Never been cool

No, I’ve never been cool. I’ve always known that, as did, I suppose, everyone around me. I can be sarcastic, heaven knows, and deadpan is my humor of choice, but cynicism just isn’t in me. Nor is cool. Oh, there were times in the ’70s when my roommate Al and I would strut into Old Town in our mod gear and long hair. I was bedecked in a fringed vest, and shod with suede and leather Cuban heeled boots. An enormous belt buckle topped my wide bell bottomed trousers with portholes, and about my neck were beads and a paisley tie. At that moment, such was what passed for cool. Perhaps I did as well. It felt good to be smiled at, but inside, I knew it was just a costume and I was just me.

The knowledge that I was terminally, or at least chronically, unhip didn’t bother me. I had other things to be and was comfortable being them. I did like to think, however, that I was at least open to appreciate the cool of others, especially in the arts. A current movie has me questioning even that.

In 1967, I was dismayed that a picture as conventional as In the Heat of the Night won out at the Oscars over its edgy and innovative competitors, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate. More recently, I cheered when Parasite beat the field. This year though, I was chagrined, if not surprised, that Everything, Everywhere, All at Once swept the awards. This was a film I couldn’t get through. I found it sloppy, self indulgent, and tiresome. It defeated me and made me feel a million years old for being defeated. Judging by the ecstatic reviews, I was now the walking antonym of cool. I couldn’t appreciate this beacon for the future of movies. Hmmm.

All I had wanted was just a smackerel of love for the endearing and lovingly crafted Banshees of Inishirin. None of this should bother me. I realize how ridiculous that is. But, unlike my practical friend, Ann, I’ve never been very good at shrugging things off and saying, “So what?” Instead, I nurse them for a bit, like a tongue probing a sore tooth.

It will pass. I take comfort in the fact that, indeed, there have been those who thought of me as cool. There still are: children. I talk to them as I yearned to be talked to as a kid. I listen as though I think they have something to say worth hearing. I don’t dismiss their fantasies. I enjoy pretending along with them, matter-of-factly, when I can.

My current acolyte is the nine year old son of my cleaning lady. He talks to me at length, and loves to climb up into the laundry chute. As he and his mother were leaving this week, Kamil said, “Do we have to go to the stinky lady?”

His mother enlightened me. “She’s a big smoker. Her house always smells of stale cigarette smoke. He has nicknames for all my customers.”

“Dare I ask what mine is?”

“Kamil, what do you call Mr. Kingsmill?”

“The great old man.”

I’ll take it.

Ringing in my new year

Last week, I turned eighty six. I am the ancient one and should be perched atop a mountain, dispensing wisdom. Have a free tip on me: sleep is good – very good indeed.

I used to feel invulnerable on my birthdays. That stopped after a couple of them found me taking John to the emergency room. Now, I’m just happy if the day passes without a crisis, and that’s how it was this year – well, almost.

I woke up after a glorious sleep, thanks to Steve and Johnnie, who were staying here. My front porch is under reconstruction, and the day before, I’d had to arise at 6:00 to be ready for the workmen. Johnnie tends to be awake at that hour and volunteered to get up and open the garage, where the contractor had stored equipment. Safe from all alarums, I slept till 10:00, the best gift I could have been given.

One of my favorite things, when Johnnie is here, is to pad downstairs in my Blue Leopard pajamas and flip flops before Steve stirs, and find Johnnie, up to much good, in the kitchen. We speak in hushed, conspiratorial tones lest Steve awaken, and the most mundane matters take on the aspect of delicious secrets.

The two of us were hard at it, and doing our best to stifle bursts of laughter at some nonsense, when there was a rap at the door. It was the owner of the construction company. The crew had uncovered much rotted wood at a corner of the porch and summoned him for a consultation. I’ll spare you the details except to say that fixing the problem would add several thousand simoleans to the cost of the project. So be it. My house is a hundred years old. What can I say beyond that I love it and don’t wish ever to inhabit another.

