What a wonderful relief is was to watch a current movie that is meant for viewers who are articulate and appreciate a script that has not one vulgar four-letter adjective to precede every noun. After the rave reviews of The Long Shot, a film that is soaked in slime in which highly educated people sound like they walked off the set of The Sopranos, Tolkien was a return to inspiration from brilliant and creative characters whose dialogue matches their intellectual talents.
There are many adjectives that have been used to amplify anti-semitism — racist, bigoted, ignorant, evil - but never has a situation so perfectly demanded the word “ironic.” The UK Disabled Students Campaign which affiliates with the UK National Union of Students issued the following resolution at their annual conference: “We are proudly antiracist, anti-colonial, anti-Zionist and thus support the Palestinian struggle for their liberation.” Ironically, Israel is at the forefront of technological development to assist disabled and severely handicapped people throughout the world. Had the students bothered to google prosthetic devices or medical technology developed by Israel, they might have thought twice before espousing something that if successful, would end up shooting themselves in the proverbial foot with their knee-jerk intersectionalism.
A film about the greatest male dancer of his generation should convey at the very least the speed and perfection for which he was known. Unfortunately, The White Crow, a biopic of Rudolph Nureyev, is too often a static production with too little depiction of the dancer in an extended ballet sequence and too much mooning at his yearning or irritable face - the default expressions the director has chosen to emphasize . We see short scenes of the dancer’s talented leaps and twirls and too many scenes of his petulant tantrums which become increasingly annoying with each escalation.
Purporting to outline the current disease of hatred on both left and right “extremes,” the Times caption reads, “Surge of Anti-Semitism in Europe and U.S. as Economies Cool,” thereby solidifying one of the most heinous anti-semitic tropes - conflating Jews with money. As for the Democrat party, anti-semitism has jumped from its extremes to mainstream candidates for office and members of congress who consider it merely an example of freedom of speech.
Purporting to outline the current disease of hatred on both left and right “extremes,” the Times caption reads: “Surge of Anti-Semitism in Europe and U.S. as Economies Cool,” thereby solidifying one of the most heinous anti-semitic tropes, conflating Jews with money. (NYT 4/5/19) As for the Democrat party, anti-semitism has jumped from its extremes to mainstream candidates for office and members of congress who consider it merely an example of freedom of speech.
I can’t pretend to have caught all of Jordan Peele’s allusions in this horror film, but I am fairly certain that even younger, hipper culture junkies may not be successful either. Whatever intention the writer/producer/director may have had has gotten buried or obfuscated by an overly complicated plot that includes dopplegangers, flashbacks, prophetic warnings, subterranean caverns and overhead shots of an overly symbolic Hands Across America demonstration
Despite being a late viewer of this film which has won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and was nominated for best foreign film in the US., I can’t miss the opportunity to inspire any other latecomers to see this immediately. Never before have I seen a film in which a baby deserves to have been nominated for best supporting actor, not to mention a Gold Pacifier for most onscreen time with no dialogue.
This movie takes place in Hamburg in 1946, as Keira Knightley arrives from London to join her Colonel husband (Jason Clarke) who is in charge of dealing with the aftermath of a war that left the German city decimated. Though the Allies were permitted to take over the houses of wealthy Germans and evict them during their stay, the Colonel extends the gesture of allowing the father/daughter owner/residents to remain in the palatial mansion, occupying only the top floor while he and his wife live on the main floor. We learn that each family has suffered a tragic personal loss and we see the initial antipathy of the Colonel’s wife to all things German while her military husband insists that the war is over, the Allies have won and it is time for reconciliation.
In an interview with the NYT six years ago, Lee Radziwill was asked about being the sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and her response turned out to be prescient: “Perhaps the most depressing part was that whatever I did, or tried to do, got disproportionate coverage purely because of Jackie being my sister. But you learn to deal with scrutiny, even the lies, as long as it’s not malicious.” That is sadly ” le mot juste” to describe her NYT obituary, penned by Robert D. McFadden with a heavy dose of nasty, inappropriate and irrelevant thrown in for good measure.
