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?
You needn’t be an orthodox Jew to feel the insult to religion in this movie. It helps to keep in mind that its writer/director is Sebastian Lelio, the same man who gave us The Fantastic Woman, an Oscar winning film about a transgender woman, but in truth, this movie could have been endorsed by the LGBT movement or the prevailing secular progressive arm of liberal American politics. The plot is simple and revolves around a rebellious drop-out from the orthodox Jewish community in London, the daughter of a renowned rabbi who relocates to NY where she becomes a photographer of society’s fringe inhabitants. Played by Rachel Weisz, we immediately see that she’s a chain smoker - shorthand for cool bad girl - but she returns to London for the sudden death and funeral of her father. Though she presumably lived with her parents until she was a young adult, she shows little familiarity with or tolerance for the rigid customs of this community. This is seen immediately as she reaches out to touch her father’s designated successor, a bearded young rabbi who is not allowed to touch any women but his own wife. We discover early on that Ronit (Rachel) became persona non grata due to a previous lesbian liaison with Esti (Rachel McAdams) who is now the rebbetzin sporting a suitable wig and clothes.
With particularly myopic arrogance, Jesse Green, theater critic of the New York Times, lauds the new production of My Fair Lady as the best one ever because it serves as “an ur-text of the #MeToo movement (NYT 4/20/18) Never mind the genius of George Bernard Shaw or the combined brilliance of Lerner and Lowe - it took director Bartlett Sher to show us “how history -even if it took 100 years - would eventually start to outgrow its brutes, and how it still might do so compassionately by teaching them a lesson.” We all know the famous quote (falsely attributed to Samuel Goldwyn) “If you want to send a message, call Western Union,” but apparently for Jesse Green, a lesson is even more valuable than a message and we can all go to school on the collective wisdom of such luminaries as Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan.
Horror films usually fall into two categories: those that are filled with monsters that threaten us from the outside, and those that are full of psychological resonance and an important interior logic. In the second category belong films by Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick - master manipulators of the form. John Krasinski’s new box office hit belongs squarely in the realm of the arbitrary imposition of an alien force on a defenseless population. A Quiet Place concerns a family with three children trying to survive in a state with blind predators who resemble aliens or dinosaurs and respond only to sound, instantly devouring what they hear and conquer. The family must use sign language to communicate and clearly exist in a state of perpetual fear.
There is a tendency among critics to assume that an inscrutable, disjointed, overlong, tendentious film with characters bearing the names Bloom and Dedalus - must be paying homage to James Joyce’s Ulysses and must therefore be deep. There is also the tendency to give a pass or the benefit of one’s doubt to a director who has achieved some prominence with past work. So this rebuke is meant for movie-goers only - do not fall into the same trap as the pro’s. Ismael’s Ghosts, starring Matthieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg - all first rate French actors - is a mess. It asks viewers to do the work of turning a grab-bag of plots and characters into a coherent narrative - something the screenwriter is supposed to do way before filming begins.
Aristotle said it first but no one cared to remind Anderson Cooper or Sixty Minutes of that saying when they headlined Stormy Daniels’ appearance on the show as Porn Star’s Affair With Trump. Turns out to have been Brief Encounter more than Affair to Remember, specifically a one time experience. For many $130,000 would have seemed more than generous remuneration, even for a woman with a sense of self as inflated as her chest, but Stormy has been fortunate in receiving even bigger offers for her ability to add to the media’s hate campaign against the truculent tweeter. The serious journalists who have occupied seats on Sixty Minutes must be chagrined at having Stormy earn the show its highest ratings in years. As for Anderson, he seems to have become the reporter with a specialty niche of asking former Playboy centerfolds and current porn-hackers whether they or their johns used protection during sex. One wonders whether he would ask a gay compatriot a similarly salacious question and whether his concern was for the spread of venereal disease, unwanted pregnancy or just to experience the frisson of rudeness.