Steve had come down by this time, and we partook of a glorious, homemade Johnnie breakfast with two kinds of quiche, my favorite being Greek olive and spinach, plus coffee cake. On the table were far too many presents, stylishly wrapped in blue and white paper and matching curled ribbon. It was a shame to open them, but shame and I are no strangers.

Greg, a neighbor. came by to drop off a handmade card from his partner, an artist. The gesture took me by surprise.

The card is quite good, and of course I’ll keep it.

That evening, Steve and Johnnie took me to Rosebud which overnight has become, not merely the best restaurant in Munster, but the equal of anything on offer in Chicago. I say that as a very fussy foodster.

As I savored a succulent fillet, someone recognized Steve and approached our table. It was the current owner of a radio station where Steve once worked. They spoke enthusiastically as only comrades in the trenches do when they meet. I’ve seen this before, sometimes with actors or musicians, sometimes with soldiers or the police. It’s a thing of beauty to observe, which is all you can do, for the rest of the world is lost to these kindred spirits. I was quite content to be left to relish the contents of my plate and my glass.

The lengthy and spirited conversation in which I took no part, I chose to regard as a diverting floor show. Pictures were taken, wives were introduced, and before it ended, the owner of the restaurant was brought over to join the festivities. As he left, the radio station owner said he was sorry I’d been treated like chopped liver, and that he was sure I was a good person. Nice to have that validated. Nor was I sorry. I’ve always liked chopped liver. All in all, it was the best birthday in some time.

I’ll close by pointing out that anyone, anywhere in the cosmos will be able to hear me hold forth on movies and the Oscars this Saturday about midnight (Central Time), either at WGN 720 AM or, if you’re not in the Chicago area, you can still listen by clicking this link to WGN Radio’s live stream.

Currents in the stream

First, a slight revision on the time for my pre-Oscar radio stint. By all means, do still tune in to Steve and Johnnie at 11:00 pm on March 11,(720 on AM), but I won’t be on until 12:00. I’d forgotten that is an opera night for me and I might not be home by 11:00.

I made an effort to see The Whale, though I really didn’t want to. Much as I respect Brandon Fraser, the preview was enough to put me off. Also, I’d have had to buy it. I wish him well, but no thanks. I hope to have caught up with Women Talking before the broadcast, but I’ve pretty much settled on my predictions. As to the best picture, I really hope I’m wrong.

Meanwhile, I pass the time by streaming a quartet of new crime based series. It’s not that I’m bent on seeing such fare; it’s just what’s being offered at the moment. Best of all was Lidia Poet, based on, or at least inspired by, the true story of the first woman in Italy to beat the daunting odds against her and become a lawyer.

“Poet” is cleverly scripted, though unless the real Miss Poet was awfully busy in the bedroom, a few liberties have been taken to delight the guilty. What you see of her beaux leaves little to the imagination. In the case of her brother-in-law, engagingly played by Eduardo Scarpetta (not the celebrated comedian), you see absolutely everything, full frontal and backal. The camera (or the cameraman) loves him and lingers.

Eduardo Scarpetta

Carnality aside, it’s a solid show. The lead is Matilda de Angelis, who looks like a young, but spunky, Jennifer Jones. She’s quite convincing in this real life, Neapolitan version of Miss Scarlet and the Duke. The photography, especially outdoors, is mouth watering. There’s a scene of washer women on a river bank that cried out to be painted. I was sorry to finish the short season, (on Netflix), but happy to hear there’ll be another,

Next, I watched Triptych, a story so improbable that I was surprised to learn that it too is based on actual events. A forensic detective finds out, in the most dramatic way imaginable, not only that she is a triplet, but that her life and those of her sisters are being manipulated in a sinister experiment. It’s heady stuff, and it held my interest to the end.

