Maiden: Using undertow as a verb

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I’m declaring undertow as a verb, as in underdwhelmed, as in, ‘I got undertowed’ by the high praise for the documentary “Maiden”. I like the sound of it and hope to have it goes viral. Of course I’m saying this somewhat tongue in cheek.

On the one hand, what the women on “Maiden” did, as the first all woman team to sail around the world, is a really big deal.
Yet I was undertowed by the footage and the narrative by Alex Holmes. Consequently, the doc only grabbed me near the end.

What’s sadly ironic is that in the late 80’s the women were asked almost solely about the crew members relationships crew vs. tactical questions fed to men, yet Alex Jones the writer and director only focused on the women’s faces in present day interviews and soundbites of male chauvinists. If you want to help evolve, tell mini stories of the women, show moments that make us realize just how big a feat this was.

The relativity of it all, is that other documentaries I’ve seen this year that were much more inspiring, “Ask Dr. Ruth” and even “Echo in the Canyon” showed more humanity. And that’s the crux of the problem. I didn’t get to know any of the other gals besides the skipper and even her story didn’t ‘dive’ into the angst enough for me to have the big splash or payoff.

Interviews of present people and old 80’s blurry film doesn’t make for riveting story telling. Lesson learned: Don’t get undertowed by over enthusiastic reviewers.

Tel Aviv on Fire: Firing on All Cylinders

‘Tel Aviv on Fire’, directed by Sameh Zoabi, winner of Best World Cinema at this year’s Sarasota Film Festival, provides what movies are made for: the tonic and affability to temporarily assuage real life troubles.

Yet due to Sameh Zoabi and co-writer Dan Kleinman’s complex web of conflicts and sharp dialogue, Tel Aviv on Fire is also an astute person’s film even if romantic comedy is the overarching motif. Savvy audience members will appreciate the movie’s other premises; real love as defined by two people who attentively listen and the question of whether art’s purpose should be to reflect or direct sociopolitical culture.

Individual testimonials would be the true test on the latter question, probably studied by social scientists, but I wonder if mass media, such as Norman Lear’s hit television show All in the Family, a reflection of American’s biased ignorance, actually influenced people to be better, less racist, human beings.

In the case of Tel Aviv on Fire, the argument becomes whether it is naive to think a soap opera could heal or at least ameliorate the centuries old Israeli conflict. Few American rom coms take on such heady issues, yet Seth Rogen’s “Long Shot” this year did in its attempt to convince us that Republican or Democrat, we are all humans searching for love and acceptance. Let’s hope we can keep that in mind as we head into 2020.

The lead actors are all outstanding: a very charming Kais Nashif as the aspiring unfocused writer who eventually reaches out for help with the soap opera’s story within a story.

To the same degree, his girlfriend, portrayed by Maisa Abd Elhhadi, is a competent, not to mention gorgeous, actress as the ambivalent object of Kais’s affection. In the third and fourth layers of conflict, Lubna Azabel is terrific as the fussy t.v actress, and Yaniv Britonover just as good as the check point captain in Kais’s daily life, who becomes the overinvolved director in the serial’s screenwriting as he aims for more adoration from his wife.

So here here for Tel Aviv on Fire, a gift for sapiosexuals who prefer intellectual word play with their flirtation.

Mid film screenwriting is: Blinded By The Light

“Blinded By the Light” written and directed by Gurinder Chandha, most famous for “Bend it Like Beckham”, could have been an award contender, but some silly elf must have helped co-write the middle sections of the film.

The movie premise and last twenty minutes were profound, yet a segment of the middle reminded me of a lesser Beatles “Help” or goofy B level Monkees episode*.

[Reviewus Interruptus Special Bulletin:
*Podcast listening addendum: Having a podcast now with my friend and super movie guru Gus Mollasis, I listen to other film podcasts to get ideas on programming, etc. One must listen to podcast I’ve discovered as a result is The Big Picture, available on Itunes.

I bring this up as after I had written this fresh out of the theater review, I listened to Sean Fennessey interview the director of Blinded by the Light, mentioned in paragraph one-Gurinder Chandra. Here’s where I say mea culpa in the tone, as Sean so delicately said, ‘the cascade’ of tones, the odd whimsical, what I called silliness mid-film. Gurinder helped teach me that living the Muslim/Indian/Easterner in London experience meant that you could be mocked or abused in the morning and by mid-day, laughing and joking about it with friends. While this sounds cavalier to us sensitives Americans, her mindset is not making light of the racial tension, but a zen way of living life. she certainly concluded the interview by saying she will not allow the racists to win, yet her viewpoint of (my paraphrase) ‘don’t let the bastards get you down’ is something we can all embrace and be better for.]