Normally committed to a daily dose of Israel-bashing, the NYT outdid itself on Feb 6th with two front page articles in the News section and sourly in the Food Section. “Zaitoun: Recipes from the Palestinian Kitchen” by the Pakistani/Iranian author Yasmin Khan, offers recipes for roast chicken, cauliflower soup and spicy shrimp and tomato stew. Although these sound appetizing, the meat of the article is the opportunity to offer the following observation made about the West Bank when the author worked for War on Want, a British charity: “Seeing the physical apparatus of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank was very hard to witness.” We are told that in writing this book, she “made a point not to quote any Israeli sources..an absence that she hoped would send a message: Palestinian voices are not always heard. Listen.” Then, with unsated appetite, the Times journalist quotes Joudie Kalla, author of Palestine on a Plate: “If you look deep into the books, they are about keeping our heritage alive in a world that is so desperately trying to hide us away.”
If you happen to be a 6′9″ inch German man named Florian Maria Georg Christian Graf Henckel von Donnersmarck, it’s not surprising that you would be comfortable with an oversized movie that plays longer than Gone With the Wind. At over 3 hrs, the film needs editing and shortening but if you cut it to 2 1/2 hrs., you’d have a minor masterpiece. Even in its present frame, it’s a powerful and moving experience merging World War II with post-war communist Germany seen through the filter of a budding artist searching for his authentic and singular form of expression.
Not everyone reads the WSJ but any American who wants to understand what happened at the Parkland School Massacre should read the interview conducted by Tunku Varadarajan with Andrew Pollack, father of Meadow, murdered by Nikolas Cruz ( A Parkland Father’s Quest for Accountability 1/12/19). If you can’t get that, read the book that Pollack co-wrote - “Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies That Created the Parkland Shooter and Endangered America’s Students” coming out in February. For those who believe that the primary problem here was and is gun control, this is particularly mandatory.
There were two firsts in the NYT of Jan 5, 2019. One was the pronouncement by new congressperson Rashida Tlaib (D Mich) to her young son who congratulated her on her victory by saying, “Momma, look you won. Bullies don’t win” to which she responded, “Baby, they don’t. Because we’re going to go in there, and we’re going to impeach the motherf—er.” The other was the fact that the word was spelled out completely, something I had never seen in the Times. I googled to see whether that had happened before but came up short with references only to the Times’ squeamishness about printing the word and numerous examples of what permutations they used to avoid it.
In today’s Times a letter to the editor appears from Letty Cotton Pogrebin regarding the accusations of anti-Semitism in the Women’s March: “Since the first Women’s March in 2017, a number of feminist intermediaries have tried to help bridge the organizers’ ideological and political gaps, with scant success. Until all of us understand that anti-racism and anti-Semitism are the same toxic madness split at the root, and until we embrace intersectionality, without defining any woman out, our struggle against sexism and racism will be hobbled by our squabbles with one another.” When I googled Letty’s name with different combinations of women’s march/anti-Semitism, only one article surfaced written in March 2017, a few months after the first march. Here’s what Letty said then: “When it comes to Israel and Palestine, I’m with Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish women, who says she’ll work with anyone except those who reject Israel’s right to exist. This winter she (Kaufman) met in advance with organizers of the Women’s March on Washington to ensure that message would be ‘pro-something, not anti-Israel.’ She received assurances that the march would focus on the issues NCJJW cares about - women’s health, reproductive justice, immigration, children and families, economic equality, voting rights, misogyny and bigotry. The Washington March did all that and more based on its core commitment to intersectionality, the belief that forms of oppression are linked and must be confronted simultaneously. Given today’s vitriolic political environment, intersectionality is not just a galvanizing theory, it’s an organizing tool. (Moment magazine, 3/6/17
Like Chirlane McCray, First Lady of New York who has written about her feelings of resentment at being an outsider at Wellesley College, Michelle writes about Princeton where she picked up “the quiet, cruel nuances of not belonging.” How different both these women are from Sonia Sotomayor who expressed enormous gratitude for the tutoring and mentoring she received at Princeton to bring her up to a level where she could properly compete with the other students and continue to make it all the way to the Supreme Court on her own merits. Although I haven’t read “Becoming” yet, I am struck by there being no mention in Wilkerson’s rave review of an America that could jettison the cruel legacy of slavery, devote itself to affirmative action to help the victims of segregation mingle with the best and brightest in the country and incredibly, elect a bi-racial man as president for two terms. The pride in being an American should properly have been felt by the future First Lady at her own graduations from two of the most prestigious schools in the world. I doubt there’s another black woman who had the opportunity to earn comparable degrees and achievements anywhere else on this planet.