This version of the famous Israeli rescue of hostages from the hijacked Air France plane should be known for its hard-left slant and its glaring omissions. Written by Gregory Burke and directed by Jose Padilha, its main purpose is to humanize the hijackers and to trace all of Israel’s current problems to ITS failure to negotiate with peace-loving, occupied Palestinians. Here are some of the facts this movie does not contain.
NY State has just granted parole to one of three killers in the Black Liberation Army who in 1971 shot two cops in the back, shooting one 22 times as he pleaded for his life. The three member State Parole Board claimed that the 70 year old prisoner had finally taken responsibility for his actions and expressed regret and remorse for his crimes. Think of that standard compared with the Metropolitan Opera firing 74 year old James Levine for incidents of purported sexual harassment which took place many decades ago and were not reported until years after. Think of the 83 year old architect Richard Meier whose exhibition of collages was just canceled by Sotheby’s and whose gift to his alma mater Cornell was similarly declined due to allegations of sexual harassment, which included the affront to one of his assistants in having to look at images of female genitalia in the collages.
Currently, whites still comprise the majority of our population; Hispanics are over 17%, Blacks are 14%, Asians are 6% and Native Americans are 2%. But if Mr. Scott is referring to how this country looks, he should consider that at least 33% of our population is obese, 8% are disabled, 3% are LGBTQ and 3% are anorexic. If we’re insisting that diversity represent an accurate picture of America, then surely the 33% obese demands greater representation in our films than the handful of actors he can name. And surely there should be many more of these people in all walks of life, just as we have insisted on portraying blacks, gays and women.
Viewing this movie right before the Oscars and anticipating all the virtucrat blather about MeToo, TimesUp and Parkland, one is forced to react strongly to the heavy dose of pornography and violence on screen. Don’t see this if you might be upset by people having their limbs broken, their heads and torsos bashed with a heavy metal object, their skin flayed, their bodies raped, their necks choked, and of course lots of shooting to kill. In fact, this movie is the equivalent of the assault rifle capable of discharging ten or twenty times more firepower than you ever thought possible.
The Mt Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery has induced lactation in a transgender woman who has not had sex-reassignment surgery or breast augmentation; in other words, a biologically correct man who was taking hormones and wanted to nurse the baby born to ze’s partner who is female but didn’t want to nurse. The staff at Mt. Sinai advised this couple on how to acquire and use domperidone, a drug that is not FDA approved, not available in the U.S. and one for which the FDA has issued warnings against serious cardiac problems including death. The team leaders who directed this experimental procedure are an endocrinologist who is committed to the health of the LGBT community and a nurse-practitioner who is an activist transgender woman herself.
It’s time to admit that the Women’s March is a misnomer; it should be called Women Democrats Marching to Impeach Our President. As a collective of many far-left organizations, including Black Lives Matter, the Arab-American Association of New York (headed by Linda Sarsour who favors sharia law), the National Action Network (founded by Al Sharpton), The Gathering for Justice (founded by Harry Belafonte) and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice - a group concerned with the “occupation of Palestine,” Islamophobia and freedom of speech for BDS on campus. The March is the indirect recipient of some of the 246 million dollars donated by George Soros to 100 of the Women’s March Partners.
In her op-ed column in Wednesday’s Times, Bari Weiss, staff editor and writer for that section, reacts angrily to a recent addition to the #metoo complaint catalog, an account of someone’s hookup with Aziz Ansari. The young woman who posted her grievance objected to the comedian’s ignoring her non-verbal cues and her discomfort with his advances. There was no molestation, no assault, just a young woman with some unsatisfactory sex. Bari Weiss objects to the fact that the woman didn’t act on her own feelings, that she relinquished her own agency and then was blaming someone else. Surprisingly, Ms. Weiss doesn’t mention an article that preceded this one in the Sunday Times entitled, “For a Hookup, Just Use Your Words” by Gabrielle Ulubay, a writer who recently graduated from college. Here, the author is not offended at being used just for sex since she herself had invited the man over only for that purpose - her discontent is that he confused her with his disarming compliments such as calling her “smart, funny, creative and the girl of his dreams.” He told her that he’d see her later but never called again. This naive young woman is is asking not for better sex or more intimacy but less flattery and ghosting (disappearing without explanation). How someone can be comfortable with the zipless sex first described by Erica Jong (Fear of Flying) but hypersensitive to the eternal lack of truth in seduction is a by-product of the message with which young women have been indoctrinated since the 70’s.
