who could that be? Neither of my parents were candy corn eaters. My dad liked peanuts and my mother, cheese. My siblings and niece are not candy corn eaters, either, and my brother-in-law, Herb, likes waffles. I’m a product of a completely candy corn-free family. But someone in my orbit must be doing his or her part to keep candy corn thriving ever since Grover Cleveland was president. Confounded, I vented my frustration about this bottomless pit of orange, yellow and white scourge haunting every Halloween to my trusted confidant, my best friend, Milton. He responded to my tirade with a photo of his desk at his Grind.

Milton's desk at his Grind.

Sucker punched.

Lame Adventure 438: Faking it

Who are they kidding?

A decent neighborhood burger and brew but only the best if this was your first meal out of captivity.

I had been running errands in my neighborhood, the Upper West Side. As I was walking north on Broadway, past the Northface store at the corner of 73rd Street, a middle-aged woman walking south said in an authoritative tone of voice:

Authoritative Woman: This used to be an Urban Outfitters.

My inner eavesdropper itched to interject:

Me: No, before it became Northface, it used to be the Gap. Urban Outfitters is still where it’s always been: on the corner of 72nd and Broadway.

I’ve lived on the Upper West Side for so long, before that space was Urban Outfitters, it was an HMV music store and before that, it was a Manufacturer’s Hanover Trust bank. But, as my late, great father would advise my inner neighborhood historian:

Dad: Don’t be a buttinsky.

So, I didn’t scratch that itch; I kept my pie hole shut and walked on. The woman’s know-it-all tone probably convinced her companion that she knew what she was talking about, assuming he was listening, because what a banal topic of conversation. What is so special about Urban Outfitters? It’s a store that would seem inclined to do reverse carding: if you’re over 21, you’re not allowed entry. If that couple had just had a meal heavy on carbs, he might have been struggling to maintain consciousness. But if he was lucid as they continued walking south, passing Urban Outfitters, he might have asked his mate:

Authoritative Woman’s Companion: Is this the Urban Outfitters store of your recollections, dear?

And today, she’s filing for divorce.

My first memorable encounter of someone speaking fact about fiction in an authoritative tone occurred thirty-seven years ago in my youth in San Francisco. Somehow, my brother Axel and I were selected to work a test screening of a film written by Neil Simon called The Goodbye Girl. The screening was taking place at the Northpoint, a movie theater on Powell Street. Our job was to hand out questionnaires and to collect them from audience members after they had seen the film. The stars, Richard Dreyfuss (who won the Best Actor Academy Award for this picture) and Marsha Mason, attended. Even Neil Simon was there (he was married to Mason then). This was a Big Deal test screening. We got to see the film and we collected a few bucks each. It was a sweet deal for us.

Axel and I, with about ten other people, met with the test screening organizers in an office at the theater. Axel, coincidentally, worked for a company located in the building next door, a business that gave him hunks of Jarlsburg cheese because someone there was cheese-connected. The test screening organizers were not familiar with the turf of the Northpoint. They were struggling to figure out logistics. My brother interjected in an authoritative tone of voice:

Axel: I work next door. Just walk left and then turn right; you’ll be right there.

That’s the plan they decided to follow. My inner skeptic surfaced.

Me: How do you know this? You don’t work here.

Axel: I know. I made it all up, but if you say something with enough conviction, people will believe you.

That is a valid point. If you sound like you know what you’re talking about, odds are good that people will buy what you’re selling. Confidence is key, or in Axel’s case, conning was key. Axel was fed up with the organizers indecision about how to proceed, so he took it upon himself to be their unsolicited advisor. Fortunately for them, my brother did not volunteer to pilot their plane home. As for the woman speaking in an authoritative tone about the location of Urban Outfitters, she might have been surprised to see that she had misremembered the location of that store when she realized that it is still polluting the Upper West Side.

Somehow the screening worked out. I collected autographs from the stars and Neil Simon as they exited. Axel pounced on Richard Dreyfus to tell him how much he enjoyed his performance in Jaws. That memory still makes me die a little. Overall we had fun that night, but come to think of it thirty-seven years later, we were not asked to work another test screening again. Maybe someone caught onto Axel’s bluff, the directions he gave led straight into a parking lot and word spread to avoid hiring that obnoxious sibling act ever again.

Bonus image: autograph hounds bombarding Steve Carrell outside the New York Film Festival.

Bonus image: autograph hounds bombarding Steve Carrell outside the New York Film Festival.