In The Consultant, Christoph Waltz adds another suave, smiling, weirdo villain to his string of them. If it’s possible to be charismatic-ally chilling, Waltz is every inch of that as the disturbing (and possibly disturbed) consultant who pops out of nowhere to take over a failing video game company. The uneasy staff scrambles through eight episodes to figure him out before he can do them in. You won’t absolutely hate yourself for spending time with this one – not absolutely.

Finally, on the recommendation of several friends, Tim and I watched the first two episodes of ABC’s The Company You Keep. We plan to stay with it. The premise sounded inane and unlikely: a Chinese CIA agent and a grifter meet cute but must lie their heads off to each other to fuel the passion they’ve ignited without blowing their covers. Well, cast and written as smartly as it is, I bought it. Catherine Haena Kim and Milo Ventimiglia make a mighty steamy pair. The plot complications are juicy and suspenseful. So far so good. The ratings are lukewarm, but sometimes I think there’s a vengeful algorhythm out there, putting the kibosh on anything I like.

Chasing Oscar

In the olden days of yore, John and I made every attempt to see all of the nominated films before the awards. It was so much easier then, except when a picture had yet to be released in Chicago. We thought nothing of driving to far flung theaters to catch a nominee.

Today, I have to battle multiple streaming options. I don’t have them all. Who does? But I do what I can. This year I have an added reason to try. I’ve been invited to be on Steve and Johnnie’s radio show the night before the Oscars to discuss movies. Why? Is it my vast knowledge of film esoterica? No, for that I direct you to the website of my friend, Danny Callahan. There, you can travel down a wondrous rabbit hole of fascinating and informed cinema lore. ME? I’m just a guy who loves movies and always has. So, perhaps this is a case of flagrant nepotism. Full disclosure: Steve’s my little brother. In any event, I’ll be on WGN (720 AM), Saturday night, March 11, around 11pm.

Herewith, some thoughts on the latest batch of nominees for best picture that I’ve been able to catch. The German remake of All Quiet on the Western Front is as powerful an anti war jolt as I can imagine. I haven’t seen as disturbing a gut punch in that respect since Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. Remarque’s naive teenagers trip all over each other in their eager scramble to win glory for God and country. It isn’t long before bloody battles, starvation, rat filled trenches, and the indifference, and in some cases outright madness of their superiors have forever changed them from hopeful youths to despairing, disillusioned ruins of men. “Front” is a seriously well shot and well acted movie, even more persuasive given it’s source.

There are also elements of despair and disillusionment in Baz Luhrmann‘s Elvis, which I must say I enjoyed more than I expected I would. I’d have chosen another director. Luhrmann, with his slice and dice approach to editing, is no friend of musical numbers. That said, Austin Butler makes a potent and sexy Elvis. As for Tom Hanks, you know he’s under that makeup somewhere, and he doesn’t disgrace himself as sleazy “Colonel” Parker, but his presence in the role is a constant distraction. The movie is certainly watchable, and sometimes fun, but its nomination is a puzzlement.

Not so with Triangle of Sadness, a film that took me by surprise and continues to linger, no, dance in my mind. Ruben Ostlund, the Swedish writer and director, has concocted an ingenious tale of privilege and comeuppance. Oh sure, there’ve been numerous screen versions of the upheavals of social pecking order wrought by shipwreck, but this may be the best ever.

You don’t know that’s where this one is headed for a while. Ostlund takes his time, most pleasurably. First we’re given a parade of attractive, shirtless fellows auditioning as hopeful male models. It goes on a bit, but, as with other extended scenes, I wouldn’t cut moment of it. Next, there’s a lengthy but delicious “Pick up the check” scene between an alluring couple. Once aboard ship, we see that money not only talks but complains and demands.

Woody Harrelson has a nice bit as the elusive captain. He is aging into a most resourceful character actor, light years from his efforts on Cheers. Comes a storm, and here, some of you may want to fast forward, for one and all are stricken most graphically by mal de mer. I stuck with it. It reminded me forcibly of a turbulent army voyage in 1957, from Seattle to Anchorage. I was fine for the first two days, scampering about, taking movies, eating my fill and being bemused by the queasiness of my shipmates. Then, I too succumbed and lay stricken in a hammock, perilously close to an uncleanable restroom that sickened all who dared to enter.

