anti-romcoms & assorted pastries
Radio Bakery, Foul Witch, the aggrieved masculinity of Michael Douglas
I don’t find Michael Douglas sexy at all. Whiny and reptilian, he exudes personal torment more than magnetic sensuality. This month’s newsletter started as a casual sampling of erotic thrillers, a subgenre that’s ripe for reappraisal—and also Douglas’s distinguished domain—so I’m concentrating on just a few films starring America’s beleaguered yuppie as power slips from his oily grasp. Highly relevant, but not included: Basic Instinct, which is canon and you should watch it immediately if you haven’t already.
For some actual rom-coms, check out last year’s dispatch.
Adrian Lyne, 1987
The “zeitgeist hit of the decade” is a potent time capsule of 80s gender politics that forcefully proclaims women can’t have it all. Not much happens beyond what everyone already knows: A 40-something man (Michael Douglas) cheats on his beautiful wife (Anne Archer) and mother of his child with a career gal (Glenn Close) who turns out to be mentally unstable, bunny-boiling stalker.
She initially serves as a promising fling for Douglas’s lawyer character, an escape from his constricting traditional life. Lyne’s camera reiterates the claustrophobia and economic unease of his situation, catching Douglas between rooms, doorways, and material clutter of his UWS apartment. Aware of these spatial deficiencies, his wife convinces him to move the family to the tony suburbs of Westchester. When she’s out house-hunting, Dan falls in bed with Alex who, by contrast, lives alone in a roomy Meatpacking District-apartment, high-ceilinged and minimally furnished—indications of an unfettered life.
You can spot the lines drawn by Paramount, which tamped down and amped up certain aspects of the female characters and eventually ordered a different ending, one that upholds and reunites the nuclear family. Close’s non-traditional beauty contrasts Archer’s soft feminine allure, the latter lit beatifically while the former’s glaring face remains half shrouded in darkness. Even though she’s robbed of the original, arguably more feminist finale, Close remains the movie’s beating heart, not to be ignored.
Barry Levinson, 1994
Michael Douglas plays a hardware manufacturing manager at a tech company passed over for promotion and sexually assaulted by his former fling/new boss played by Demi Moore, who was presumably given little to work from beyond “Conniving Bitch.” Once again we find patriarchy in the midst of persecution and Michael Douglas aggrieved by the working woman, here in the physical sense. Sexual harassment is about power, as we all know too well. Douglas yells: “When did I ever have it?!” Plot-wise never, but generally as a cishet white male, always.
Ultimately Disclosure is too contrived to be incendiary and not intellectually demanding enough to spark formidable discussion. It’s adapted from a book by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park) but clearly cashing in on the craze of Basic Instinct. (The posters even look alike.) The movie is perhaps most notable now for its confused understanding and possibly incoherent use of VR: Douglas dons a headset to retrieve important files that were erased from his real computer but continue to live on in the digital ether. Supporting turns by Dennis Miller, Dylan Baker, and Donald Sutherland, ever the stonecold overlord.
A PERFECT MURDER
Andrew Davis, 1998
Money woes and economic anxiety come to a head for Douglas in A Perfect Murder, where he plays a Wall Street trader so deep in his losses he plots to murder his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) and inherit her millions. She’s also shtupping a painter (Viggo Mortensen, underutilized!!) who lives in the far recesses of Brooklyn (Greenpoint). The parties involved evince a fizzling stoic chemistry and the camera prioritizes standoffish interiors over foreplay, erotic potential extinguished in favor of chilly architectural facades.
Douglas’s scowling replaces Ray Milland’s charm, while Paltrow in the Grace Kelly role totes the Princess of Monaco’s signature Birkin. Efficient in plot but drab in tone, the real travesty of this remake of Hitchcock’s Dial M. for Murder lies in the severe lack of screen time dedicated to Gwyneth’s outfits: The Row-esque knits and head-to-toe chestnut hues in wintry shearlings and suedes.
up-and-coming: RADIO BAKERY
The other week I had some excellent pastries from Radio Bakery’s highly civilized popup at Claud. The Greenpoint storefront opens soon, but in the meantime you can catch them on Sunday 2/19 at Bonnie’s.
An extra buttery and obscenely good nduja “croissant.” The dough is curlicued into a snail and burnished with frizzled parmesan. It was the savory pastry to end all pastries.
A hefty slab of BEC focaccia, which had all the requisite accouterments of ny’s quintessential sandwich baked into it.
I’ve long been sold on the Roman way to breakfast, whipped cream on brioche, so imagine my delight at the blood orange maritozzi.
Tangy passion fruit curd gamely contrasts all the sugar-dusting in the morning bun.
If Michael Douglas were a restaurant he would undoubtedly be a Clinton-era steakhouse, or maybe Nobu. Commanding but unthreatening; outdated but inoffensive; faintly global but thoroughly American. These are 90s touchstones best enjoyed on someone else’s corporate dime. I encountered someone who would conform to such a place, at the newly opened Foul Witch, which otherwise isn’t similar at all.
A man in armed in gleaming white chinos and a needling insecurity popped in and demanded a bottle list next to me at the bar of this narrow restaurant, where soft lights twinkle and bounce off Murano glass. His outmoded Nike Frees and wild gesturing towards photos of his very blonde wife betrayed his attempted flex—that and the fact that he asked for natural wines only, at what is a nominally a natural wine bar. He ended up with Chardonnay. Perhaps it was just enthusiasm and I’m being too harsh, but he also failed to order any food—which comes from Carlo Mirarchi of Blanca and Roberta’s—and that is truly unforgivable. His loss.
Dining alone, I couldn’t order everything I wanted, and while these smallish plates don’t come cheap, I’d return in an instant to try some more of them.
Incredible bread service. Sourdough focaccia ate perfectly well on its own, but I split open the ficelle (a lighter baguette, more manageable on your teeth) plied it with butter and slipped in a few slender slices of coppa to fashion an impromptu and Italianate jambon beurre.
Roasted mushrooms are guaranteed to delight. Here the maitake, oyster, and chanterelle varieties are lightly blistered up in a wood-burning oven, neatly cut into bite-size pieces and served in an addictive turnip broth reminiscent of cider, almost tannic and hay-like. Neatly accentuating those flavors are crisp Korean pears.
The meat in the veal tortellini is nearly dissolved but aromatically redolent, wielding the delicate but concentrated power of young beef. There are only a handful of these, snuggled in a light amaretto broth, so it works as an appetizer—for two at most.
A new pasta great has emerged: goat garganelli. Generously daubed with sheep’s milk cheese, unfastened quills of pasta hide tender shreds of goat. Bits of chervil lighten the affair.
I don’t know that I would order this dessert on my own, but lapped it up when restaurant sent it over: slivers of mandarins and other winter citrus, intermixed with bits of serrano pepper and bobs of breadcrumb. It’s not unlike ceviche without the fish. This palate cleanser would make for a mean addition to a screwdriver or Bloody Mary.