I couldn’t wait to see Portlandia. Last year I didn’t even know it existed, but this time the PR was intense: I heard a Fresh Air interview with Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein and read a profile of them in the New Yorker. They even did a big-city pre-season promotional tour. The show sounded fabulous, maybe the first intelligent sitcom to come along in a dozen years or so.
Portland sounded so great in the hoopla that I was starting to regret not having moved there four years ago, when I’d seriously considered it – I even went and looked at houses with a realtor, big rambling houses for a third of what they’d go for in the Bay Area. The sidewalk cafés sold cups of upscale chocolate, and friendly folk started conversations with me. The bathroom graffiti was high-quality, the bulletin boards jammed with psychic workshops and environmentalist groups. Full-service gas stations! City-wide bicycle lanes! Light rail! It reminded me a little of San Francisco 24 years back, when I first moved here. Then it was an extremely livable city, but I didn’t know I’d arrived on the tail end of laid back: during the next decade traffic increased to an untenable volume, and climbing rents forced people like me to move across the bridge. I wonder if Portland will follow a similar trajectory, now that it’s The Place To Be.
But I digress. Portlandia didn’t grab me as much as I’d anticipated. In deviating from tired sitcom patterns, Armisen and Brownstein have made a bit of a muddle. They play most of the characters — and what characters! – but they aren’t entirely convincing, and I think they would’ve been better off hiring actors. Armisen is currently a player on SNL and it shows: Portlandia is more a string of clever skits than an ongoing story. But hey, it was only the premiere of the second season, and maybe it was just too much hype that caused the letdown, so I’ll give it a few more viewings.
Yet another disappointment. Full disclosure: I slept through parts of the movie, so I’m not certain I have the right to critique it, or that my impressions are reality based. Still, I saw enough of Michelle Williams to know she’s no Marilyn Monroe. Having just watched The Misfits for the fifth time last week, Marilyn’s gestures, voice, laughter, walk and mannerisms were fresh in my memory, and Williams got none of them down (if only Meryl Streep was still young enough to play Marilyn!). And of all the stupid inattentive screwups, the makeup artists didn’t do their homework: Marilyn’s makeup was pretty much always the same, so how hard could it be to replicate? Yet they couldn’t manage to create that shadow at the outer corners of her eyes, or the almost reflective shine of her lips. Plus, of all things, her beauty mark traveled to different places in different scenes, sometimes on the left side and sometimes on the right! I figure this has something to do with camera technology, but is it really impossible to fix? And finally, dear god, Kenneth Branagh playing Lawrence Olivier?! Check out their pictures. ‘Nuff said.
To the left, Sir Lawrence Olivier. To the right, Kenneth Branagh. Come on!
Addendum : Tuesday January 10th
Maybe I’m crazy: I read a bunch of reviews, all raves, particularly about Michelle Williams and her excellent portrayal of Marilyn. One review said Branagh looked enough like Olivier to play the part. AM I crazy? I fell in love with Sir Olivier, based at least 50% on his looks, when I was in college and saw him do Hamlet (film). Kenneth Branagh is, to my eyes, one of the least good-looking actors in the known universe. Did I get this movie wrong because I slept through some of it? Or did I sleep through some of it because it wasn’t that great? (I don’t think it’s the latter, because when I saw the Johnny Cash biopic I also fell asleep, and decided it was lousy. Two years later I saw it again and loved it.) Guess I’ll wait for this to come out on DVD to do a reality check. In the meantime….anyone have an opinion? That’s what the comment boxes are for!
One weekend special that did not disappoint was in the food category, at a new restaurant near Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. Home Room’s menu consists solely of mac & cheese entreés. Even though the meal was probably responsible for my movie napping, it was worth it. I had The Gilroy, made with pecorino, gouda and roasted garlic (hence the Gilroy appellation). Daryl had Mac & Blue, made, naturally, with blue cheese. Scrumptious — and so filling I took more than half of it home for dinner.
Baseball Note: Hip Hip Jorge!
Jorge Posada, shafted by the team he was dog-loyal to for 17 years, has decided to retire in pinstripes, despite offers from the Tampa Bay Rays and at least one other team. No surprises here – but I was hoping he might go down to Florida to play against the Yankees and remind Girardi, Cashman and Steinbrenners Junior – dense nincompoops all – of what they so casually threw away.
Only Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra have caught more games in pinstripes than Posada (1574). With his departure the Core Four – Jeter, Rivera, Pettite and Posada – shrivel to two. My bet is on Rivera as the next to leave; I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened after this season. Posada and Rivera are my favorite players, not only among Yankees but in all of baseball, and losing them is tough. But I don’t begrudge Jorge spending more time with family, considering what must go on there: Jorge Jr. was born with craniosynostosis, and has had a number of surgeries over the years. Happy Retirement Jorge: you deserve it! I hope he doesn’t end up missing the game too badly.
Will the Real Marilyn Please Stand Up?
- Channel Surfing | ‘Portlandia’: Being In on the Joke Doesn’t Always Help (artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com)