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Thursday, November 28, 2019

THE IRISHMAN 11/28/19


Martin Scorcese's THE IRISHMAN is not one of his greatest films, but it is his longest one. It begins with the camera weaving in and out of rooms in a nursing home - a lovely ballet gliding from one space to another which announces that here is a movie about the movement of time --smooth and beautiful.

And then I experienced the "DE - AGING" technology that the Director has been touting, and I was so distracted by too large heads bobbing on shoulders with no necks on bodies that did not gel with the smoother faces - bodies that no longer had the fluidity of youth; legs that no longer were able to dash upstairs. It actually ruined the movie for me - my eyes could not reconcile what I was seeing and still remain in the movie's moment.




Kudos to Joe Pesci's powerfully quiet performance as Russell Bufalino - a Pennsylvania crime family "capo" who is terrific - a highlight of THE IRISHMAN. Robert De Niro as mob/union enforcer Frank Sheeran feels mundane - giving a mannered performance - the all too familiar grimaces as we witness a man who is "loyal" till he is not; a man who follows orders and is straddling the two worlds of the Mafia and the corrupt Teamster's Union President - Jimmy Hoffa played by Al Pacino - too loud loud loud. We follow Sheeran's relationship and friendship to these two powerful bosses against the backdrop of the history of the 1960s and '70s including the influence of organized crime on the manipulation of political elections. The TV is often running in the background replaying for us the 1960 Presidential election between Nixon and John Kennedy, The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy assassination in Dallas, etc.




If this movie is a reflection of real-life it ignores the role of women who are relegated to being mere scenery and we witness no acknowledgment of population diversity in the cities. As with many of Scorcese's movies, the focus is on the Italian immigrant gangster subculture thereby giving THE IRISHMAN a feeling of predictability.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

FRANKIE 10/27/19



Isabelle Huppert as Frankie


Ira Sach’s new film FRANKIE features the great French actress, a frail Isabelle Huppert who is dying and has summoned her family and a good friend to join her in the wealthy resort town of Sintra, Portugal, whose diverse landscape straddles airless, dense green foliage, stepped-up hills with wide vistas allowing us to voyeuristically watch life below - desultory marionettes interacting with one another like mysterious silhouettes, and the breadth and expanse of the Atlantic Ocean where the panoramic scenery is infinite as are the possibilities. Sachs sweeping terrain is a major character in the film echoing the twists and turns of interpersonal relationships.

The movie begins with Frankie’s family and her good friend Ilene (Marisa Tomei) having traveled from divergent locations arriving in Sintra along with tourists who will partake of the rich history of the town. We focus in on the always wonderful actor - a hulking Brendon Gleeson who plays Frankie’s adoring husband Jimmy, slowly walking up steep steps - occasionally stopping to rest and drink from the water cupped in his hands to quench his physical and psychic pain quashing the knowledge that loss is imminent. We first meet Francoise Cremont, nicknamed Frankie (Isabelle Huppert), seemingly strong and healthy swimming topless in a clear blue pool amidst luxuriant surroundings. As she alights from the pool we are able to see her smallish, frangible body - a beautiful woman who can be both commanding and fragile.  The strength of their marriage is evident in a scene where we witness them passionately making love - his large torso cradling her thin figure - the intertwining forms breathtakingly stunning to behold. 


Brendon Gleeson and Isabelle Huppert
Frankie’s first husband Michel who we see with binoculars observing others from afar is a “survivor” of his relationship with Huppert. An intimate moment in the film occurs when both husbands talk and Michel reveals that the ending of his marriage to Frankie was a porthole to a more truthful life; the opportunity to come out and admit that he was gay.  Michel is also the father of Frankie’s beloved son Paul who cannot sustain a relationship with a woman. Frankie who usually gets what she wants- making plans for others - would like to see her best friend Ilene hookup with her son. The only problem being that Ilene has brought a boyfriend Gary along on the trip. 


Isabelle Huppert and Marisa Tomei

Jimmy’s daughter Maya played by Vinette Robinson  (Frankie’s step-daughter) her husband Ian (Ariyon Bakare) and her rebellious teenage daughter Sylvia - a lovely Sennia Nanua - angry and frightened by the antagonistic tension she senses between her parents are also part of the cortege. There is a beautiful vignette of a thin, long-legged child-woman Sylvia going off by herself to the beach on a bus where she meets a young man and we are witness to the tender seductiveness of permeated innocence. There is a magical trust that we experience when we are young that is hard to rekindle with future connections.


