Monthly Archives: May 2014

Bright Days Ahead

The most shocking development in the French infidelity drama Bright Days Ahead is the heroine Caroline’s decision to resume smoking. She announces it twice, to an indifferent husband (Patrick Chesnais) and to a slightly more surprised daughter, with the ardor of a person who gives not a fuck. Call it a unsubtle mea culpa, an admission besides which fucking around with a man twenty years her junior looks silly. Retired after decades as a dentist, Caroline resists the entertainments offered at the retirement community after which the film is named: pottery lessons, yoga, amateur productions, and, most, what the French call l’informatique. That a sixty-year-old woman in the twenty-first century needs computer lessons is absurd, but as Cate Blanchett learned in Blue Jasmine it’s how you meet available guys who aren’t gay. Instructor Julien (Laurent Lafitte) flirts with the mastery of a man who can always say he didn’t mean it if called out. Besides, he needs dental work but apparently not a barber to eliminate the hideous goatee. She takes him to her old clinic. “I wouldn’t mind doing a molar from time to time,” Caroline says. Time for a deep cleaning. At the eighteen-minute mark he and Caroline have had their first kiss; at the twenty-minute mark they are fondling in the car. By the time the clock strikes thirty minutes she’s loosened her hair and trading puffs of a joint and swigs of red wine on his bed.

Francois Ozon rendered Young & Beautiful as a narrative whose elisions and lacuna were crucial to keeping its young prostitute at a distance akin to a sculptor and his model. Although barely over ninety minutes, Bright Days Ahead mistrusts the audience. Wary of ambiguity, Marion Vernoux takes a chronological trudge through discovering-myself banalities. During ruminative moments Caroline stares at the sea. There’s a lot of staring at the sea in this picture. She checks her cell phone often. She asks about other women; Julien parries. At a chichi wine bar called — ho ho — the Garden of Delights where Caroline panics at the thought of being seen by friends, Julien suggests they run out without paying. L’amour fou and all that. Vernoux actually includes a montage of the couple that resembles this wizardly sequence but kitschy piano trills substituting.

As played by Fanny Ardant, Caroline has let the years accumulate without her marking that sixty years have been lived. Interacting with the women at Bright Days Ahead, she’s stiff and humorless, a novitiate who accepts retirement as an entombment. The expected thing would be to watch as Ardant seizes life with renewed intensity, but Vernoux includes two inhibitors. First, while a wonderful camera object, Ardant is not a resourceful actress, resorting even in her The Woman Next Door days to oh-sweet-mystery-of-woman softness encouraged by adoring male directors (still, applause for the generous kohl eyeliner that even husband Philippe wonders why she applies; a fool for love, that Caroline). Secondly, Philippe’s posture, predetermined in movies like this, undercuts Caroline’s risk-taking. If nothing is at stake, nothing is delivered. But their most eyeopening decision happens in the last two minutes. If you remember Cocoon, you know what I mean.

“How was I to know which way the story’d go?”

Discussing this eyeopening “live” performance of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” with friends on Facebook, I reminded them that Kenny Rogers had cajoled and shamed an American Music Awards audience in 1995 into joining him for a tenth-anniversary rendition of “We Are the World.” It was obvious that no other performance in Rogers’ long career had moved him so much as his contribution to Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson’s ad for stars seducing the audience into donating money for Ethiopian children. No one was on cue. They looked appalled. Prince, famously absent from the original sessions, did Rogers a favor. He stood beside him sucking on a lollipop, thinking about cymbals in Guinea.

I can’t find the clip. Hang me. But I did find the only other performance I remember that night: Madonna, months before Evita opera lessons and you can tell, debuting “Take a Bow,” aided by exquisite Babyface harmonies. She looks terrified.

Singles 5/30

Keyshia Cole’s resigned “Next Time…” and Ledisi’s buoyant “I Blame You’ top this week’s list, with Kevin Gates growling from the cleaning products aisle in the supermarket as runner-up. But Wayne’s fierce turn on a Fucking Drake song surprised me like Lambert and Underwood (hell of a law firm, that) and their award show pyrotechnic didn’t. Also: Nicki Minaj sings again.

Click on links for full reviews.

Ledisi – I Blame You (7)
Kevin Gates – Arm & Hammer (7)
Keyshia Cole – Next Time (Won’t Give My Heart Away) (7)
Lil Wayne ft. Drake – Believe Me (6)
John Walt – Kemo Walk (6)
Robin Thicke – Get Her Back (6)
Jazmine Sullivan ft. Meek Mill – Dumb (5)
Miranda Lambert & Carrie Underwood – Somethin’ Bad (5)
Nicki Minaj – Pills N Potions (4)
The Common Linnets – Calm After the Storm (4)
Nico & Vinz – Am I Wrong (5)
Linkin Park ft. Rakim – Guilty All the Same (2)
Mariah Carey – Thirsty (1)

The politics of HIV

Catching HIV is one of the last worries on the mind of the young gay men I meet. The virus that can turn into full-fledged AIDS killed millions of men and made a generation of survivors wary of sexual contact. Now we learn that in Florida patients who need drugs pay higher co-pays:

The Affordable Care Act ended denial of coverage for preexisting conditions and, with the opening of the healthcare marketplace in October 2013, people with HIV/AIDS could enroll in health insurance for the first time under the ACA.

