In February, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, shockingly told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the nearly 16-year old war in South Asia with the Taliban was essentially a “stalemate.”
When you see The Wedding Plan, which you must, you will leave the theater with a joyful heart. Regardless of your degree of religious or spiritual attachment, your appreciation for how everything falls into place will be as ecstatic as that of a child watching a rabbit summoned from an empty hat. Rama Burshtein, writer/director, works her magic in unusual ways. Her heroine Michal, played by Noa Kooler in a bravura performance, is a 30-something religious woman who has been dropped by her fiance and is now facing the realization of how desperately she yearns for the closeness of marriage and the normalcy it signifies in her community. She wants to be the hostess at Shabbat dinners instead of the perennial guest; she wants the holy warmth of being with someone who will care for her as much as she will care for him - forever. Though this is typical of other versions of the “princess bride,” Michal is not. She reminded me of an ultra-orthodox iteration of Seinfeld’s Elaine - a curly-haired, dark-eyed hellion who can be stubborn and temperamental but always radiantly alive and unconventionally lovable. Despite the breakup of her engagement, Michal determines that if she arranges for a wedding on the 8th day of Chanukah , a holiday of miracles, God will provide the correct groom.
In “Bonfire of the Vanities,” Tom Wolfe satirized the tendency of prosecutors and the media to label every black child victimized by crime an honor student He must be smiling at the legacy that tendency has spawned which can be seen in the title of this piece. It is a portion of a NYT headline for an article about an ex-con who recently graduated and is pictured smiling and shaking hands with another graduate, both in the full regalia of cap and gown. (Walking the Long Road From Isolated in Prison to Magna Cum Laude, Katharine Q Seelye, NYT 5/14/17). Kyle Gathers, now 31, has spent the better part of ten years in prison, two in isolation, for drug-dealing and shootings. Since being released, he enrolled in a program at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, specializing in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning technology; it is this program to which the title refers.
The smart set in Silicon Valley, the people who gave us Google, Facebook and other companies worth many billions, have never lacked for ambition. However, they may finally be overreaching as they attempt to solve two of history’s most insoluble problems: the search for truth and the quest for immortality.
Count the derogatory characteristics stereotypically applied to Jews and confirmed by this scathing film: pushy, two-faced, greedy, power-hungry, untrustworthy, social-climbing, controlling, puppet-masters of the government - there are more but let’s start with these. Under the guise of being a soft-spoken, gentle schlemiel - the kind of man who knows how to manipulate an invite to a billionaire’s dinner party but shows up wearing a newsboy’s cap that signals why he doesn’t belong - Richard Gere plays Norman, a man who lives by connecting people to other people who can do them important favors. By tailing an Israeli minister as he meanders back to his NY hotel after an important meeting, Norman eventually introduces himself in an elegant men’s shop and promises to get the minister an invitation to the billionaire’s dinner that night. To establish his credibility, he insists on paying for the minister’s exorbitantly expensive shoes - previously tried on and rejected for their extravagance. The greedy minister accepts the offer, and if adjusted for inflation, probably sells out for less than Judas did. Jews have always loved both shekels and beautiful menswear - think of Joseph and that rainbow coat.
It came as a shock when it was reported last week that actress Erin Moran died in Indiana, her body unceremoniously removed from a rural trailer park. In the 1970’s, she was one of the most recognizable faces on television. At twelve she played Ron Howard’s little sister Joanie Cunningham on the sitcom Happy Days, the cute girl who “The Fonz” used to call “Shortcake”. The show had a ten-year run after which she starred in a spin-off, Joanie Loves Chachi, which was cancelled quickly. After that, Erin’s life spiraled downhill, and she became another in the long line of show business children whose lives ended tragically.
I have heard of the “snowflake generation,” but, on some level, thought the idea of grown men and women unable to tolerate anything outside their “comfort zone” without crumbling to dust, was a clever, media-derived sound-bite thing.
The progress seen in the pitched battle between Iraqi troops (supported by U.S. forces) and ISIS for control of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul may seem like the light at the end of the dark Islamic State tunnel. But that hopeful glimmer may just be a geopolitical freight train coming the other way.
In one scene in this British film, two women who work together are having a conversation and one remarks to the other that she appears tired and worn out compared to how she looked some time before when she looked so ______; she searches for the right adjective, waits several beats and finally says “so vivid.” The retrieval of this uncommon “mot juste” as opposed to more generic possibilities, crystallizes what lifts this small movie into the realm of memorable film. The dialogue is precise and intelligent; the characters speak in complete sentences; they are adults living through the blitz during the second world war. There are no stock caricatures to be found. The narcissistic actor who craves the spotlight is also articulate and self-aware with redeemable charm. It’s a part tailor-made for Bill Nighy and his delivery is flawless. The ingenue, a young woman who gets recruited to help write a propaganda film to entice the U.S. to enter the war, is someone who already had the gumption to leave Wales and live with her lover. Her earnest collaborator wears serious glasses but is intuitive enough to have guessed much more about her background from a small detail which I won’t reveal. The two of them spar and circle each other but we feel their growing bond and cheer them on.
Last Tuesday, Roberta Smith, art critic for the NYTimes, presented an even-handed discussion questioning whether art that angers should remain on view (NYT 3/28/17) It was an odd way of framing a different question entirely, for nobody gets angry at the display of Picasso’s Guernica, Goya’s Black paintings or any number of other historical paintings of war, massacre or political brutality. This article was stimulated by the inclusion in the Whitney Biennial of a painting by Dana Schutz, a white artist, showing the body of Emmett Till, a black teenager wrongfully accused of raping a white woman and killed and disfigured by white men. The aspect of this that provoked anger was the now popular concept of “cultural appropriation,” a concept that applies equally to the frivolous (cornrow braids and sombreros) as well as the sober issues of racism and historical events. Some black people have decided that whites cannot possibly empathize with the grief attendant to a racial lynching and therefore have no right to deal with that subject artistically.