The Yacht goes down, and a mixed bag of guests and crew washes ashore on an island. The social roles reverse with a vengeance. The only one who knows what she is doing, the only one who can fish, start a fire, and keep the others alive is the drudge who has been cleaning toilets on the yacht. It’s a dream of a part, superbly played by a Philippine actress, Dolly de Leon, sadly overlooked in the supporting actress nominations (Jamie Lee Curtis? Really?). At least the Baftas acknowledged her.

Reveling in her unaccustomed position of power, de Leon’s character, Abigail. takes full advantage of the situation, recruiting wealthy young Carl (gorgeous Harris Dickinson) as her boy toy.

Harris Dickinson

He accepts, with my favorite piece of dialogue from the clever screenplay: “I love you; you give me fish,” not, perhaps, the worst prenup ever negotiated.

This one I had to rent, but I’ll certainly watch it again.

Mr. Crankypants goes to the movies

Cold weather used to bring movies for grown-ups. This year? Not so much. For want of better, Darlene and I set off Saturday to see A Man Called Otto. It wasn’t bad, contrived and manipulative as hell, but not that bad, and Tom Hanks is always watchable. His character is a grump, but of course there is a backstory to enlighten us in flashbacks as to why.

In Ottoland, things happen not because they really would, but because the plot needs to nudge us along to the next level. And then, at the risk of doing spoilers, I’m not sure how much pathos is mustered when suicide attempts are used as a running joke.

The picture herds us toward a feel good ending, and it worked at least well enough to get me to tear up – but then, I’m easy. The best reason to see it is the work of Mariana Trevino as Otto’s neighbor, Marisol. She is so engaging that I wish she lived on my block.

The next day, there was Avatar: the Way of Water. Tim and I wanted to see it in Imax and 3D while we still could. As with the original, this one made the most of its optics. The planet of the Navi was clear, beautiful, and sometimes magical, especially underwater.

There was plenty of eye candy. In fact, had the numerous male hunks not been blue, bug eyed, striped, and tailed, this would have been soft core porn. As it was, the skimpy loin cloths and parade of bubble butts were quite enough to keep my interest from flagging.

It’s long though, and the final hour is an ordeal of slaughter – human, Navi, and sea creatures. I found it both unpleasant and predictable. The villains are such stock meanies that they lack only mustaches to twirl as they utter “Bwahaha!” Wives and children are captured and rescued and recaptured and rerescued and . . . Naturally, the chief meanie survives to pop up again to menace the numerous planned sequels. He will do so without me.

Then came the Oscar nominations. Everything, Everywhere, All at Once topped them with eleven. I’d read some raves, and since I could stream it free, I was keen to have a look. My look lasted half an hour; then I bailed, to save my life and sanity.

The title is painfully accurate. This is a movie for those seeking non stop thrill-a-minute for over two hours. I can imagine it triggering seizures in certain members of the audience. I am too old for such an experience. I always was.

Mind you, I loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and I admire Michelle Yeoh both for her physical prowess and her acting chops. Ke Huy Quan is also most appealing as her husband. In addition, Stephanie Hsu does well with the role of their lesbian daughter. All of them have been nominated, and it’s easy to see why. Also nominated is Jamie Lee Curtis, in a role so broadly written that it borders on embarrassment. Still, “Everything” begins promisingly as a tale of an Asian family under stress.

That, however, and the likely modest box office returns, was not enough for the filmmakers. Jabbed like a dagger into the story is a cockamamie sci-fi plot about myriad universes and martial arts violence. Once that starts, it recurs every two minutes – or less. The effect is dizzying, disorienting, and in my case, tiresome. Realizing what lay in store for me, I had to escape.

