Before seeing “Mr. Turner,” written and directed by Mike Leigh, it would be wise to get some background information on JMW Turner, the great British painter who transformed seascapes into ephemeral swirls of impressionistic light and color decades before impressionism became a movement. In the movie, Turner is played by Timothy Spall who creates a persona not unlike the hunchback of Notre Dame - a man whose default facial expression is a tight-lipped scowl, underscored by frequent grunts and inappropriate gropes. Though he wears a top hat and is clearly an acclaimed member of the Royal Academy, it’s hard for his peers and the audience to know what to make of his behavior. Does he suffer from Tourettes syndrome or some personality disorder? What accounts for his attractiveness to the kind and caring Mrs. Booth who doesn’t know that he is the famous painter until well into their relationship? Leigh does little to try to explain Turner’s peculiarities, wanting us to accept him at face value - an eccentric genius and a riddle for which there is no answer.
A decade ago, a Danish publication posted cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that roiled the Muslim world, resulting in death threats for the editor whose life was subsequently lived under constant security watch. Although this was international headline news, The New York Times refused to publish any of the cartoons, buckling in fear for the security of its own establishment. So of course it’s ironic and amusing that their editorials have been so self-righteous about the need to uphold our absolute freedom of speech in the wake of No Korea’s hacking of SONY and threats to theater owners of a 9/11 type of retribution for screening The Interview. The most sensible suggestion I have read is that the government pay SONY for the rights to the film and then air it free on television and over the internet. It seems patently unfair to call for greater courage from commercial theater owners than the Times was able to summon in its role as dispatcher of all the news that’s fit to print.
In considering the sequence of events, I’m troubled by the notion that private businesses, in this case theater owners, should be expected to pay the penalty for the foolishness of other for profit private ventures. Even if no act of terrorism resulted from the hackers’ threat, wouldn’t audiences stay away from that possibility and wouldn’t theater owners suffer a financial loss? And what would their liability have been if any act of violence had occurred? Would Seth Rogen’s movie have been any different with a fictitious name for an Asian dictator? Is any work of fiction justified in using the real name of a living head of state or public personality? At what point does freedom of speech clash with the right to live without being threatened? What would the reaction of American pundits have been to a satiric movie about President Obama being lynched? We live in a society where you cannot say or print the word nigger without euphemizing it with just its initial - does that represent freedom of speech? Is one word more inflammatory than a movie whose plot concerns a political assassination?
If the Times wishes to restore its bona fides in this area, let it now publish the Mohammed cartoons along with an apology to the American public for its dereliction of duty the first time around. And perhaps a mea culpa to SONY and the theater owners for the Times having made the same decision themselves ten years ago, before deciding to lambaste them for their behavior would be sheepishly appropriate.
All my life I’ve been hearing people talk about their diets and frankly, it bored me to tears. I had never dieted, as I am a cardio junky, and had always burned more calories than necessary to remain reasonably thin. And then, about a year and a half ago, I got a job as a staff writer for The Arsenio Hall Show.
I last saw Brenner about a year ago in New York City. Although graying a bit, he was as sharp and edgy as ever both on stage and off. His observational humor included stories about how New York City has changed through the years. Bike lanes and taxis were among his targets. Many of his longtime social and political subjects are equally relevant today–overcrowded prisons, America’s school system, Congress and lobbyists. He described his humor as talking about the simple things in everyday life. He stayed up-to-date on current events and discovers the ridiculous side of them in his stand-up act.
“If Satchmo played the trumpet, I wouldn’t have to do anything,” a recently svelte Paula West said. “I’d just sit back and let him make a load of money.” She was referring to her five-year-old French Bull dog sitting at her feet. The dog is named after the late legendary jazz musician Louis Armstrong. Satch, who accompanies the vocalist everywhere, relaxes in the green room during her performances. “Satch is a big attention whore; he’s changed my life.” She continued, “I don’t trust people who don’t like dogs. It’s as offensive as saying, ‘I don’t like Mexicans or I don’t like Blacks.’” She feels those folks are missing something in life. She clarifies, “he’s not my kid; but he’s my baby. The plus side is the ramifications of ‘F’ ing up a kid are worse.”
It only took the first day of Cheryl Strayed’s 1,000 mile odyssey to make me uncomfortable - the moment when she yanks off her rotting toenail and watches her shoe tumble down a ravine, then tosses its mate furiously after it. I worried about the details - wouldn’t she be in pain hiking without a toenail? why didn’t she bandage her toe to protect it from infection? Did she bring along an extra pair of boots? By day 3, my concern about her foot was eclipsed by my fears about her marching through a scorching desert all day long without a hat - a blue-eyed blonde with ivory skin - wouldn’t she have been burnt toast by day 1? When a director chooses to structure a movie by the calendar, we expect a greater degree of versimilitude; he is telling us “this is how it was day by day - right from Chery’l diary.” So here she was, a woman who had packed about 40 lbs of equipment to carry on her back through open wilderness without even a 6 oz baseball cap. She had a tent, a stove, a pot, chemicals to turn swamp water into potable liquid, dried packaged mush, enough books for a small sidewalk stand in Greenwich Village, enough condoms for a professional, but NO HAT.
About six weeks before the 2012 presidential election, I was walking through Rockefeller Center in New York when I heard a woman’s voice calling my name. I hesitated before I turned around: As a conservative in Gotham, I never know if I’ll be accosted by a raving leftist screaming “fascist!” at me. (Yes, that happened.)
Nothing illegal transpired when the grand jury voted not to indict the policeman who put Eric Garner in a chokehold. People may not have liked that decision but no one has accused the prosecutor of not following the proper guidelines of the law or the jury of having been corrupted. There are remedies for dissatisfaction with this conclusion and they have already started to go into effect. The federal govt has begun preliminary investigations into the possibility of a Civil Rights lawsuit and the family of Mr. Garner will undoubtedly initiate a civil suit against the city for wrongful death. A prestigious law school should have used this event as an important lesson in how our legal system works and how individual rights are balanced against other forces and considerations. Instead, Columbia Law School has deemed this event a trauma for its students and has decided to postpone final exams for those students too impaired to take them. By this reasoning, every time a lawyer loses a case, he should be excused from his immediate work load. The only people who can properly be considered traumatized by Garner’s death are members of his immediate family; students of all colors who are displeased should still be held to their academic responsibilities or the definition of trauma gets diluted down to sheer meaningless-ness.
Newsflash: North Korea did not hack into Sony Pictures in retaliation for the studio’s upcoming release of “The Interview” — based on a script about a kooky, clandestine CIA plot to off North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
While the Rev Al Sharpton was in Ferguson last Sunday, whipping up continued frenzy over the refusal of the grand jury to indict white Officer Darren Wilson for killing a black man who had just committed a robbery and when apprehended, tried to grab the officer’s gun, 8 black people were shot - 3 fatally - in Newark and 4 more at a baby shower in Brooklyn. These were all young adults whose lives were snuffed out or brutally impacted by other blacks, though no arrests have been made so far. A month ago, a black man used his car to plow into a crowd of black people who had also attended a baby shower, killing one and injuring two. The racial violence of black on black is a nightmare for law-abiding urban black citizens, most of whom understand that the police are there to protect them, not act as executioners. But for the Reverend Al, playing the race card has always been and continues to be his only modus operandi. It’s the ticket to his overwhelming acceptance by American political leaders, too intimidated to excoriate a lying tax cheat who profits from his motor-mouthed characterization of black people as continually oppressed and victims of white racism.