Let’s start with some brief statistics about the explosion of pornography online: porn sites receive more hits than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined - 35% of all downloads are porn related; 90% of boys and 60% of girls have seen internet porn before the age of 18; 83% of boys and 55% of girls have seen same-sex intercourse online; child-porn is one of the fastest growing businesses; pornography is a global $97 billion industry.
Sometimes a movie that’s been panned turns out to be more enjoyable than those that appeal to critics who pay attention to words like auteur and oeuvre. Sometimes a bowl of mac and cheese is preferable to pate de foie gras and so it is with great pleasure that I urge you to treat yourself to some comfort food in the sizable portion of Viggo Mortenson as you haven’t seen him before.
There’s a grand guignol atmosphere in “The Favourite,” with 18th century men coiffed in long sheep-like wigs, made up to look like drag queens and Queen Anne herself looking more like a madwoman than a regal character. Though the story of the queen and Sarah and Abigail, the two women who service her in every sense of the word, is loosely based on historical fact, the language is full of contemporary curse words which seem anachronistic. Surprisingly, they turn out to have been in use during that century - especially the two four letter words with a “u” as the only vowel; this is significant because it lends credibility to some of the sexual behavior you might have thought was not in vogue at that time. Certainly there is no historical record to support the movie’s contentions.
Americans are living through a period of constant disgruntlement - political, social and historical. No matter what your ethnicity, there’s a statue or a painting of someone in your city or at your school that has to come down, perhaps because of slave-owning, or ancient harm to indigenous people, or womanizing or having too much money. Some people object to the plaque of David Koch on the side of the new fountain he installed in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art - never mind that he paid for everything, helping to keep that site the most visited by tourists to our city. Some want Columbus toppled from his perch atop the circle named for him - five centuries is apparently insufficient to forgive his misdeeds to the Indians And nobody wants the name Trump on their building for a million reasons that you surely know by now.
You won’t know this if your information comes mainly from the NYT and the WSJ, but Alyssa Milano (founder of MeToo) has withdrawn from the Women’s March to protest its organizers’ support of Louis Farrakhan. Leader of Nation of Islam, Farrakhan chanted “Death to the U.S” and “Death to Jews” while in Iran last week, while on the domestic front, he denied being an anti-semite and called himself an “anti-termite” instead. Linda Sarsour, a self-described brown Palestinian and Tamika Mallory, an African-American have endorsed the statement that “no Zionist can be a feminist” and Mallory refers to Farrakhan as “goat” - greatest of all time.
There’s more heat in a New York Times putdown of Melania Trump’s wardrobe than in Jason Reitman’s biopic of Gary Hart’s aborted run for a presidential nomination in 1988. Overstuffed with tons of newsroom and campaign chatter, Reitman neglects to give the primary players - Hart and his wife - sufficient opportunity to deal with the complicated and conflicted inner feelings of a man and his wife watching their shot at a brilliant future slip down the drain. And not because of a grand love affair, but rather a casual dalliance with a young and as played here, vapid Donna Rice. In real life, Donna had a fresh–faced prettiness but Reitman casts her as an overly made-up girl who looks more like a lap dancer than a model or pharmaceutical salesman, both of which Donna was.
During a fight at the Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx, twenty correction officers were injured by 16 and 17 year old boys who had been moved from Rikers Island due to a state law requiring that they be treated differently from adults in courts and jails. (”Officers Hurt at Youth Center, WSJ 10/4) Despite the fact that these young men were gang members, City Council members are concerned that staffing the Juvenile Center with correction officers and juvenile counselors is too similar to replicating the jail experience. In other words, 16 and 17 year old hoodlums are still just boys.