Sennia Nanua
There is an intimacy to this film that is exquisitely delicate - the cinematography, the writing and even the long wavering shots of the surroundings have a light touch like a passing caress. Many of the scenes with Huppert involve long solitary walks where we sense the strength of her will but at the same time the weakness of her frame - cancer has taken its toll and now is the time to say goodbyes. Yet Frankie somewhat believes that she can arrange life after death - make liaisons, clean up the loose ends, etc. But life is ephemeral and the last scene in the movie is illuminating, sublimely acted by Huppert, where you can see on her face that she realizes that “the living” akin to the Universe keeps on spinning  - with or without your direction creating surprises that bump up against your considered expectations.

Monday, September 16, 2019

UNBELIEVABLE - ON NETFLIX - 9/16/19

Interrogation of Marie
Reading about Brett Kavanaugh - having watched the Senate Hearings when Christine Blasey Ford's accusations were summarily dismissed - and observing how those in positions of power deny a woman's reality when they claim they have been sexually abused made UNBELIEVABLE an 8-part series on Netflix even more disturbingly relevant. This excellent true-life series makes excruciatingly clear how the insensitivity of male detectives in the state of Washington quickly dismiss a young woman's claim of rape because of a "clean" crime scene, undermining her story and through intensive interrogation break any spirit she ever had. It is heartbreaking to witness how simple it is to manipulate a shy, vulnerable, person whose life has been violently capsized - whose body has been brutally violated - and manipulate them even further to the point where they have lost any sense of their own bearing and begin to doubt themselves.

Kaitlyn Dever who plays Marie is perfect in the role. I could not take my eyes off her as I watched this fragile teenager dwindle into a transparent phantom of her 18-year-old self. Not only does Marie no longer trust others, but she is an object of distrust. She speaks haltingly and conveys an "aloneness" that is impenetrable. She is unreachable.
Kaitlyn Dever
Miles away in Colorado a couple of years later, a serial rapist is committing one heinous assault after another and the two female detectives on the case are passionate about finding who did this and listening to the "victims". The perpetrator's modus operandi was always similar; DNA wiped away, no fingerprints, etc. Always a "clean" crime scene - but these women "cops" persist in their desire to get to the truth. The acting is superb - particularly Toni Collette as Grace Rasmussen a hardened, experienced detective (the toll of such investigations is evident) vs. the younger - softer Merritt Wever as Detective Karen Duval. Their approach is humane and sympathetic, both have strengths and weaknesses, as well as genuine sadness and furious anger which occasionally erupts in the course of this grueling investigation. Throughout the series, we also witness affection that is not sentimental but profound.

Merritt Wever and Toni Collette
We are privy to the painstaking step-by-step procedural work it takes to track down a criminal which I found fascinating. This is a group effort and in serial rape cases, a fierce commitment to sifting out clues is indispensable. Of course, there are detours but faith in one's own instincts is crucial. UNBELIEVABLE is a beautiful aperture into frailty and durability.

Friday, August 2, 2019

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD 8/2/19



Quentin Tarantino makes my heart race. Every film is overflowing with visual and aural references to the movie industry and the era that he venerates - the necessity of staying alert to barely hidden signs/symbols can be gleefully exhausting. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is about blurred boundaries - how the brutality and bloodshed spewing out of TV boxes and Movie Theaters intersects with and abets real-life drama. Tarantino also targets personal and intimate concerns, mindful of the aging process - particularly in the airless Hollywood environment of illusion and make-believe, celebrating the fantasy of eternal youth and beauty. Tarantino’s work is known for being excessively violent - but that violence is often interrupted by a rivulet of dialogue hovering over the action - words that can make you burst out laughing - while you gasp and suck in your breath with repulsion witnessing through half-shut eyes some hard-hitting body pummeling.

The director, Quentin Tarantino is one of a kind - and kind he often is not. But the latest film in his “historical revision trilogy” ( INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, DJANGO UNCHAINED)  and now ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD has a sweetness that permeates through the oft feeling of menace and exhilaration running through the 1960’s decade which experienced Viet Nam, Apollo 11 - putting a man on the Moon, the Stonewall riots, Woodstock and the focus of Tarantino’s latest twisting of historical fact into digestible pop-culture fables - the Manson Murders.



Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton an increasingly insecure TV star floundering in “feature” movies, who spends most of his days with his loyal doppelganger, stunt-man, chauffeur, and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt - better than ever) speeding along with music blaring, curving around the Hollywood Hills from Dalton’s plush home to his acting job on the location set - driving cars that are as shiny and handsome as the two leading men. The loquacious Di Caprio exhibiting an occasional hesitant stutter, is pitted against the literally strong, silent Booth who is an authentic, confident macho hero  - a man with a “past” - devoted to Dalton who is in the midst of an existential crisis spurred on by a meeting with a sleazy agent (Al Pacino) who utters some callous truths, making Dalton realize that “time” and “hard living” is taking its toll on his celebrity and a career move to Rome is advisable. This gives Tarantino an opportunity to pay homage to “spaghetti-western” directors like Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. 


Tarantino who never lacks for humor and irony, weaves into the film a particularly emotional moment exposing Rick Dalton who is recovering from a drunken, chain-smoking night, croaking and hacking - sitting with a book next to a precocious 8 year old “method actor” quietly rehearsing her lines for a scene they will be doing together (a wonderful Julia Butters.) The contrast could not be more evident. Their conversation and the subsequent filming of that scene is powerfully poignant, revealing to Rick Dalton the possibilities of “greatness” as an actor. Leonardo DiCaprio’s potency as a cinematic “idol” also prevails.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD spotlights a Tarantino fairy-tale event where historical facts are altered and subverted. Living right next door to Rick Dalton in the film are Roman Polanski, his wife Sharon Tate  and her ex-lover Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch.) The actual vicious mass murder of Tate, Sebring and two friends on the night of August 8-9th,1969 is emblematic of the 60’s era: of hippiedom, cult living, gurus, drugs - all crystallized into the person of Charles Manson with his band of mainly middle-class female followers who serve as a blueprint from which to pivot true life into myth. Interwoven throughout the film are glimpses of the Manson “women” -  presences that flicker in and out of our awareness, hitchhiking, dumpster diving, etc. their youthful, lithe bodies enjoying one another’s company like fresh sprites on the horizon - just barely in our view.

Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) in what will be a classic movie moment to be remembered picks up a 17 year old cult hitchhiker and drives her to the Manson compound - a directorial flash of brilliance as Tarantino plays with the  pictorial barrenness  of the locale and the theater audience’s knowing-what-we-know, creating an intensity that is palpable involving a striking cameo scene with Bruce Dern.


Quentin Tarantino conveys the innocence and child-like joy of beautiful B-movie actress Sharon Tate (a lovely Margo Robbie,) wife of Polish director Roman Polanski in scenes with Sharon spending leisure time attending her own movie, delighting in the audience response to her comedic performance. We view Sharon at home in her large mansion - oblivious to all but her own unrestrained grace and sexuality - booming up the music volume, gyrating uninhibitedly - enchanting to behold - as her body twists and turns like the plot of this film. 



ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD  needs to be seen more than once. I have to go back so I can reflect on all the complexities of the conceptual “games” Tarantino plays with the viewer and what they are viewing. Humor and tenderness intertwine to soften any knock-out blow that the film delivers. This is a passionate love letter to movie actors, writers, directors, stuntmen, makeup personnel,  movie houses, movie drive-in theaters, movie sets, movie genres (like the Western), movie marquees, movie posters and any and all ephemera associated with the profession.




Sunday, June 2, 2019

WHEN THEY SEE US 6/1/19

Actors that play Central Park Five in series

I recommend the powerful four part mini-series on Netflix WHEN THEY SEE US directed by Ava DuVernay about the injustice done in 1989 to 5 young teenage boys (4 were African American and 1 was Hispanic) accused of rape, assault, robbery and inciting to riot by NYC's District Attorney's office led by Prosecutor Linda Fairstein and the nefarious detectives working on the case. Wrongly accused of raping and beating a jogger in Central Park, the juveniles confessed on tape, after being subjected to hours of extreme duress without parental supervision. They were convicted in 1990, maintaining their innocence throughout the years of their incarceration.


