Nowhere Special, by Uberto Pasolini

Most movies which are tear jerkers or weepers or whatever you want to call them, make you cry during the movie, at some point. This one I didn’t cry at all, until the credits started rolling. I think that’s a really remarkable achievement.

James Norton plays John and his problem is not a complex problem, but almost unbelievably difficult. He has a four year old, Michael, and he, John, has a terminal illness — presumably cancer but they don’t say and it isn’t important. The mother of the boy left them and went back to Russia, abandoning her husband and son, and in fact has cut them off completely.

In any event, as one of the adoption agents points out, it is already too late to try to reunite the son with his mother, even if he knew where she was. He has to find a family for his son before he dies, and to that extent he is working with an agency, and doing some fairly illegal things to boot, to interview various candidates in the hope that he’ll find the right one.

He’s a window washer, and there are innumerable scenes of him looking through windows into other people’s lives, and sometimes, weird constant reminders that he’s not going to be around much longer. The son seems to sense something going on with his father, but I think the main conflict in the movie is that John does not want his son to remember him. He wants his son to forget him and to grow up not knowing he was adopted by a new family. This is a little bit of pipe dream and the adoption agents keep trying to get him to realize that he must talk about it with his son (they have a children’s book called “How the dinosaur dies,” that he can use.) They also want him to create a memory box that the boy will be able to open at a later date, when he reaches the age where he wants to try to reconstruct an image of his father and mother. They remind him, that legally, Michael will be able to request the names of his birth parents when he turns 18. But John is one of those beleaguered world weary types who just wants to be forgotten. So it is essentially an internal conflict — or a conflict of what happens when the inner emotional reality bumps up against the outside world.

He interviews a total of five families, I think, and in the end, he picks the one I would have picked, so I felt like I had judged correctly. And that, ironically, is where the movie ended, the credits rolled, and I suddenly felt like I had a rock stuck in my throat. Very slow and beautiful. Really well done for someone who wrote, directed and produced his own movie.

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The New Life, by Tom Crewe

and

Prince Eddy and the Homosexual Underworld, by Theo Aronson

Since characters in the fictional book are real people in the non-fictional book, I thought I’d write about both books. In The New Life I only suspected a short way into the book that the characters might be based on real life people, because the sections are given dates and they are marching, unbeknownst to them, into a thicket — maybe even disaster — of events that will change gay rights and gay consciousness for decades to come. That is, the trial of Oscar Wilde for “gross indecency,” which was the legal term for sodomy or sex between 2 (or more I suppose) men. It concerns John Addington Symonds who was famous for a number of things but very importantly, his translations of Michaelangelo’s sonnets to Tomasso Cavalieri, in which he restored the male pronouns that had been made female by earlier editors. He was married and had four children, but he was also gay and he knew it. He also believed it was normal. In this novel, he and another man, Henry Ellis, decide to write down some real cases — a kind of “In their own words,” as a scientific exploration. But then the trial hits in 1895, gay men start fleeing to France for their own safety, and these two, though they are still eager to try to publish their book, get into trouble when the police find a copy.

Anyway this coincides with roughly the same time period as Prince Eddy’s involvement in what was called The Cleveland Street scandal. The non-fiction book about Prince Eddy is quite dense and it took me a strangely long time to get through it. There’s so much that you have to try to understand about life in Victorian England, such as the casual nature of sex between young boys and older men in exchange for money. (Prostitution, duh). But the messenger boys were not allowed to carry their own money so that it would not mix in with the money from the clients. But one day, a kid named Swincow was discovered with 21 shillings on him, and suspecting that he stole it, forced him to reveal how he got it. It happened because he was prostituting at a Cleveland Street brothel where men could sleep with boys.

