If you like your biopics of legendary celebrities reducing them to formulaic caricatures, here’s one not to miss. Think of Alec Baldwin’s skillful skewer of our president which gets a laugh in a five minute skit on SNL and then imagine it stretched out to a feature length film with familiar side characters who are mostly evil in ways that are now shopworn tropes. Louis B Mayer, head of MGM, here a huge man towering over a petite Judy Garland, lives up to his reputation as a tyrant who forces the teen-aged girl to diet and keep working till all hours of the night His assistant, a nameless version of Annie’s Miss Hannigan, is brutal in snatching away hamburgers from our hungry heroine and adding to the cruel atmosphere of “the studio.” If reality were added to the film, we would meet Judy’s most formidable enemy - her mother - who began feeding her pills at the age of 10 and who saw all three of her daughters as viable meal tickets for her own unsuccessful marriage and life. Louis B offered the multi-talented young Frances Gumm a new name and an opportunity to find a big life her own - something that Shirley Temple most famously achieved despite a childhood spent in similar circumstances.
One of the more interesting aspects of the long-running television series was how skillfully Julian Fellowes managed the transition from 19th century British mores to the 20th. From the introduction of the automobile to the radical concept of a chauffeur marrying into an aristocratic familly, almost every episode had some element of gradual change in the lives of upper class gentry and glimpses of how the downstairs servants could begin to see their aspirations materialize, frequently with the support of their benevolent upper class employers. While all this was happening, we had the best-written character of Lady Grantham, played to perfection by Dame Maggie Smith to represent the other side of these “advances” with her clever and witty pronouncements of the old-fashioned way of thinking and doing.
Here are some things you should know before skipping Ad Astra: It is very long and boring. As a substitute for characters and plot, it has space jargon, space gibberish, space clutter and Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones as attempted compensation for all that. Neither one can save this movie from its emptiness and glaring inadequacies. Best to try to find 2001 and replay Part 1 of that to see what Stanley Kubrick was able to do with infinite space and limited time - even if you’ve seen it before, it will seem fresh compared to watching Ad Astra for the first time.
Since it isn’t possible to spoil something as dull as this, I can tell you that Ad Astra ends with the same heart-warming message as Wizard of Oz - without the music, talent and joyfull ebullience of course. Now if Brad Pitt had worn those spangled red shoes, this might have been a movie deserving of a real review. As it stands, I’ve sent you a warning instead - proceed at your own risk of feeling very stupid as you empty the theater and don’t dare say I didn’t tell you so!
The first time I heard John Lennon’s “Imagine” in 1971 I hated it, interpreting it as a call for worldwide socialism. What could not have been predicted way back then was that the song could easily be the anthem for the Democrat Party in 2019.
If New York City taxpayers want to know how their money is spent by the Dept of Education, they can consider the program to train computer science teachers to help students see this subject connected to their own lives. You might guess that ordinary inducements such as doing better in school, doing better in an increasingly computerized job market, earning more money - all of which apply to all races and ethnicities - would be reason enough to be grateful for having computer science courses available in school. You might imagine that by the time a Muslim student is in school, it is no longer essential to capture his attention by the fact that he can make a 3 D symbol of Allah’s name in Arabic script. You would hope that infantilization would not be so rampant that a teacher would boast of making up a song similar to “the head bone connected to the neck bone” in order to stimulate interest in computers. These examples are from an article in today’s WSJ and make us wonder whether school is synonymous with Sesame Street and whether all we are really doing is encouraging the soft bigotry of diminished expectations (WSJ NYC Teachers Get ‘Culturally Responsive’ Training, 8/14)
The NYTimes chose the following headlines to characterize the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton “In Texas Gunman’s Manifesto, An Echo of Trump’s Language,” “Manifesto Posted by El Paso Gunman Echoes Trump’s Words,” “Mass Killers Emboldened by Rhetoric of President, Some Candidates Say.” (NYT 8/5/19)
For moviegoers old enough to remember the sickeningly grotesque details of the Manson family’s massacre of Sharon Tate, her unborn child and the other victims in her house, it will be hard to believe that the alternate massacre in Quentin Tarantino’s latest film is greeted with gales of laughter throughout that sequence. The theater was full at the 4pm weekday screening, and I was shocked to see how many of the viewers were at least middle aged and could be expected to have at least read about this shocking mass murder that took place in 1969.
Early on in this film about Argentina, we see a solitary man sitting at a table in a crowded restaurant. Another man walks in and stares at him unrelentingly, eventually telling the waiter that he should be given that table since he is ready to order while the man already seated is waiting for his late wife To tell you more about what happens next would be a spoiler except to say that most of it is unexpected and the degree of tension the director (Benjamin Naishtat) builds from this mild beginning is unnerving, brilliant and a sweeping foretelling of events to follow.
Stimulated by the reports of federal prosecutors probing the nefarious activities of Jeffrey Epstein, I googled “online sites with nude girls” and was surprised to see that 874 million such sites are available to us. When I added “teenage” to the request, the number jumped to 1, 470,000,000 - it’s hard to say that number and much worse to believe. “Sexy pictures of children” fetches a mere 185 million sites, all of which are perfectly legal to look at. The only thing that’s against the law in our state is printing, downloading or stashing them. One would hope that faced with the enormity of underage sex trafficking online, our legislators would be hounding NY State for new legislation that would stop this public epidemic at its source. Yet the legislation currently being considered in Albany has to do with decriminalizing prostitution so that sex workers get more respectability as well as better compensation for their work.