But an analysis by the AIDS Institute of Florida’s silver-level health plans found that the four companies placed HIV and hepatitis drugs in their highest formulary tiers, meaning that people who need those drugs must pay the highest out-of-pocket costs for them. According to the study:

• CoventryOne places all HIV drugs in Tier 5 of its formulary, requiring a 40 percent co-insurance after a $1,000 prescription deductible.

• Cigna also places all HIV and hepatitis drugs in Tier 5 with 40 percent co-insurance after a deductible ranging from $0 to $2,750.

• Humana places all HIV and hepatitis drugs in Tier 5 with a 50 percent co-insurance after a $1,500 deductible.

• Preferred Medical places all HIV drugs and all but two hepatitis drug in a Specialty Tier requiring 40 percent co-insurance.

In each case, most or all of the drugs require prior authorization.

Because these victims are often the poorest, they have no advocates; like the rural victims of the mindless dicta which bans states like mine from receiving the ACA’s Medicaid expansion or who make too much over the poverty line to qualify for federal aid anyway, they’re in limbo.

Reviewed: Kevin Gates, Röyksopp-Robyn

Kevin Gates – By Any Means

The keeper is “Movie,” a quiet account about the birth of his child in which his iPhone reminds him of a new set of responsibilities he can’t avoid, keyed to a mournful synth and his lulling honey-thick rap-sing. Like Biggy and ODB and Young Jeezy, Kevin Gates has a voice so singular that on first listen it’s hard to know whether he can rhyme (“4:30 AM” and “IHOP” settled that). His third mix tape in a year and tenth overall has Plies and Rico Love’s okay contributions and the pizzicatos and block string samples familiar to Maybach Music records. But Gates finds a novel metaphor for the coke trade in “Arm and Hammer,” not to mention a novel way of interpolating “Frère Jacques” (with an organ). On the Dave Cappa-helmed “Can’t Make This Up,” he blesses his good fortune and looks forward to higher highs, the more natural the better: “Never popped a molly/But when I’m on coffee I feel as if I done just tried it.”

Royksopp & Robyn – Do It Again

On the title track they realize they’d downloaded Britney’s Femme Fatale three years ago but never listened. “Monument” is a nine-minute zombie plod through a land of strategically deployed sax blurts, 1979 synths, and a statue at the center that’s Robyn, intoning statuesque lyrics as if regretting she wasn’t made of plaster. Bleeping and twinkling at half speed, “Every Little Thing” at first hints at a similar dead end until the keyboards stack higher and higher to match Robyn’s masochism. Neither artist is at his and their best, Robyn in particular unable to figure out what romantic pose to enact over the beats. She’s Christine McVie, not Scott Walker.

If there were no Barack Obama, Barack Obama would dream of him

Published two months ago but coming to my attention this evening, this David Bromwich dissection of Barack Hussein Obama’s conception of the presidency indulges in the speculative psychology that partisans can treat like a loaded weapon in the same room as a wounded animal, but I can’t argue with its tracing of the arc of his career. If Ronald Reagan incarnated conservatism in 1979 and 1980, Barack Obama incarnates Barack Obamaism akin to Laurence Olivier’s Crassus’ vision of Rome as shared in Spartacus: Rome is an eternal thought in the mind of God. If there were no Barack Obama, Barack Obama would dream of him:

Obama entered the presidency at 47 — an age at which people as a rule are pretty much what they are going to be. It is a piece of mystification to suppose that we have been denied a rescue that this man, under happier circumstances, would have been well equipped to perform. There have been a few genuine shocks: on domestic issues he has proven a more complacent technocrat than anyone could have imagined — a facet of his character that has emerged in his support for the foundation-driven testing regimen “Race to the Top,” with its reliance on outsourcing education to private firms and charter schools. But the truth is that Obama’s convictions were never strong. He did not find this out until his convictions were tested, and they were not tested until he became president.

Perhaps the thin connection between Obama’s words and his actions does not support the use of the word “conviction” at all. Let us say instead that he mistook his preferences for convictions — and he can still be trusted to tell us what he would prefer to do. Review the record and it will show that his first statement on a given issue generally lays out what he would prefer. Later on, he resigns himself to supporting a lesser evil, which he tells us is temporary and necessary. The creation of a category of permanent prisoners in “this war we’re in” (which he declines to call “the war on terror”) was an early and characteristic instance. Such is Obama’s belief in the power and significance of his own words that, as he judges his own case, saying the right thing is a decent second-best to doing the right thing.

Aware of the vituperation hurled by a Republican party closer to a pathology than a coalition of reconcilable interests, Bromwich nevertheless doesn’t account for what presidential model would work in 2014. As for Obama, surely the tragedy is to dream of a cult of aspirationists lobbying for legislation in a branch of government which the opposition neither acknowledges or respects.