Anyway, this book, which goes over many years of Prince Eddy’s life, shows, I think pretty conclusively, that Prince Eddy did visit the Cleveland Street brothel and was probably gay. Although he was the eldest son of Victoria’s heir (George, the Prince of Wales), he was lethargic and some say, inept. He would not have made an interesting king or even a competent one. He was engaged to May, but he died before their marriage could take place, so the heir went to the spare, as they say, and George eventually married Eddy’s fiance. They became King George and Queen Mary, and they had their famous sons: Edward, the Nazi sympathizer who abdicated to marry Wallace Simpson, and another George — the one with the stutter depicted in The King’s Speech, who married Elizabeth, the Queen mother. Those two gave birth to Elizabeth, and then in she to the current King Charles, undergoing cancer treatment, his son William and Harry, the pariah, and then I guess another George will eventually come along, If the monarchy survives.

But I think what really comes off well in this interesting study of someone who never became king, and why it’s almost certain that Eddy did enjoy the young men at Cleveland Street, is how much effort the royalists and sympathizers went to make sure there was never a chance that Prince Eddy would have to speak on the matter. The prostitutes were given extremely lenient sentences. They never tried to prosecute the proprietor, who I think had fled the country, and most of the wealthy who were definitely known to have been, were never charged with anything.

It makes you wonder why, in 1895, they did go after Oscar Wilde and there are some suggestions that he caused it himself. He didn’t flee to Europe when he had the chance to. (He ended up there anyway.)

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Eclipse, by science, and for other people, by God.

I drove out to my mom’s condo today, because for some bizarre reason, her home is about 3 yards of the line 0f totality. The line of totality is about 100 miles wide, but there is a singular line which may be called something more than totality. It’s a line, even down to the yards, where the moon will actually be in the exact center of the sun. that means a perfect circle within a circle — not off to north south east or west. It should create the greatest view of the sun.

The most surprising thing to me, was that you have to take off the protective goggles and look at the sun directly. The second surprise was that it isn’t just a black circle like the photos generally show. (Even the great one I copied for this entry.) It’s more like a star sapphire but more diamond like than that gemstone.

In this eclipse we saw a bit of red at the 5:00 angle and some people said, “Oh that’s a solar flair,” but it’s not. It’s a solar prominence. A kind of mountain of plasma and in the one photographed above, 3 earths could fit into that space: a mountain that is at least 45,000 miles high. To compare, Everest is 5 miles high.

But then of course the religious people have to ruin it. Idiots like Marjorie Taylor Greene and my own cleaning woman. The latter texted me and said, “Did you know the first new light after the eclipse is going to land on Israel? I wanted to text back and say, “No, it will land on me and all the people watching with me,” and then add, “plus it never stopped shining on people who weren’t in the direct path.

The other one — the insane politician — tried to explain it to us that it is God’s sign we’d better shape up. “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You.”

Finally, even though the eclipse lasted for more than 4 minutes, it was over in a flash and watching some of the possibly fake animations of the shadow crossing over America, it really does drive home how far away the moon is, and how rarely it casts its shadow on the earth.

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Challengers, by Justin Kuritzkes

and directed by Luca Guadigno.

I honestly don’t know what this movie was about. It’s about a 3 way relationship (2 boys and a girl) who meet… somewhere… a dorm of some kind or maybe it’s a tennis camp for teens. The 2 guys met at 12 at a tennis camp and they’ve been best friends forever.

Early on, Zendaya asks them if they’ve ever… you know. And they vehemently deny it. But then they admit to one teaching the other to jerk off and to think about girls when doing it. Later she initiates a 3 way kiss and pulls away to watch the two guys make out with each other. So that’s the whole homoerotic thing. In Call Me By Your Name, Armie Hammer knows he’s homosexual and Timothe Chalomet seems to change, but is pretty gay by the end of it. But for Hammer, (and you can see this if you look closely), his inner turmoil is their age difference. Elio is under age and Hammer is in college. In this, these two guys don’t question the fact that they’re making out, but they also have no inner feelings about being gay or bisexual and go on to lead mostly heterosexual lives. But anyway, the movie builds up this tennis match between the 2 at the age of 40. And at the end of the movie it goes on for so long and there is so much slow motion, I had trouble staying awake. Presumably we’re waiting to see who wins the tie break. But instead, because of an awkward attempt to stop an overhead lob, Josh O’Connor falls over the net and into Mike Faist’s waiting arms, and they hug each other. The End.

