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.
When we watch a documentary film, we assume that we are seeing a true story and that there will be sufficient information for us to contemplate its veracity. In this film about a former leader of Hungary’s far-right, anti-semitic, holocaust- denying Jobbik party, there are huge blocks of missing information that would have helped to put the main character in better context. Csanad Szegedi is the protagonist whose life is upended by the discovery that his grandmother is a Jewish woman who was deported to Auschwitz and bears the tattoo which she has concealed until now. Not wanting to relive the horrors that she had already experienced, she married a non-Jew and raised her daughter without any reference to Judaism. Similarly the half-Jewish daughter followed in her mother’s footsteps and never mentioned it to her son, Csanad.
We first see Sergeant Rasmussen barking orders at a line of young, dispirited German prisoners of war. The Second World War has ended and the Danes have ordered German soldiers to clear the Danish coastline of millions of land mines planted there by the Nazis. Rasmussen’s reaction to seeing one of the POW’s carrying a Danish flag is to beat him to a merciless pulp, revealing the pent-up frustration and fury at the German occupation of his country. With his mustache and shrill shrieks, we get a subliminal reference to the Fuhrer who started WW II and we quickly understand that this is a movie that will unsettle our certain feelings about winners and losers and heroes and villains.
The snarky article profiling Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s association with the Trump transition team appears on the front page of the NYTimes Style section on Jan 19th It skewers Ms Wolkoff’s very expensive clothing, her upbringing in the Catskills when she had a more Jewish name than Winston and forebears who were chicken farmers, her un-classy education at Fordham and Loyola and most obviously, her chutzpah in her choice of friend and political bedfellow. This comes to you from the poisoned-pen of Jacob Bernstein, son of journalistic and movie royalty - Carl Bernstein and Nora Ephron - grandson of noted screenwriters Phoebe and Henry Ephron, young man of privilege whose divorced parents respectively lived at a townhouse on East 74th street between Madison and Fifth and the legendary Apthorp on the fashionable west side. Despite this affluent lifestyle and gifted genetic endowment, young Jacob attended Vassar College, a no-more prestigious school for boys than the choices of young Stephanie who traced her endowments to hardworking farmers instead of Hollywood glitterati with serious alcohol afflictions. Though the Times pretends to care about such issues as immigrants and nepotism - those don’t apply to Jewish snobs like Bernstein or the Sulzberger family. Jacob’s outstanding contribution to the Times so far is his launching of the “What I Love” column for the Real Estate section, in which celebrities discuss their most essential possessions and how they like to spend Sundays. Apparently it’s not offensive to advertise exorbitantly priced clothing and accessories (as the Times does), nor to wear an expensive handbag as long as you’re not on the Trump team. (See Anna Wintour of the Hillary team along with all the other super-rich sore losers who are immune from such ad-hominem attacks).
Am I the only one who was taken aback at our president’s gaffe? There were Michelle, Malia and Michelle’s mother Marian Robinson seated together wiping their tears as Barack Obama proceeded to laud the women in his life at his farewell speech. First came his wife to whom he offered a beautiful tribute to her performance as First Lady, as mother to their children and as best friend to him. Then came Malia who, along with her absent younger sister Sascha, also was treated to superlative praise for growing up so perfectly in a difficult, hothouse environment. And then the camera briefly panned to Mrs. Robinson, First Grandmother of the United States (FGOTUS), the 79 year old mother-in-law of our president and the woman who relocated to the White House in order to facilitate the first couple’s ability to raise their young children while still performing the myriad duties their jobs entail. Awkward moment as the camera quickly moved away and no presidential gratitude was expressed at that public finale.
Up until this morning, Kellyanne Conway seemed to be the coolest head advising Donald Trump and re-interpreting him for public consumption. No matter which t.v. channel she appeared on, she had that relaxed smile and even-toned voice that seemed to indicate moderation above all. She reminded us of how he modified some of his rashest statements to indicate that once a winner, he was after all, capable of self-reflection. We began to believe that he was sincere in his desire to bring Americans together after a blistering and polarizing campaign.
No courage was needed for Meryl Streep to stand before an audience of like-minded people to point her finger and raise her voice against the known object of their mutual disdain. That was easy. Here’s what would have taken some guts: condemning the role that the entertainment industry plays in glamorizing and disseminating wholesale violence on-screen, in video games, on television, in music and online. Particularly affected are the black youth who suffer infinitely more from the criminality of their brethren than from the purported racism of our men in blue. We’re all aware of the mind-boggling statistic of more than 750 murders in Chicago, Obama’s city of choice, this past year. Though many reasons for this may be offered and analyzed, the fact remains that extreme violence is now an available aphrodisiac 24/7 and if you have ever sat in a multiplex where one of these movies is playing, you don’t need to read here what the audience response is.
Lyrica, Xeljanz, Latuda, Brilinta, Entyvio, Vedolizumab, Toujeo, Prevagen, Xarelto - these are but a sampling of the words I learned while watching television news between 6 and 7:30 a.m. Some, like Lyrica or Brilinta might be new baby names for girls; some might belong to bellicose monsters - Vedolizumab and Xarelto; others have a tentative connotation - prevagen. All carry warnings of severe side effects, some including possible death, for which final effect seems a more fitting adjective. I wondered who names these drugs and whether that is a discrete profession or the product of a staff party with too much alcohol. Are these names with their strange letter combinations the substitute for the unreadable handwriting all doctors previously used to exclude us from their special knowledge? In our digital-happy world where prescriptions must be wired instead of written by the doctor, we may soon no longer need the pharmacists who were trained to decipher those heiroglyphics. One can only wonder at how frequently the wrong medication was previously procured and whether or not that made any difference.