J Paul Getty might have had all the money in the world but neither all the king’s horses nor all the king’s men can save Ridley Scott’s movie again. Some viewers will remember the 1973 kidnapping of Getty’s 16 yr old grandson and the gruesome amputation of his ear after the richest man in the world refused to pay the ransom, but especially for viewers who weren’t around then, this movie will make little sense We begin with Michelle Williams as the mother of four Getty children sired by one of J Paul’s sons They soon divorce and in that settlement she agrees to take no money on condition that she get sole parental custody In rapid order, we see that her ex-husband has descended to the depths of drug addiction in Morocco where her oldest boy, Paul, loves to hang out. Yanked back to Rome where mother and siblings live, we see little of his lifestyle but from his long unkempt hair, we can guess that his father has been an unfortunate role model. He is seized off the street by a Calabrian gang that sets their opening ransom at 17 million dollars. The patriarch refused to pay anything, claiming that we he to succumb to this blackmail, there would be 14 other opportunities for kidnap and extortion, and Paolo, as he is known, is left imprisoned by the gang for many many months.
In the course of preparing a meal, I found myself needing my husband’s help in opening a bottle, a jar and a plastic container. He in turn required a box cutter, a pair of scissors and a jar-opening utensil. Neither of us has palsy, severe arthritis or any other disabling condition - we are simply seniors who are being overly protected against a container of pineapple chunks, some sake and a small jar of relish. Undoubtedly many readers will have experienced similar frustration with common food products that are treated with greater prevention tactics than most opioids This got me to thinking about the tragedy of 12 people dying in a Bronx building fire and four more in critical condition - all because a three year old child was fiddling with the knobs on the kitchen stove
I always yearned to find an appropriate occasion to use the phrase “luxe et volupte” and after seeing The Phantom Thread, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, I have found it. From the scene of a chiseled, sleek Daniel Day Lewis performing his morning ablutions and carefully dressing himself, to the extraordinary mise en scene of his homes, his staff, his elegant sister, his breakfast menu and finally, his exquisite couture, we are in a world of voluptuous beauty As Reynolds Woodcock, the celebrated go-to dress designer for royalty and the super-rich, Lewis’ movements are disciplined and exact His female staff are all attired in white coats and their workspace is as sanitized as a hospital, their stitching as precise as a surgeon’s. Plot develops when Woodcock goes to his country house, stopping to eat and finding himself engaged by the young waitress serving him. Alma is fresh-faced and reticent, a far cry from the world of high fashion, but strangely, he is entranced by her and in short order, invites her to live in his house and work as his model and muse.
In a serendipitous bit of typesetting, two opposing views of human nature are posted in Saturday’s Times. On the op-ed page are Gail Collins and Greg Weiner, each propounding the justice of forcing Al Franken to resign; the former stressing his refusal to accept total responsibility for his vaguely remembered misdeeds, the latter insisting that a statesman’s character is paramount in his calling and his role is to “refine and enlarge,” not simply reflect the public’s views (Federalist 10 NYT op-ed 12/9/17) Then, on the back page is an article about Judge Jack Weinstein calling for more alternatives in sentencing violent offenders facing prison.