Now back to our regular scheduled review:)

The acting was terrific, the main character, Viveik Kalra as Javed, was spot on as beaten down Paki, word nerd and hero worshiper. Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra were more believable parents BY A LONG SHOT than the two written for Bohemian Rhapsody. Aaron Phagura is also good as Javed’s best friend. A super thrill for me was seeing Rob Brydon pop up in a scene, one of my favorite guys of all time (from his role as Steve Coogan’s buddy in The Trip) as an older Bruce fan who bonds with Javed.

Bruce Springsteen’s music plays a pivotal role which was fine, yet here’s where I think the screenwriter’s went awry. If you want to play Born to Run in total, ok, but find something evocative to do rather than a frivolous dance and running montage(my aforementioned “Help” comparison).

The film sticks the landing in the end and also does a nice job weaving in 80’s socio-political history. Again, had the middle of the film been more even and meaningful, we would have had an award competitor.

Blinded By the Light is still worth seeing, just tone down your expectations and you’ll be fine. That said, it kicks “Yesterday”‘s caboose any day of the week both in impact, story AND acting.

Mike Wallace is Here: A Convergence of Ideas

I’m having a convergence of ideas culminating in a life changing philosophy. Contributors are: Martha Gellhorn’s Lettters as detailed in an October 2019 release book by Janet Somerville, a song by The Wood Brothers “Postcards From Hell”, a 2014 commencement address by Jim Carrey and last, but certainly not least, the documentary “Mike Wallace is Here” directed by Avi Belkin.

I’ll focus on the documentary first since that’s why you stopped by. (Smiley face) I’ve seen my share of biographical docs this year; Maria Callas, Pavarotti, Dr. Ruth, Leonard Cohen and have to say that “Mike Wallace is Here” and Ask Dr. Ruth rise far above the others. Reason being they both show people totally engrossed by their passion; Ruth’s to inform and dis-inhibit the populace about sex and Mike to search for the journalistic truth.

The others, while obviously covering the person du jour’s passion, didn’t capture the essential character. Sure we see Leonard’s ‘sides’, but do we fully understand his drug and sex fueled middle years. Or perhaps Cohen, Pavarotti, Callas either changed more throughout life or are simply too elusive or diluted to understand. In comparison, “Mike Wallace is Here” is more accolade worthy.

We see Wallace, far ahead of his time as one of the first reporters to ask the tough and real questions. Let go as a result of these being too shocking for conservative times, Wallace made money where he could, as ad spokesman, sometimes actor and game show host. He bided his time and eventually met Don Hewitt with who their synchronicity in search of the truth led them to make 60 Minutes into a must watch weekly television show. I’ll let you view the doc to get the rest of the story, but suffice to say, if we all searched for truth the way Wallace did, we’d be a better society. One last rationale is that Wallace didn’t need to demean or attack, he simply had to ask pointed questions. The KKK leader he interviewed in full garb doesn’t need to be put down, his ridiculousness and utter weakness is on full display simply by him speaking ignorant racial views. Truth, if you allow it, will always rise to the top. Shouting it down only serves to keep evil lurking in the shadows.

Back to my epiphany, I continue to love being 55. The epiphany that’s come from an amalgamation of music, literature and film is that I am slowly breaking free of inhibitions which for a near professional worry wart is a feat and a half. “Mike Wallace is Here” helped to strengthen that, ‘be who you want to be and f%$# everyone else’s opinions’, which also demands avoiding toxic people.

My favorite physical fitness hobby speaks to that notion, so it’s high time my mental health followed suit. Long distance runner means running at my own pace, at the time that works for me. It’s now time to run the rest of my life in that order. Enough guilt and paranoia about what I may have done wrong or ‘why doesn’t so and so like me? And more, ‘well? sucks to be you if you don’t respond or if your cockeyed response speaks to some dysfunction that blocks caring and supporting a fellow human’.

So thank you Avi Belkin, for adding another layer of shellac on my ever increasing shine.

How Many True Loves Fit into One Lifetime? Marianne & Leonard

Despite some luke warm reviews, I chose “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love” today over the much lauded “Maiden”. Why you ask? My rapturous viewing of last year’s Nick Broomfield documentary masterpiece, “Whitney: Can I Be Me?”. Don’t get me wrong, Whitney Houston’s music is close to my core, whereas Cohen’s singing seems, dare I say it, close to Robert Goulet. But because Broomfield’s a solid director, I placed my bet on him for an afternoon.