“Outsider Faced Culture of Privilege and Alcohol” reads the title of one of the NYT daily attempts to undo the candidacy of Brett Kavanaugh (NYT 9/26/18) It reduces Deborah Ramirez, the woman who can’t be sure that she knows the difference between a plastic penis and a human one, into a half-Puerto Rican student who was the daughter of a telephone company lineman and a medical technician. Rather than praise her accomplishment in qualifying for a scholarship to an expensive Ivy League school on her own merits, it contrasts her with the wealthy Kavanaugh boy, son of a lobbyist and a judge. The only problem is that Martha Kavanaugh did not become a judge until 1995, several years after Brett graduated from Yale Law School and more than a decade after his possible penis got flashed as an undergraduate. In 1983 or 84, at the time that Deborah was sitting in the same circle as those super-privileged white people, the Kavanaugh parents were two hard-working lawyers, one of whom had gone to law school at night while working full time to support his family.
Heavy-handed and cliche-ridden are the kindest adjectives I can summon for the screenplay of Meg Wolitzer’s novel; since I never read that, I can’t say whether “The Wife” is faithful to the original, but the film bats it out of the ballpark on both scores. The plot concerns a writer/husband who wins the Nobel Prize for Literature and his long-suffering writer/wife who turns out to be the actual talent that sparked his otherwise lifeless output. This is not a spoiler because the revelation is obvious at the start from the following tonsorial clues: Glenn Close has a hairdo like Joan of Arc, Jonathan Pryce has wild hair and a scruffy beard, the disturbed son has a nutty comb-forward - uh oh - something’s not right with this family!
Yet another movie about the capture of Adolf Eichman, architect of the Nazis’ Final Solution of the Jewish Question. This one, directed by Chris Weitz, features two Hollywood stars - Ben Kingsley as Eichman and Oscar Isaac as Peter Malkin, the Mosad agent most responsible for his capture and, according to this movie, for the murderer’s final cooperation in Israel’s kidnap of an Argentine citizen. Living openly as Ricardo Klement, Eichman had a wife (the unrecognizable and little-used Greta Scacchi) and two children, one a handsome young man and one a toddler A young woman, briefly involved with the former, introduces him to her blind father who quickly figures out his father’s real identity and contacts Mosad with the information that Eichman is alive and well in Argentina.
Under the guise of being a reversal of the classic Cinderella story, Crazy Rich Asians gives us a super-smart, pretty Chinese-American woman who is a professor of Economics at NYU in love with a super-smart, handsome Chinese man from Singapore. He has to go home to be best man at a wedding and wants to take her along to meet his family. When they get there, she discovers that he forgot to mention that he is the scion of the Chinese Rockefellers - the wealthiest family with the best real estate, most lavish parties and best known name in that part of the world. Of course she cares only about true love, not money.
Puzzle was a good idea for a small movie about ordinary people whose lives enlarge when they discover gratification from an extraordinary skill for something small. It starts that way with a working class family - father owns an auto-repair shop, mother is a stay-at home housewife, neither son is a shining light Kelly MacDonald plays the part of a woman who has repressed her own feelings for a very long time, going thru the motions of marriage and motherhood by never admitting, analyzing or attempting to change anything. After getting a 1,000 piece puzzle as a random birthday gift, she discovers that she has a talent for this - an innate ability to see how things fit together There is an ironic contrast between her adeptness at this and her inability to see how the pieces of her own life have not served her well.
A movie in which Jerusalem symbolizes religious oppression while Berlin represents freedom and liberty is a particularly obscene type of propaganda. Europe frequently compares Israelis to Nazis, claiming that the Jewish state does to Palestinians precisely what the Nazis did to Jews - a blasphemous comparison that an educated person should be ashamed to utter. Yet, here we are viewing “The Cakemaker” and watching Shabbat become synonymous with narrow-minded, even violent religious Jews - people who don’t trust non-Jews and punish those Jews who don’t subscribe to strict orthodoxy. In actuality, only 8% of Israelis identify as ultra-orthodox while 20% of Israelis are Arabs.