Yes, I was that confused. And as well as Zendaya has been doing — she’s currently the lead and the 2nd lead in two movies at the same time: Dune and this one — she’s utterly unbelievable as a tennis coach and even more unbelievable as a tennis player. Not well cast. I didn’t believe her as a mom either.

But since having thought more about this and at least one other movie Luca Guadigno has made, I tend to think that the fact that these characters have no problems with their sexualities indicates a rather superficial approach, especially in this movie when the two of them were thrown into a gay panic when Zendaya asks if they’ve ever… (had sex), and then suddenly kiss each other like there’s no woman in the room. I found it sort of fascinating in Call Me By Your Name, except there, until Armie Hammer’s arrival, Timothe Chalomet had been dating and fucking a girl. I don’t what the actors do to make that leap, but it’s not in the writing.

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Breathe, by Doug Simon

Sometimes a film is just bad. But I went to see this anyway because I like Sam Worthington — or at least I feel bad for Sam Worthington because James Cameron’s promise that he’d become a huge star never happened. (Although he’s got a part in Kevin Costner’s new two part movie about the west and he also has all those Avatar follow up movie (3 more that I know of), so he’ll be working until at least 2031.

The only thing that kept me awake during this was my suspicion that there was some unspoken polemical ideas about white people.

And I think I would have said no, except for the fact that the only people who seem to have survived in New York City is this small black family and one day, two white people come racing up to their home with guns and equipment to get in. They want to study the father’s scrubbing system which keeps the air fresh inside the home and dumps the CO2 into the outside atmosphere. Gasp! Who wouldn’t believe them. Apparently, they live in a community in a former bomb shelter in Philadelphia, but their scrubbers aren’t functioning as well and they have only weeks to live. Now the word black or African American is never mentioned. The only reference is a book the grandfather gives to his granddaughter about Malcolm X. All of that was okay for me, but then toward the end, the granddaughter is on the radio with her mother and says, “These white people are crazy.” That’s when I realized this was a black paranoia movie.

Like one small example, with no water, oxygen and plant life, did the small family which initially consisted of grandpa, dad (played by Common), mom (played by Jennifer Hudson) and the granddaughter (played by I don’t know), think they could go on forever this way, as long as they had enough Campbell’s soup (product placement)? What did they think was in store for their daughter? These questions are more pressing and dramatic and necessary in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. And in fact a master work like that makes you think very deeply about what does it mean to be alive, and why should you try to keep doing it?

This never asks those questions. It’s more interested in showing how white people lie. Not even something I disagree with. But as a movie it was just terrible.

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Civil War, by Alex Garland

I didn’t want to see this because in the preview Jesse Plemons, who I think is the most menacing actor we’ve had in a great long while, asks an obviously foreign born American citizen, “What kind of American?” I mistakenly thought the entire movie was going to be something akin to The Killing Fields, which I think upset me to a degree only matched later by Silence of The Lambs.

But I had to trust Kirsten Dunst who rarely picks a wrong script and is, coincidentally, married to Jesse Plemons. She has acted with her husband before, in The Power Of The Dog.

So I went and was pleasantly surprised. The premise is that a tyrant President (Nic Offerman, of Parks and Recreations fame) has refused to relinquish power and is now serving a third term. He calls himself the President of the United States but his alliance is actually the “Loyalist States,” and its not at all clear that these states which include most of the northeast and midwest are loyal. It’s also notable that Trump’s main concern from his underlings is their loyalty. The movie opens with a massive violent demonstration in Brooklyn and ultimately a suicide bomber, and some of the dialogue makes it clear that the president has used troops on U.S. citizens. There are other alliances: the New People’s Army (mostly northern states), The Florida Alliance which includes all of the old south except South Carolina, and the Western Alliance which is Texas and California. It’s the Western Alliance that this story is concerned with. Because while the president goes on television and repeatedly lies that the secessionist states are completely defeated, in fact the WA has come within miles of Washington D.C. and are about to make a final offensive to capture or kill the rogue president.