Lame Adventure 437: Back to the Birds

The New York Film Festival’s closing night feature hit another high note, Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), is a pitch black comedy directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Michael Keaton plays a Hollywood has-been best known as the comic book hero, Birdman, a character that brought him fame and fortune. He is determined to resurrect his sagging career and gain relevancy by adapting a Raymond Carver story for the Broadway stage, even though he is losing his mind to Birdman who has a stranglehold on his identity.

Milton and I doubt that Birdman will come anywhere near the crowd pleasing popularity of Gone Girl, which opened the festival, at the US box office. But Birdman is a beautifully shot and edited film with a great jazz drum score. Michael Keaton, whose own career hit its high mark when he started playing Batman twenty-five years ago (a role he quit before acting in the third film of the series), is terrific as a man who is losing his grip on reality as he directs and stars in a play that is hemorrhaging his life savings. It nails the New York theatrical community with falling props, insecure, egotistical actors and nasty, snobby critics. Adding to the authenticity, much of it is shot at the Saint James theater, where Milton and I have seen many Broadway plays through the years. It’s very entertaining with an ending that’s open to interpretation.

Birdman played eight times on closing night at the festival. Milton and I could not afford to pay the king’s ransom to attend the star-studded gala screening. Our screening at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade theater did not rate an appearance by any of the stars. It was a venue with first come, first serve seating so loitering outside the press tent was not an option. Therefore, the closest we got to rubbernecking the likes of Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts or Zach Galifianakis was this guy vacuuming the red carpet in anticipation of their arrival.

Vacuum-man.

Vacuum-man.

So, how does one follow up sixteen days of intensive film going in Lincoln Center? The first option is to enter withdrawal. The second it to head downtown, specifically to Greenwich Village to indulge in street theater.

Birdboy.

Birdboy.

As a longtime fan of pigeons, I was very excited to read last week in The New Yorker, that Tina Trachtenburg, also known as Mother Pigeon, an animal activist and artist, was conducting a pigeon “flashflock outstallation” in Washington Square Park on Saturday with a rain date on Sunday. Milton and I had tickets to two screenings on Saturday, so I was elated to see rain.

I was even more elated to see Mother Pigeon’s acrylic felt flock on Sunday.

Mother Pigeon's pigeon outstellation.

Mother Pigeon’s pigeon outstallation.

"Why aren't we in MoMA, Mother Pigeon?"

“Why aren’t we in MoMA, Mother Pigeon?”

Flock of feathered felt.

Flock of feathered felt.

She creates these whimsical creatures and gives each unique markings. She explains on her web site, “I like to make them all different because all pigeons are different.” As someone who is quite familiar with the many pigeons in my own midst, that is very true.

Mother Pigeon.

Mother Pigeon with the pigeons in her midst.

Yes, she even created one pecking at a slice of felt pizza.

Mother Pigeon pigeon pecking at pizza.

Mother Pigeon pigeon pecking at pizza.

As I was heading back uptown, I encountered life imitating art.

Mother Nature pigeon enjoying lunch.

Mother Nature pigeon pecking at pizza crust.

Lame Adventure 436: Notes from the New York Film Festival

Milton and I are continuing to attend the New York Film Festival. It concludes next Sunday, October 12. Thus far, we’ve seen a dozen films. Some have impressed us immensely, but even those that did not, we don’t regret seeing.

The Wonders, the second film directed by Italian filmmaker, Alice Rohrwacher, won the Grand Prix earlier this year at the Cannes film festival. Here in New York, getting your film screened is the award.

Alice Rohrwacher mingling after her screening.

Alice Rohrwacher mingling after her screening.

Even though I was well rested when we saw The Wonders, so little happens in this story about a family of rural beekeepers, I nodded out. When I woke, they had added a German boy to their family of four girls. I wondered how that happened? I had barely been comatose for a minute. Milton was fully conscious for the entirety of the film.

Me: Where did that German kid come from?

Milton: I have no idea.

Alice Rohrwacher had great enthusiasm during the q&a, but I agree with Milton:

Milton: I just hope that she’ll next make a film I like.

French film star Mathieu Amalric did a commendable job adapting a Georges Simenon novel, The Blue Room. It is a film noir that is a jigsaw puzzle of pieces but it’s major flaw is that we still were not entirely sure who did what at the end. But, it was entertaining and there was plenty of nudity. He gives spirited q&a.

Fully clothed Mathieu Amalric outside Alice Tully Hall.

Fully clothed Mathieu Amalric outside Alice Tully Hall.