It’s cultural appropriation when privileged white people wear cornrows or braids or even sport sombreros. It’s fine for a Hispanic woman to refer to a detention facility as a concentration camp - and to use the phrase “never again” - a specific reference by Jews to the holocaust - to the congestion of illegal immigrants who have insistently forced their way across the border. The name of a raped woman must never be published by our newspaper of record but slanderous statements by the defense lawyer about the missing mother of 5 whose blood-stained clothes were found among 30 bags deposited by the husband and his girlfriend in 30 different garbage bins are freely published in the paper and broadcast on t.v. news. The trial of the husband and girlfriend has not even begun. A new law restricts landlords from de-activating rent stabilization from apartments whose tenants have moved out, thereby forcing landlords to continue to relieve the govt of providing its own housing for the indigent. Other businesses such as restaurants and stores are free to raise their prices without restrictive laws. State senators who passed the law that hogties landlords are scheduled to get large raises that would make their salaries the highest of any state.
Who are the people seeking to cross our border? Award-winning reporter and artist Betsy Ashton combines her unique talents and curiosity to find the answer. “They are like you and me,” declared Ashton. “For the most part, they are a self-selecting group of gutsy, entrepreneurial and courageous individuals who have struggled through hardships to initiate a new life in America. That is the foundation of America.”
What a wonderful relief is was to watch a current movie that is meant for viewers who are articulate and appreciate a script that has not one vulgar four-letter adjective to precede every noun. After the rave reviews of The Long Shot, a film that is soaked in slime in which highly educated people sound like they walked off the set of The Sopranos, Tolkien was a return to inspiration from brilliant and creative characters whose dialogue matches their intellectual talents.
There are many adjectives that have been used to amplify anti-semitism — racist, bigoted, ignorant, evil - but never has a situation so perfectly demanded the word “ironic.” The UK Disabled Students Campaign which affiliates with the UK National Union of Students issued the following resolution at their annual conference: “We are proudly antiracist, anti-colonial, anti-Zionist and thus support the Palestinian struggle for their liberation.” Ironically, Israel is at the forefront of technological development to assist disabled and severely handicapped people throughout the world. Had the students bothered to google prosthetic devices or medical technology developed by Israel, they might have thought twice before espousing something that if successful, would end up shooting themselves in the proverbial foot with their knee-jerk intersectionalism.
A film about the greatest male dancer of his generation should convey at the very least the speed and perfection for which he was known. Unfortunately, The White Crow, a biopic of Rudolph Nureyev, is too often a static production with too little depiction of the dancer in an extended ballet sequence and too much mooning at his yearning or irritable face - the default expressions the director has chosen to emphasize . We see short scenes of the dancer’s talented leaps and twirls and too many scenes of his petulant tantrums which become increasingly annoying with each escalation.
Purporting to outline the current disease of hatred on both left and right “extremes,” the Times caption reads, “Surge of Anti-Semitism in Europe and U.S. as Economies Cool,” thereby solidifying one of the most heinous anti-semitic tropes - conflating Jews with money. As for the Democrat party, anti-semitism has jumped from its extremes to mainstream candidates for office and members of congress who consider it merely an example of freedom of speech.
Purporting to outline the current disease of hatred on both left and right “extremes,” the Times caption reads: “Surge of Anti-Semitism in Europe and U.S. as Economies Cool,” thereby solidifying one of the most heinous anti-semitic tropes, conflating Jews with money. (NYT 4/5/19) As for the Democrat party, anti-semitism has jumped from its extremes to mainstream candidates for office and members of congress who consider it merely an example of freedom of speech.
I can’t pretend to have caught all of Jordan Peele’s allusions in this horror film, but I am fairly certain that even younger, hipper culture junkies may not be successful either. Whatever intention the writer/producer/director may have had has gotten buried or obfuscated by an overly complicated plot that includes dopplegangers, flashbacks, prophetic warnings, subterranean caverns and overhead shots of an overly symbolic Hands Across America demonstration
Despite being a late viewer of this film which has won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and was nominated for best foreign film in the US., I can’t miss the opportunity to inspire any other latecomers to see this immediately. Never before have I seen a film in which a baby deserves to have been nominated for best supporting actor, not to mention a Gold Pacifier for most onscreen time with no dialogue.
This movie takes place in Hamburg in 1946, as Keira Knightley arrives from London to join her Colonel husband (Jason Clarke) who is in charge of dealing with the aftermath of a war that left the German city decimated. Though the Allies were permitted to take over the houses of wealthy Germans and evict them during their stay, the Colonel extends the gesture of allowing the father/daughter owner/residents to remain in the palatial mansion, occupying only the top floor while he and his wife live on the main floor. We learn that each family has suffered a tragic personal loss and we see the initial antipathy of the Colonel’s wife to all things German while her military husband insists that the war is over, the Allies have won and it is time for reconciliation.
What’s depressing about her “Green New Deal,” is not just that it would result in a Stone Age economy that would make us envy Venezuela, but that supposedly intelligent Democrats with presidential aspirations have signed on to it. Surely Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and even the overwrought Cory Booker et al know in their heart of hearts that AOC’s plan is madness.
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.
I had the honor of writing for George H.W. Bush starting in October, 1987 when he was still vice president and through his term as president. I was still writing for President Ronald Reagan at the time and the vice president sort of “inherited” me for his upcoming campaign.
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.