The first thing you’ll notice about After the Storm is the height of its star, Hiroshi Abe; in a country where the average male is 5′7″ this man is a towering 6′2″ and looks like Gregory Peck - both wonderful attributes. Except that this casting interferes with the plot. We’re asked to accept this character as a down and out writer, unable to summon the money he owes his short ex-wife for child support and reduced to borrowing from his short sister and stealing from his shorter mother. But all we can think is - are you kidding me? this guy could get a job in a minute as a model or movie star earning way more money than he did with his novel He’d be plucked right off the sidewalk by ten different modeling or movie agents before he walked three blocks in downtown Tokyo. Imagine casting George Clooney as Willy Loman and you’ll understand the problem.
Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, publishes papers on brain science with titles like “Vesicular acetylcholine transporter defect underlies devastating congenital myasthenia syndrome.”
The title of this adaptation of a Julian Barnes novel seemed prophetic as several people in the rows near me could be heard asking each other for clarification of exactly what did happen at the end of the movie. This was not a purposeful device on the part of the director who wished to leave certain information ambiguous - instead, it was the result of a pile-on of too much information crammed too quickly into a tidy ending. It reminded me of what a hostess does when guests are at the front door too early and miscellaneous stuff needs to be collected and tossed into a closet so the entrance way looks neat.
Ohad Naharin, dancer, choreographer and director of the Batsheva Dance Company is a handsome and charismatic man, one whom the camera loves, but 1 3/4 hrs of him in the current documentary reveal some questionable character traits beyond his obvious talent. He tells us often how unusual it is for a dancer to start training in his 20’s; how Martha Graham and Maurice Bejart were smitten with him and hired him instantly; how he danced along with Nureyev at American Ballet Theater - in fact, there’s no one in this film who didn’t or doesn’t adore him. We see him working with his dancers, often offering sensitive insights about what attracts him to these particular individuals and often repeating the same advice too many times for one film. Eventually, after seeing snippets from so many of his works, we become aware of too much repetition thematically and artistically - this is a good example of how trying to show everything becomes more of a liability than an homage.
If you check out the article on transgender models in the Sunday Times, you will see an eye-popping photograph of a slim biological man with enormous breast implants reaching out of “their” gown for the stratosphere. We have already been inundated by pictures of Caitlin Jenner and Laverne Cox and many other nameless prototypes of trans-remodeled bodies but this one is such a caricature of female sexuality that it brings to mind several questions.
As it stands now, the blame for the debacle at the Academy Awards has fallen on the shoulders of one Brian Cullinan, who has suddenly become one of the most prominent figures in Hollywood. Mr. Cullinan, a senior auditor for PwC, formerly Price Waterhouse, allegedly gave presenter Warren Beatty the wrong envelope for the Best Picture Winner and then failed to correct the mistake promptly. Reports suggest Cullinan might have been distracted because he was doing a little backstage tweeting right before the Best Picture presentation.
Lt. General Hal Moore, one of the greatest American military heroes of the 20th Century, died recently and his passing received scant attention in most media outlets. This is lamentable because he was someone we should teach our children about - a formidable but loyal and compassionate warrior, and a brilliant natural leader whose name is legend at West Point. He will be forever be remembered as a hero of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, probably the most important American military engagement of the last 60 years.
In an effort to prevent President Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski from speaking at the University of Chicago, UC philosophy professor Anton Ford told a Tribune interviewer, “Sometimes there are people or views that are dangerous in and of themselves. The very ceremony of debating that is problematic. What is troubling about the general way this is talked about is that it is as if nothing is out of bounds.”
When we watch a documentary film, we assume that we are seeing a true story and that there will be sufficient information for us to contemplate its veracity. In this film about a former leader of Hungary’s far-right, anti-semitic, holocaust- denying Jobbik party, there are huge blocks of missing information that would have helped to put the main character in better context. Csanad Szegedi is the protagonist whose life is upended by the discovery that his grandmother is a Jewish woman who was deported to Auschwitz and bears the tattoo which she has concealed until now. Not wanting to relive the horrors that she had already experienced, she married a non-Jew and raised her daughter without any reference to Judaism. Similarly the half-Jewish daughter followed in her mother’s footsteps and never mentioned it to her son, Csanad.
We first see Sergeant Rasmussen barking orders at a line of young, dispirited German prisoners of war. The Second World War has ended and the Danes have ordered German soldiers to clear the Danish coastline of millions of land mines planted there by the Nazis. Rasmussen’s reaction to seeing one of the POW’s carrying a Danish flag is to beat him to a merciless pulp, revealing the pent-up frustration and fury at the German occupation of his country. With his mustache and shrill shrieks, we get a subliminal reference to the Fuhrer who started WW II and we quickly understand that this is a movie that will unsettle our certain feelings about winners and losers and heroes and villains.
It should be obvious to even the casual observer that the new American president has something up his sleeve regarding how he engages with the Russian president. Part of that engagement clearly involves curious responses to those who would make observations abut the Russian leader’s various sins.
Chicago has played a role in the arts. Poetry, of course, ever since a teenage Charlie Sandburg took $1.50 earned on a milk truck in Galesburg and came here to check out the city’s big shoulders. Music certainly, from Louis Armstrong coming up from New Orleans to the Rolling Stones cutting an album at Chess Records on South Michigan Avenue in 1964.