He’s smart enough not to make the president a Trump parody, and in fact, we hardly see him very much. But the story, instead, follows a conflict photographer Lee (Kirsten Dunst) and a war reporter Joel (Wagner Moura), who decide to get to the president before he’s captured or killed. They have to go on a long roundabout way to get to Washington because of some vaguely mentioned problems with the direct route from NY to D.C. This means the trip will be roughly 580 miles and, basically the story becomes a road show through various places of horrible conflict. This includes the scene with Jesse Plemons, who turns out to be a white supremacist and with some fellow white supremacists, is executing anyone that isn’t born in America. He’s the most nightmarish of all the characters and the most excruciating to watch. But the scene doesn’t last too long.

What was interesting to me about this encounter is how the professionals are able to read what is happening. When they first encounter this group, a whole bunch of bodies are being dumped into a mass grave. Lee asks, “Are they in uniform,” and when the answer is “no,” Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), the oldest man in the group and the one with the most experience says, “We have to leave. They do not want to be discovered.” I would never have thought to think about the clothing the bodies were wearing. But someone with experience did. And because Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) is a neophyte war reporter, a lot of what this movie is about is experience, aging, and the perpetually haunted. As Lee explains at one point, their job is to go look at the stuff other people (except soldiers) can’t see, and bring it back, so that people stop doing it. But they don’t stop doing it and Lee, who gives off the sense that she is at the end of her ability to keep going, knows that her job is pointless but still necessary.

Ultimately this is a movie about reporters and war photographers — not the tension in America or the wish fantasies of so many right wingers that we get on with it and have another civil war. In Africa, safaris used to be about killing animals or discovering the source of the Nile, for example. Later, the guns were replaced with cameras, and the photograhic safari is now dominant. But it’s still a form of hunting. In this movie, the link between the soldiers with guns and the photographers with cameras or reporters with pens and tape recorders is made clear.

The only thing I really disliked was the end, where Jessie gets someone killed because of her stupidity and possibly youthfulness, and then photographs that person as they die, and seems to be without remorse, because she gets up and runs deeper into where the action is. At the beginning she was someone I didn’t care about, but by the end, she was someone I hated.

The soundtrack is absolutely horrible, but it is meant to be that way. It’s meant to make you feel discomfort. And the special effects sounds are sometimes so screechingly loud it makes you want to stuff your ears. This is also intentional.

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A Hitch In Time, by Christopher Hitchens

Of course everyone knows about Christopher Hitchens’ extraordinary intelligence, and it’s probably best to see him in action on Youtube. This, for example. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone take on the Catholic Church in such a fearless way, nor has anyone come close to defending sexually abused children as passionately.

These essays were mostly wonderful, but I did skip a few: the subjects were either dated or maybe not really in my orbit of concern.

I’m not sure I’d buy another book of his essays. There’s an awful lot to read, and an essay is very specifically about a moment in time. So this is, to a degree, a look back.

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One Life, by James Hawes

I wasn’t going to review this but The Times review, once again, proved that their reviewers are hacks and unqualified to review a high school musical.

My biggest complaint about this movie, which will not have a wide release or be seen by very many people, is that the preview for it gave away the entire story. Basically it was Schindler’s List with a non-German protagonist. In fact, one of the most interesting things about the story, is that Nicholas Wintin, the person whose life is being depicted, sought no recognition for what he accomplished.

The movie is, oddly, a reminder that everyone — especially England — tried to appease Hitler by not going to war with him and giving in to his demands. Why countries like Austria should be sacrificed and then the southern part of Czechoslovakia which was called the Sudetenland (sorry about the spellings if I’m wrong), is beyond me. But that is what happened. And then in the northern part of the country, the government was replaced with the German/Nazi government, so that Czechoslovakia became the 2nd country swallowed up by Germany, before its invasion of Poland.