Four of the boys under 16 served for 5-7 years. The 16-year-old who was tried as an adult got a 15 -year sentence and suffered extreme brutality at the hands of the guards and fellow prisoners while locked up. The media was also complicit in stirring up anger and racial hatred; one of the most despicable people revving up the media was Donald Trump who took out an ad in the NY Times advocating for the death sentence - a factor in molding public opinion.
Mug shot Korey Wise - the 16 year old

How people are stripped of their humanity, how justice is perverted, how racial bias becomes a primary factor in our judicial system and how politics and "yellow journalism" warp the truth is stunningly revealed in this heartbreaking series. DuVernay sticks to the facts but also gives us a glimpse into the boys' families as we come to feel a deep affection for their lives and their individual struggles to survive even after the conviction was "vacated" (overturned) in 2002.

The ”Central Park Five” sued the city in 2003 and eventually won a $41 million dollars compensation - but it was not until 2014 when Mayor De Blasio came into power that the award money was approved and distributed. Lives were totally uprooted; families were uprooted and the corruption infused into the judicial system though eventually exposed at the expense of the youth's "lost years". This is a case that will make you weep with anger, frustration, and sorrow at man's inhumanity to man.

The "real" Central Park Five at Premiere of series

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

MY PRE ROE V WADE ABORTION 5/15/19




In the early 1960s, I was young, and innocent but not too innocent to get pregnant due to (I believe) a faulty diaphragm. At the time living at home in the Bronx, I was a student in history and political science at CCNY with a sweet boyfriend who was Co-Captain of the Basketball team. Life was rushing at me in fits and starts - as I began to examine my own sexuality and the world around me, inquisitively comprehending the damnable fact that the globe I inhabited was larger than the moon and its satellites revolving around my tiny insular orbit.

Realpolitiks slowly invaded my consciousness.

The obscuring veil that had shielded me through my boy-crazy teen years was ultimately penetrated by enrolling in college classes in Economics, Nationalism, Southeast Asia, Russian Area Studies and reading some of the world’s great literature (taking courses in Greek and Shakespearean tragedies)  lifting a fog of ignorance that had enshrouded me. My “beloved country” was not what I had been taught to believe it to be; untainted and pure - the savior of democracy worldwide. Yet, my entire childhood had shown this to be true for my German Jewish refugee family, granted asylum in this country, saving my parents, and maternal grandparents (but not my paternal grandparents who died in Theresienstadt) from the horrors of a monstrous dictator’s genocide by allowing us entry through the ports of NYC. The world was more complex than my inexperienced self had yet apprehended.


The dawning awareness of life’s complexities had now invaded my body with the possibilities of motherhood. I did not realize that I was pregnant until my 10th week. There were no easy color-coded pregnancy tests to directly give me the news - instead, I would have to make an appointment for confirmation with a local Doctor which I was reluctant to do - not wanting my parents to know what was happening. I kept procrastinating with the hope that this was a false alarm. I knew that I needed to maintain control over my body and wanted an abortion, which was illegal and punitive - participating “shadow” doctors were criminalized. I realized that I was unable and unwilling to support a child both financially and psychologically.

My boyfriend concurred with getting this procedure. He knew a doctor in New Jersey who performed abortions charging  $500 in cash - the going rate in the 1960s for those of us who could scrounge up the money. He drove me to a small town in NJ and waited in a car a block away. I remember walking up the porch of a suburban house, greeted by a sloppy looking woman who met me at the door. She was the nurse. I was given no anesthesia, no antiseptic preparations that I recall. My legs were strapped into the stirrups with a middle-aged man peering into my vagina, tools in hand. There was no conversation. There was only the silence of anticipation. 

Having your uterus probed and cut without any numbing agents to relieve the wrenching pain which radiated throughout my body was unforgettable, but I remained silent with eyes tightly closed to the instruments of “purging” and the colors of clotting blood. I did not cry out, nor did I scream. I was mute. Instead, I maintained my secret quietude comforted by a memory that my father told me when I was 5 years old - “anytime I feel sad I should think of a birthday party with hot dogs, balloons and an ice cream cake.” That is what this teenager did for the hours it took to complete the “operation.” My mind participated in the parties while my body was in distress; I was at a birthday celebration - ironic of course - but those dreamlike flashbacks carried me through this experience. Though bruised and battered, I walked out the door alone and up the hill to where the car was waiting for me. I was exhausted, relieved, saddened and ready to move on.

To this very day, I am a strong advocate of a woman’s right to choose. I never want any woman to endure medically an unsanitary, unsupervised, non-hospital abortion. I was one of the lucky ones who did not get an infection or die. In 1973 Roe v Wade was passed and a vital right for woman and choice was codified into law.

In 2019 Georgia and Alabama legislators are reversing years of legislation. Women are under attack again...