We have seen several untraditional biopics at this year’s festival including Pasolini, written and directed by Abel Ferrara and starring Willem Dafoe, who Milton considered miscast, in the title role. Although the film was flawed, it was an imaginative telling about the final weeks in the life of the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini who was murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1975. I liked how Ferrara depicted Pasolini as a guy who was so alive and full of creative energy as he grew closer to his untimely death. I also liked that Ferrara created the film that Pasolini intended to shoot next. During the q&a Ferrara got embroiled in a heated debate with an audience member who claimed that Pasolini had been assassinated. Ferrara didn’t subscribe to that idea and casually stuck his foot in his mouth when he referred to Pasolini as “a fucking filmmaker” further incensing the audience member.

Q&A with Abel Ferrara and Willem Dafoe.

Q&A with Abel Ferrara (l) and Willem Dafoe (r).

Filmmaker Mike Leigh returned to the festival for the tenth time with his 149 minute biopic about the 19th Century British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, Mr. Turner. Timothy Spall grunts his way through the title role. When he spoke, his British accent was often so garbled; I had no idea what he was saying. I told Milton that I found that film as interesting as watching paint dry. Milton said that there was not enough story to merit almost two and a half hours.

Sneaking a shot of Mike Leigh in-between press people.

Sneaking a shot of Mike Leigh in-between press people.

Our favorite biopic was Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent about the fashion visionary Yves Saint Laurent, featuring a superb Gaspard Ulliel in the title role and Helmet Berger as Saint Laurent at the end of his life. It focused on Saint Laurent’s most creative decade, 1967-1977, and his relationship with his business and life partner, Pierre Bergé. Its 146-minute length flew. The lush tale was full of hedonistic excess, passion, romance, gay sex, drugs, anxiety, torment, beautiful clothes, people and pets; a succession of French bulldogs always named Moujik. That film completely held my attention from start to finish.

Three other films that impressed us very much were thought provoking: Timbuktu by Abderrahmane Sissako, a true story beautifully filmed about the occupation of this city in Mali by jihadists. Music is banned, absurd rules are enforced without explanation, women are pressured into marriages against their will, children are quickly orphaned, and people are tortured and terrified. During the q&a the filmmaker aptly called Timbuktu “a society in crisis.” Audience members were left wondering what we could do to help? A start is to suggest getting word out about this film. If Timbuktu appears in a theater by you: see it. Then, feel lousy like us about what’s going on over there.

Timbukto director Abderrahmane Sissako post-screening.

Timbukto director Abderrahmane Sissako post-screening.

Former NYFF Program Director Richard Pena talking to Kessen Tall, Timbukto co-writer.

Former NYFF Program Director Richard Pena talking to Kessen Tall, Timbukto co-writer.

Two Days, One Night is a wrenching drama by the Dardenne Brothers starring Marion Cotillard as Sandra, a factory worker out on disability, who learns that management has decided to lay her off just when she is ready to return to work. If she can persuade her sixteen colleagues to forgo their 1000-euro bonus (about $1250), she will be allowed to keep her job. Cotillard is riveting. It’s a performance that’s Academy Award nomination-worthy.

Dardenne Brothers, Marion Cotillard and Kent Jones, NYFF Program Director.

Dardenne Brothers, Marion Cotillard and Kent Jones, NYFF Program Director (who our friend, Enchilada, calls Lurch).

Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind starring Richard Gere as a homeless man named George living on the street in New York City was a film with a gimmick that works. Much of this film was shot with hidden cameras as a disheveled Gere panhandles, sleeps on park benches and rides the subway. As longtime residents of New York, Milton and I are very familiar with seeing people like George who are on the fringes of society . We thought Richard Gere was terrific and his performance is Academy Award nomination-worthy.

Kyra Segewick, Richard Gere and Oren Moverman.

Ben Vereen, Kyra Sedgwick, Richard Gere, Oren Moverman and Kent Jones.

We also attended the centerpiece screening, the world premier of Paul Thomas Anderson’s highly anticipated adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel, Inherent Vice. I asked Milton if he ever read any Pynchon novels.

Milton: They’re about a thousand pages long with no punctuation.

Translation: no. This film is 148 minutes long and the plot is a convoluted detective story that is  impossible to follow featuring a fun pothead private investigator played by Joaquin Phoenix (who is excellent). It’s not a comedy, it’s not a drama, it’s not a thriller, but what it is most is tedious. If we had been stoned, or at least subject to a contact high, this plotless pile would have been far more entertaining and far less pointless.

Empty Inherent Vice press tent.

Empty Inherent Vice press tent.