And I’m so happy with my choice! Broomfield proves once again, his uncanny ability to show a warts and all life story, yet portray the focal humans as sympathetic and redeemable.

While I don’t read full reviews before I see a film, I had caught a glimpse of one critic’s complaint that said the film was one sided. I’ll look back to see who that foolish person was, but this was anything but one sided. We saw Cohen in all his Tiger Woodsesque whoring years, we see Marianne Ihlen as both maternal friend and yet ironically neglectful mother. Not one sided in any way shape or form. You see Cohen as he moves through years of acid dropping tripster to Buddhist temple dweller. Rich and poor, Cohen was a multidimensional artist.

What intrigues me is how fickle our culture is, treating men like Cohen with kid gloves, but ripping to shreds other men who ‘like the ladies’. I’m shocked that Cohen was never hit with a “Me, Too” moment, but perhaps his death in 2016 happened before the tidal wave, or more likely, he had a Mick Jaggar mystique which hypnotized women into consensual sex 100% of the time and 0% ever felt exploited.

As far as his love for Marianne there is no question that he loved her. When you look back at your life, especially if you’re past the half-time show as I am, you realize not many pairs can withstand years apart and still keep in touch in a loving and reverential manner. Those couples who can and do are truly special. I am grateful that I have one ex-husband who touches base now and then honoring what we had (and because of this still have, like the Faulkner line, “the past is never dead, it’s not even past”), and I’m also fortunate to be loved by a current very dear friend with whom who I still hang out. I wish there were three more actually (JB, JE, and RA) who let emotional pain, emotional restriction and/or pride get in the way of at least an annual (or even once or twice a decade) phone call or letter honoring wonderful memories. Does that mean they weren’t true loves? Gee, I hope not. They certainly still mean something to me, all in a very individual and deeply moving way.

At any rate, the documentary “Marianne & Leonard” has enough peaks and valleys to keep you going. The depth of Leonard’s love for Marianne is indisputable even when the narrative seems uneven in their crooked line relationship, but that’s just the point. While his celebrity got in the way of his fidelity, the doc’s harmonious finale induced many sniffles in a sold out showing at Burns Court Cinema. Bravo Mr. Broomfield and Bravo Burns Court!

I Don’t Know Why You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello…The Farewell

Lulu Wang’s first major film, “The Farewell”, which she both wrote and directed, should be a tutorial for American film makers. Sure, we have our rare Damien Chazelle folks (rent “First Man”, for instance, which definitely didn’t get enough box office love), but if you want truly poignant pensive artistic moments on film, these days you need to see foreign films like Ms. Wang’s.

But first, promise me you won’t look into the film’s subject matter or talk to blabber mouths who have seen it, as there are two major plot point spoilers that are much more impactful as surprises.

Without spilling the aforementioned, I do want to mention my favorite moments, the first of which has to do with another reason I like foreign films: barring meeting a man of whom I have confidence in planning over seas travel, I’m probably never visiting China or Japan. Thus, going to a film like The Farewell (or the incredible Oscar nominated “Shoplifters”) is my way of vicarious world travel. To that end, “The Farewell” fascinated me by the cemetery ritual as the family goes to the patriarch’s grave seeking the deceased’s blessing for an engaged couple. The simultaneous, but out of sync, reverential bowing of the family was pure cinematic craft.

For a second ‘moment’, I’ll cheat with a montage of clips of ingenious beauty: 1. staring out her hotel window pre slumber, the granddaughter (played by the rapper/comedian Akwafina who is so good, I didn’t remember that she wasn’t just an actress while watching) watches cigarette smoke gather and dissipate, 2. the close ups on the groom’s face as he goes from understated nervousness to inebriation to room spins to grief, 3. the pink conference room decorated in balloons as the family searches for the bride to be’s earring as she gets a facial, and 4. the various shots of looming high rises in China.

Last, the instrumental and vocal music, both classical and modern, added to the rich evocative tone of the film. In fact, at the film’s finale, a Chinese version of “Without You”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Without_You_(Badfinger_song) could almost incite an ‘I’ll be your Bill Munson’ confession.

Is The Farewell perfect? No, but the only element keeping it from that were possibly one too many cliched moments at the wedding and a bit of a random piano playing segment that could easily have been left on the cutting room floor. No matter, The Farewell is definitely worth seeing.