On Thursday, June 21, the Times offered a front page article entitled “Incivility Infests Life in the U.S. on Trump’s Cue” , along with a heads-up about “The Art of Hooking Up” that appears on the front page of its Arts section. That review is of an installation at the Venice Architecture Biennale devoted to the “places and practices of casual sex,” specifically gay hookups with “colorful condoms and other sexual accoutrements” scattered on the floor of the pavilion. Although there are 71 participants in this biennale, in keeping with the Times’ devotion to promoting all things gay, this is the one it chose to highlight. More items deemed newsworthy on that day included violence in Nicaragua, the Taliban killing of 30 in Afghanistan and the omission of “horrific details” from the UN report on Syrian chemical attacks.
In its ongoing mission to “epater le bourgeois,” the NYT Style section features an essay by a woman who decides to give sado-masochism a try. (Wanting to Be Dominated, But Not Quite Like That, Aly Tadros 6/10) She tells us about her previous travails - boiler-plate issues with an immigrant father who didn’t understand her, his illness and death, her drinking and her rejection by a previous boyfriend - none of these either extraordinary or interesting. The woman claims not to be a masochist yet she is willing to be bitten hard, whipped with a belt and treated as just one of this man’s submissive playthings outside of his relationship with the woman he lives with and presumably loves. Part of it is explained by her having the freedom to scream, cry and release all the emotions she previously hid or submerged in alcohol, but part is also the titillation of Fifty Shades of Gray and the ongoing acceptance of deviancy as a suitable subject for mainstream media. The subtext is that it’s restorative to behave like a child whose tantrums will be tolerated rather than a grown woman who is expected to control emotional outbursts and deal with common life situations.
In keeping with the logic of Mayor de Blasio and his school chancellor, who both believe that a good solution for black and Latino minorities to get ahead in school is simply to eliminate the standardized test to get into New York’s toughest academies, why not do the same with the La Guardia school for the performing arts? Let’s forget about auditions and portfolios and try to even the number of boys who are admitted since only 26% of the student body is currently male. Why give priority to talent if you believe that intelligence and discipline, as reflected in the ability to ace a standardized test, are not essential pre-requisites for advanced academic work And why not insist that Asians are proportionately represented at La Guardia even if they don’t express as much interest in music and art. Or that girls, who currently account for only 40% of Stuyvesant are similarly favored to even their quota there.
This was Virgil’s opening line in the Aeneid and it came to mind in the brief clip of Morgan Freeman, the latest celebrity apologizer, as he sat across from a comely tv interviewer wearing a short, tight, sleeveless, v-neck dress that had climbed to mid-thigh while she was seated. Unsurprisingly, he stared and commented on its brevity and when she stood and pulled it down, he pleaded with her not to change the object of his gaze She giggled flirtatiously at the time, but apparently thought twice when MeToo seemed a better route to follow and now 80 year old Morgan is in hot water too
Now that the hoopla over the Royal Wedding has simmered down, it’s time to question why - with all the party planners, all the experts at royal protocol, and all the santimony over how old rules were being boldly ejected in favor of a newer more inclusive era - Doria Ragland, the black mother of the Duchess of Sussex was allowed to sit alone throughout the church ceremony. If Prince Charles could walk his future daughter-in-law down the aisle in a show of familial warmth, why wouldn’t he insist that Doria be seated next to him and his wife during the ceremony? And where was Meghan when these plans were made? For an assertive woman who refused to say the word “obey” in her marriage vows, why wouldn’t she demand that her mother, who represented her only relative at this event, be treated like a member of the newly joined family instead of being seated alone like an outcast.
Comedian Tig Notaro, interviewed in the NYTimes, had this to say about the possiblity of disgraced men of influence returning to their various jobs: “If a janitor was so great at cleaning the building but also tended to masturbate in front of people, would the people at that building be like, “yes, he masturbated, but I’ve never seen anyone clean so thoroughly, and I was just wondering when he’s going to get his job back, he so good at it.” No it would be “that’s not acceptable.” It’s fame and power that people are blinded by.” (NYT 5/19)
Diablo Cody, Jason Reitman and Charlize Theron sound like an unbeatable team of irreverence and straight-shooting. The trailer for Tully similarly manages to cull the smartest dialogue and best reaction shots - so what could go wrong?