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.
If the Dardenne brothers were filming in English instead of French, it would be easier for critics to admit that The Unknown Girl is a Christian soap opera in which a young idealistic doctor discovers that everyone harbors a secret which is just another version of sin. Whether it’s jealousy, vanity, pride, lust, theft or murder, we’re all guilty and one sure way of atoning is to choose a life of service to the poor and downtrodden
Wind River is a movie where the scenery chews up the actors. Filmed in Utah, substituting for Wyoming, the snow-covered mountain ranges are so monumental that ordinary human interaction is no competition for the natural landscape. As the film begins, Jeremy Renner is called upon to track some mountain lions that are killing cattle. He plays Corey Lambert, an employee of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, whose job is to track and capture (kill) predators. As such, he is experienced at observing and interpreting the details of how predators arrive and depart the scene of their carnage We rapidly become aware that he is also suffering from double G syndrome of guilt and grief over the murder of his teenage half-breed daughter.
The critics loved this movie adapted from a Russian novel, “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District,” written in 1865 by Nikolai Leskov. Based loosely on Shakespeare’s cold-blooded character, this adolescent wife, purchased by the father of the groom to entice his son to produce an heir, begins as an abused woman and morphs into a sociopathic murderer whose two favorite activities are sex and violence. Despite her fitting perfectly into the contemporary cinematic cult governed by the same naked drives, there is an appalling logic gap in this movie which seems to have escaped the attention of its fawning fans, though not of its audience.
When this movie opened, I postponed seeing it, thinking that I had seen so many other movies about World War II that this one could not surprise me. And was I wrong! Turns out that i knew just about nothing concerning this particular attempt to assassinate Hitler while he spoke in Munich in 1939. For most of you, this movie will be revelatory both in terms of history and the character of Georg Elser, the unsuccessful perpetrator whose home-made bomb exploded 13 minutes after Hitler left the lectern.
Some reviewers have found fault with the erasure of important issues such as slavery from Sofia Coppola’s version of The Beguiled based on a novel about a southern girl’s school set during the Civil War. The school is on a beautiful ante-belum estate surrounded by magnificent trees and woods that let us know we are in a place where innocence will come to a reckoning far more primal than politics. In the opening scene which captures the essence of so many fairy tales, a young girl with pigtails is walking through the deep woods gathering mushrooms in her basket. Instead of a wolf, she comes upon a wounded Union soldier and out of compassion for his plight, helps him back to the school There, he is confronted with a handful of girls and women, all of whom will eventually be implicated in his fate.
The Irish have St. Patrick’s Day, Columbus Day holds special meaning for Italians as does the Israel Day for Jews and the Steuben Day for Germans. Why then did the LGBTQ community drop the Gay from their parade? And why is that the only one singled out for all New Yorkers? New York Pride implies that all residents of this city feel a special respect for the gay minority above all other minorities who live here and have their parades without our city’s name attached to them.
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.
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.
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.
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.