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?
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.