Plenty of others disagree, and their enthusiasm has boosted profits to the stratosphere. It may even win as best picture, a prospect that saddens me. What can I say? I hated this movie – also loathed and despised it.

I’ll conclude this tirade on a brighter note. I made a $5.00 investment to stream To Leslie. It was money well spent, though the plot details the harrowing stumbles of an alcoholic mother. A heavy campaign was waged to secure a nomination for the lead, Andrea Riseborough. No matter. She deserves the recognition. She is brilliant in the part and makes it compelling.

Andrea Riseborough

That’s it for now. Hope to see you at the movies.

Little Epiphanies

Why that title? I did fancy Advent Adventures, but it’s a bit late for that. 2023 tiptoed in while I was reading Hollywood the Oral History, (I’d have preferred that modesty had substituted “an Oral History”) and sipping Pear William. By the time I heard the fireworks, I had missed the countdown and it was past midnight. Ah well, no one to kiss anymore, anyway.

Still, there was herring. John’s Germanic family held that if the first thing you ate in the new year was herring, you would prosper financially. At Jewel, I couldn’t locate the usual tasty jar with sour cream. A young stock boy was worse than no help.

“I’m looking for herring.”

“Carrots?” (I had my mask on.)

“Herring. H-E-R-R-I-N-G.”

“Is that a spice?”

Fearing for civilization, I found a tin and made do.

My trees are still up, staving off light deprivation morbidity, as January trots out its rainbows of gray. Today was sunny enough to permit a long walk, but I’m not in a hurry to pack away all this cheer just yet.

I had a bit of a freak out viewing My Chart after a routine chest scan. The results included a ground glass nodule in my right lung. Whaaa? Was something jagged about to rip a hole in my lung? Thanks to some fast research by my sister-in-law, I now know that “ground glass” is a term used by pulmonologists to denote a hazy image. They borrowed it from movie flashback jargon. They need to return it.

Finally, on Netflix, I binge watched The Recruit. and look forward to another season. It’s witty, suspenseful, and stupefyingly crammed with action. The lead, Noah Centineo, plays a brash, bumbling CIA newbie, surrounded by back-stabbing colleagues. He resembles a young, buff, Brendan Fraser. His inscrutable nemesis/protector, Laura Haddock, fascinates whether glamorous or grungy. Both of them are as sexy as all get out.

Noah Centineo

This has turned into a ramble. I proffer it only because I’ve been so long between posts. Well, we all have lives. My wish is that ’23 fills yours with beauty, civility, love and amusement.

Where there’s a part I, – or the return of the crazy-ass people

Yes, one should reasonably expect a part II. Well, the trees are up and the animals artfully strewn about. The fat ladies have sung, and their trilling is a mere echo. What can I say? The Christmas season intervened.

Let’s pretend it’s a month ago. Don Carlos was splendid. I’d seen it several times before. The characters are still ogres and ninnies, but that’s Verdi for you. By now, it no longer bothers me that fathers decide to wed their sons’ fiancees and then pout because, gasp! “She doesn’t love me.” It’s easier to find that a surprise, I suppose, when you’re the king of Spain. It helps too, if your son is a doofus like Carlos.

Then there’s Princess Eboli, lady in waiting to Elizabeth. She too is surprised to be sent packing after she confesses, “Yes, it was me who stole your jewelry to frame you for cheating on the king. Oh and by the way, I’ve been his mistress for years.” But what should we expect from someone who sings the most egotistical aria in all opera, “O Don Fatale” about what a curse it is to have her great beauty.

Also, stomping around to dash everybody’s hopes, dreams, and life expectancies is the blind and ancient grand inquisitor. Quite a crew, but happily, they were all in great voice, every single member of the cast and chorus. There is not a moment of uninspired melody from beginning to end, and when it is spun out this gorgeously, time stands still and resistance is impossible. I came home and immediately ordered a CD of Don Carlos, sung in French, as it was that night.