Call it a case of unfortunate timing, but there are three scenes of Churchill, as played by Gary Oldman, behaving in a way that we are now calling sexual harassment of an employee. The first shows his young, pretty secretary (Lily James) ushered into his bedroom where he dictates to her from his bed; upon finishing, he throws back the covers and tosses his bare legs up in the air as he propels himself out - the camera moves to her shocked reaction. The second has him dictating to her in what looks like a dressing room - we see his bare legs exiting the bathroom as he announces that he is coming out of his shower in a state of nature - she hurries away. The third has him taking a seat next to her at her desk and staring at her intensely; after a few moments she squirms uncomfortably and asks if anything is wrong - he states that he is just looking at her.
Three Billboards, written and directed by Martin McDonaugh, has a cover story of a mother’s insurmountable guilt and grief over the murder of her young daughter who was raped while dying Compounding the tragedy of this brutal crime is the apparent inactivity of the police dept in working this case and finding the culprit. The mother, played by a fierce Frances McDormand, hatches a plan to challenge their complacency by calling out the police chief and reprinting the police report on three prominent billboards right outside the small town of Ebbing, Missouri. Several factors complicate this plan: the expense of the billboard rental, the fact that the police chief is dying of pancreatic cancer and the reaction of the town to this public disgrace.
How unfortunate that this very dated material and static production should take place on a fast-moving train. Other questions arise: since this is a film that could only be targeted at a senior demographic, why open it at multiplexes which are geared to younger audiences? This talky period piece is not well served with its updated cast, most of whom have little to do. Dame Judy Dench might as well have been a referential portrait rather than a live actress and Willem Dafoe doesn’t get a chance to do much of anything but display the wide spaces between his teeth in some unflattering close-ups. Kenneth Branagh is eclipsed by a mustache as thick as a dog’s tail and Michelle Pfeiffer, a very glamorous middle-aged woman, seems too whiny and contemporary for this mise-en-scene.
In our digital age, we need a new word to describe the person we have unequivocally witnessed committing mass murder. To call Sayfullo Saipo a “suspect” is misleading - only one person was in the driver’s seat of the truck that sped down the west side highway, running over cyclists and pedestrians, ultimately killing eight and wounding at least eleven. He is seen on video exiting the truck after crashing it into a schoolbus, waving weapons and getting shot. Or, to be consistent, must we call the policeman the “suspected shooter”, compounding the lunacy of not spelling out what our eyes have seen. The only thing that remains unknown is under which category of slaughter Saipov will eventually be found guilty, but reading and hearing all the reporters continually refer to him as “the suspect” is a dishonor to the victims and their loved ones.
The Sunday Times offered a full page editorial on the subject of sexual harassment in America (Post-Weinstein, What’s Different 10/29/17) One of its paragraphs deals with How to Change the Culture and what various mega-chains like Walmart and McDonald have done to require their tomato growers to prevent harassment and assault of farmworkers. This seems a particularly odd concern considering the tenor of our mass culture that couldn’t be better illustrated than the Sunday Styles section of the Times itself.
If you like a film-maker’s scolding messages delivered with a sledgehammer instead of pointed arrows, you will appreciate The Square as much as the judges who awarded it the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Beginning as a satirical jab at the contemporary art world, we see Christian, the curator of a prominent Swedish museum, struggle to interpret his own art-babble to a reporter who quotes it back to him in an interview. We also see the emperor’s clothes current exhibition consisting of piles of gravel - some of which are eventually swept up by the janitor; and we see the soon to open conceptual Square - another pathetic stab at such lofty abstractions as helping humanity and insisting on equality and trust. As the counterpoint to all the empty blather, Christian is confronted on the street by a woman screaming for help and running away from someone off camera who is trying to kill her. At first a bystander, Christian joins another man in trying to protect the woman from the enraged man who comes into focus and is restrained by these two good samaritans. After congratulating themselves for their good deed, Christian walks off and discovers that he has been robbed of his wallet, his phone and his cuff-links.
