As everyone knows, the Cubs won the World Series last year and broke the longstanding “Curse of The Billy Goat”. Now of course there’s really no such thing as curses, but then again it is the Halloween season. And perhaps in the spirit of the season, it’s time to reconsider whether the Cubs, in view of their meek surrender to the Dodgers in the playoffs, have been visited by a new curse. The “Billy Goat Curse” is no more, but have the Cubs now become the victims of “The Curse of the Disappeared Bullpen”?
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.
Five years ago, after twenty-two times publicly conceding he lacked the Constitutional power to grant illegal aliens immunity from deportation and eligibility to work, the most lawless president in modern U.S. history did what came naturally. Barack Obama broke the law,
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.
Tip O’Neill, whose Irish brogue scent of Boston, not Brownsville, said famously, “All politics is local.” It also personal, as millions of Americans know from their affection for Texas — a Nation-State which has endured all, abided all, and as its reaction to the latest would-be tyrant, Hurricane Harvey, recently showed, conquered all.
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.
With his geeky lab coat and nerdy bow tie, Bill Nye is one of the most familiar faces in America and something of a jack-of-all trades - Emmy-winning “Science Guy” on a PBS children’s television program, former Boeing engineer, author, and honorary co-chair of the 2017 March for Science. But a recent interview in the Los Angeles Times revealed another role –Bill Nye, utopian.
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.
In February, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, shockingly told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the nearly 16-year old war in South Asia with the Taliban was essentially a “stalemate.”
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.
The smart set in Silicon Valley, the people who gave us Google, Facebook and other companies worth many billions, have never lacked for ambition. However, they may finally be overreaching as they attempt to solve two of history’s most insoluble problems: the search for truth and the quest for immortality.
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.
It came as a shock when it was reported last week that actress Erin Moran died in Indiana, her body unceremoniously removed from a rural trailer park. In the 1970’s, she was one of the most recognizable faces on television. At twelve she played Ron Howard’s little sister Joanie Cunningham on the sitcom Happy Days, the cute girl who “The Fonz” used to call “Shortcake”. The show had a ten-year run after which she starred in a spin-off, Joanie Loves Chachi, which was cancelled quickly. After that, Erin’s life spiraled downhill, and she became another in the long line of show business children whose lives ended tragically.
I have heard of the “snowflake generation,” but, on some level, thought the idea of grown men and women unable to tolerate anything outside their “comfort zone” without crumbling to dust, was a clever, media-derived sound-bite thing.
The progress seen in the pitched battle between Iraqi troops (supported by U.S. forces) and ISIS for control of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul may seem like the light at the end of the dark Islamic State tunnel. But that hopeful glimmer may just be a geopolitical freight train coming the other way.
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.