In our box that evening were a gay couple from Ohio. I had brought a pair of binoculars to help with the titles, and as I fidgeted to adjust them, my glasses fell to the floor, in the dark. I felt around but couldn’t find them. Not wanting to become a distraction, I settled down to fret quietly. One of the Ohioans had surmised the situation, discreetly focused his phone flashlight down, and quickly handed me my specs. At intermission, the three of us found we had so much in common that we wished we were neighbors rather then ships passing in the night.

Two weeks later, I was back at Lyric to see Rossini’s Le Comte Ory. This time, the crazies were French, and the craziness intentional. “Ory” is a merry, sexy farce, involving lechers pretending (badly) to be nuns in order to get close to their objects of desire. Rossini’s scores are always sprightly and tuneful. This production was graced by a dynamite soprano, Kathryn Lewek, who tossed off the daunting coloratura fireworks with ease. I hope she returns soon with more bel canto delights. What a Daughter of the Regiment she’d make!

I’m equally pleased with Lyric’s new music director, Enrique Mazzola. He conducted both of these challenging works most sumptuously. It’s the music that counts, and in his hands, no amount of librettal lunacy can outweigh its power and beauty. We’re lucky to have him.

Deck some halls

John was King of Christmas. I was merely the clown prince. John would festoon the house with every last scrap of decoration he could disinter from the scores of boxes in the basement. He’d hang and drape and place until there was almost no room to move in the parlor. Then, he’d attack the outside with lights and wreaths galore.

My domains were the tree and the distribution of our stuffed menagerie. I enjoyed it and would brook no assistance. For the past two years, however, I’ve been in yuletide denial. I’d spend the holidays with my brother and sister-in-law, and this place would be dark and unadorned. For whom would I decorate? Who would see my tree and hunt for the pickle? No one. What was the point of the effort?

This year, I came to an answer. The effort was for me. There would be cheer in the house, even if I were the only one to see it. The ornaments would sparkle again in the glow of Christmas bulbs. The animals would be sprung from their darkened prison. I would put up a tree.

Now, this would not be the tall capacious tree of old, for which I had to ascend a ladder. Ladders were no longer my friends, and Steve and Johnnie forbade me to climb them. John used to issue the same prohibition, but if a light near the top of the tree needed changing, I’d wait until he was out of the house, climb up, and teeter precariously, getting the right color arrangement.

S&J forestalled any such capers by giving me a tree I can trim with my feet firmly on the ground. It doesn’t permit me to hang all of our ornaments, so I had to make some tough decisions. They didn’t come down to a Sophie’s choice; there was room for all of the oldest ornaments, all those that John and I had bought together as our ornaments of the year, and all the really spiffy pieces.

The parlor tree.

As to the rest, some went on a pencil tree by the bedroom door.

The pencil tree

Others were entombed in a box unlikely ever to be brought up again.

I’m not putting up a lot besides the tree. I did manage to get the lighted fence around it. Luke came by today to help me hang wreaths and search the boxes for a few essentials like the Santa with sleigh and reindeer that needs to dash out of the fence gate, and John’s childhood carnival book that opens out into a circus tent. There are a few other things that glisten and catch the light, and of course the animals. They’ll be all over the place.

Poor Santa’s had to lay off half his reindeer.

It won’t be Christmas City, as John would have made it, but it will be enough to keep me smiling this Christmas.

Crazy-ass people of three persuasions: part I – the Irish

Being Irish, I’ll give them top billing. I got a good stiff dose of my own ethnic heritage when I went to see The Banshees of Inisherin. It’s a marvelous film. I want to adopt it. The characters certainly need adopting – simple souls rattling about on a tiny island, where everybody knows everything there is to know about everybody else. There’s an aspect of comfort to this, but it also chafes, and they drive each other crazy. Moreover, as Irishmen (and women!) they are Olympic grade grudge holders. Don’t give me PC grief about this, as a fellow Hibernian, I know whereof I speak.