Here are some complaints we’ve seen in the press from women who have endured workplace harassment. One woman who worked as a fact checker at The New Republic asserted that editor Leon Wieseltier had “forced her to look at a photograph of a nude sculpture in an art book, asking if she had ever seen a more erotic picture. She wrote that she was shaken and afraid during the incident.” (NYT 10/25) The words “forced” and “afraid” make us wonder how old this person was and whether she had ever been on a subway during rush hour or at a campus fraternity party at any college in the United States. Gretchen Carlson, a Stanford graduate and former Miss America who successfully collected 20 million dollars in a settlement with Fox News over her harassment, recounted the time she got into a car with a public relations man with whom she had just had a meeting. He pushed her head into his crotch after which she immediately fled the car but confesses now that she suffers PTSD because of this incident. Obviously Gretchen didn’t spend much time with veterans during her reign as beauty queen or with battered women who were victims of torture and abuse.
Purporting to be a biopic of the unconventional Dr. William Moulton Marston, professor of psychology at Radcliffe, inventor of the lie detector, polygamous husband, afficionado of bondage and creator of Wonder Woman, this movie would seem to have all its bases loaded for box office success Add to this the photogenic quality of the cast - Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote - stunners who don’t age a minute during a 20 year time span - and you can only scratch your head at how seriously this movie loses its mark.
You know how low the bar is when you read the proud statement that no one has been murdered in a NYC high school sine 1992. You also know how meaningless a 73% high school graduation rate is in a school where more than half of those graduates were chronically absent in their senior year. The middle school that feeds into that high school had a pass rate of 13% on the statewide reading test and 5% in math. Simply put, 87% of the students who couldn’t read at an 8th grade level and 95% who couldn’t do 8th grade math were promoted into high school and subsequently shoved out with diplomas regardless of academic competence This Bronx high school with the lofty title of The Urban Assembly Wildlife Conservation School is headed by a non-profit organization that also runs 20 other schools in New York, all with pretentious claims to professional aspirations in law, justice, global commerce, media studies, environmentalism etc. It’s in the news today because it appears that one of the eponymous wildlife was actually inside the school and stabbed two fellow students, killing one and hospitalizing the other.
Talk about synchronicity - there are two pivotal scenes in Stronger in which the national anthem and the flag are integral to the importance of patriotism and heroism in the healing of wounded bodies and souls. One takes place at the baseball game at Fenway Park and I wondered what effect this movie would have on the healthy athletes of the NFL who have treated both these symbols of our nation’s freedom as convenient photo-ops for publicizing their own cause. Seeing this movie about Jeff Bauman who lost both legs in the terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon, highlights the world of difference between our country after 9/11 and after Boston and our country since the surprise upset of our last election. We have lost the sincere appreciation for the bravery of men in uniform and have exaggerated the numbers of miscreants who pop up in police forces in our country. We have just learned that current homicide rates have gone up significantly, possibly due to police hesitancy to take forceful action now that they have been singled out as marks by disgruntled loners and activist groups.
We’ve been told that the ritual of football players kneeling when the national anthem is played signifies their protest of police brutality towards black life. But the American flag has much broader significance than that, specifically its presence draping the coffins of fallen soldiers and veterans. Today’s military numbers more than 1.3 million Americans, 17% of whom are black men and women who have volunteered to serve. What message is being sent to those Americans as well as all other ethnicities who voluntarily put their lives on the line in the ultimate act of patriotism for this country.
What’s missing from Battle of the Sexes is the lively exuberance that we see in the promotional picture of Emma Stone as Billie Jean King jumping three feet off the ground with her tennis racket ready to whack that ball to victory over Bobby Riggs in a match played in 1973. Instead, we get the Billie Jean who’s tongue-tied by the attention of a hairdresser who comes on to her by telling her how pretty she is, capturing her heart as well as her libido at an inconvenient time when she was married to a man and when being openly gay would eventually cost her dearly in the cancellation of her endorsements.