Yes, there are sweet and lovely Irish folk. If you’d rather see them, stream The Quiet Man; they’re in there somewhere, or Going My Way where they’re all over the place. But though the characters in “Banshees” are simple and maddeningly self destructive, you care about every single one of them. I did. They need hugs, a good shake, and a stiff talking-to, but there’s something dear about them all. Time and again, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or just shake my head and sigh.

The acting is perfection. It will be surprising if Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farell aren’t nominated for their glove-fitting turns as the lifelong friends making each other miserable. Gleeson’s character, the brighter of the two, is just smart enough for some agonizing epiphanies. Smarter still is Farell’s sister (Kerry Condon), wise enough to realize she must escape the isle to preserve her sanity. Hers is a strong, largely restrained performance.

The actor who interested me the most, however, was not one of the leads. Barry Keoghan plays Dominic, perhaps the simplest of all the souls on Inisherin.

Barry Keoghan

I think there’s a kind of magic required to portray such a person. Give it too much and you’ve been distractingly clever. Give too little and the character is a grating bore with whom we won’t identify. Keoghan pitches it exactly right, and in his big scene, a proposal of sorts, he breaks your heart. This is a young actor to watch, self invented, having been bounced from one foster home to another. The DC and Marvel franchises are paying him attention these days. I hope he’s wise enough to handle it.

I saw this movie over a week ago, and I still can’t get these characters out of my head. Please see it, if only to prove me wrong.

In part II, I’ll get around to some crazy Spaniards and Frenchmen, but possibly not until my Christmas trees are up.


With Autumn comes the adult movie season. That is to say movies intended for adults with attention spans. I don’t know when I’ve seen a film that better qualifies than Tar. Even as a precocious child, I’d have gotten the fidgets watching it.

I’d certainly have gotten them during the interminable and exasperating opening credits, a pointless endurance test, screen after screen filled to bursting with teeny white letters, impossible for these ancient orbs to decipher. And this was in a theater. I defy anyone streaming Tar to make out a single name or that person’s function. If I were involved with making the picture, I’d be enraged. Eventually, they do end, but not before I lost it and said aloud, “Enough already.”

What followed was challenging but extremely rewarding. Just when you might suppose Cate Blanchett has shown us every trick in her bag, she delivers a once-in-a-career performance unlike anything she’s done before. Her character describes herself as a U-Haul lesbian, and her demeanor, particularly her take charge stride, convinces you. There are scenes where at first I thought it was a man entering. Tar could easily have been a man’s story.

Cate Blanchett

Gender aside, this character is a preeminent conductor. The finely honed script – and Blanchett – persuade you that Lydia Tar has both a magical command of, and a deep love for classical music. This is something movies rarely get right. When, for example, the characters in Humoresque or Rhapsody in Blue start to talk about music, I want to tape their mouths firmly shut.

Tar, on the other hand, warms this music lover’s heart. You don’t need to be one to appreciate the film, but if you are, it adds so much. The pieces that figure prominently here are two of what would be my desert island works: Mahler’s 5th Symphony and Elgar’s Cello Concerto. I’ve listened to them raptly for years, and what one hears of them in Tar does them justice.

The picture does contain at least one bit of comic relief from its overall seriousness in spades.Three of us burst out laughing when Lydia takes up an accordion, breaks into horrendous song, and dances thumpingly around her apartment to prevent it being sold.

Back to Blanchett. So vivid is her portrayal that it ceased to be fiction for me. The outcome left me shaken as though it were happening to someone I knew, someone deeply flawed, and deeply gifted. Among other things, Tar raises again the question of what to think, what to do about artists whose powers of creation make life worth living, but whose own lives repel us.

Some may find the very ending puzzling or ambiguous. I did not. What ultimately happens to Lydia Tar seemed all too clear to me, and I would very much enjoy discussing it with anyone who didn’t find it so. In any case, Tar is a movie worth seeing and talking about.