In any case, it’s against this time frame and urgency that Nicholas Wintin and others began a kinder transport from Prague to London. At the London end, Wintin and his mother did most of the difficult work: finding people to foster the children, raising 50 pounds for their eventual return (the equivalent of about $4,000 in today’s money), and getting their visas. They managed to save 669 children, most of them Jewish. Another 250 were on the last train but it was prevented from leaving and of those 250, only 2 children survived the camps. Also in the way was Holland, which had banned Jews from entering their country. As they said in the movie, only 200 children survived the camps. He and the others in his group saved 3 times that many.

The Times critic complained about the present-day story, and said it was self-congratulatory which is as wrong headed as can be. Anthony Hopkins makes it very clear that he doesn’t want to think about the Holocaust or the children that he was not able to save. And when forced to, cries only in front of his wife. So it may not be a Times pick while The Tuba Thieves and Knox Goes Away and even Snack Shack are. But at the end of the movie, which was in one of the lower theatres at AMC Lincoln Square — theatres that are reserved for the not well attended — the entire audience burst into applause at the end. And I thought it was well deserved.

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Cabrini, by a bunch of conservative religious lunatics.

I wanted to see this, without having read the reviews or even seen any previews, because I was always a little curious about “Mother Cabrini,” or “Madre Cabrini,” as she’s referred to most of the time in this movie, and mainly because of the hospital that bore her name here in NY until it was closed and turned into condos. She’s also the first American saint which is defined as “beatified.” A saint in Guam, Diego Luis San Vitores, lived and worked in 1627 – 1672 and established the first Catholic church in Guam, but was not beatified until 1985 or thereabouts. They used to take their time. They don’t anymore.

Anyway, the theatre was packed and I had my seat on the aisle. I was slightly curious why it was so full and then they started to play the previews. If it wasn’t a cartoon made by Pixar, which I always turn out by closing my eyes and staring at the floor and waiting until it’s done assaulting me, it was a preview that gave a distinct smell of being about Jesus or faith. I couldn’t tell specifically, but the clips were often of these maudlin speeches or badly acted moments, and then Greg Kinnear appeared in one of the movies and I thought, “Oh God, this is one of those conservative Christian movies that have been making money hand over fist, by catering to people who want to reinforce their belief system.” The worst of these are scripts that try to “prove” the existence of God or Jesus by telling the story of the Bible, which they, like Moslems or Mormons, believe is a fact and not written by human hands. Or they’ll the story of someone who was briefly dead and “witnessed” heaven. Needless to say, you can’t quote yourself to prove something is true, nor can you quote someone who isn’t in the room to prove something is true. It’s called hearsay.

The worst that this group has made was about sex trafficking and the heinous part about that movie is that it repeated the lie that gays are harvesting children for some aspect of their blood that will keep them youthful. This is something the disgusting actor Jim Caviezel repeats over and over. It disqualifies the entire movie.

Cabrini, I had to watch, at times, half asleep because it gets into that badly written ham fisted speechifying that usually comes from the pulpit. But there was a slightly interesting and I think intentional twist to this movie. It emphasizes, (over emphasizes because of it’s bad writing and bad filmmaking) the fact that immigrants are important and should be treated with respect. And not only that, when Mother Cabrini, after being told by John Lithgow who plays the NYC mayor in this movie, that she would have been a great man, says, “No. A man couldn’t do what I did,” the women in the audience burst into cheers.

NM that she hadn’t done anything by that point and most of her achievements took place after this fictional moment. The movie undoes everything the Trump party is trying to do now: immigrants are important, not just an issue to be dealt with; and women have power.

The audience is asked, during the credits, to wait for a new song by Andrea Bocelli and his daughter, who he now tours with, but I didn’t stay. The movie sucks, as far as script, plot, writing, etc. We don’t get to know a single orphan or hospitalized patient. In fact the hospital doesn’t get built in this movie. All those accomplishments are summarized in text at the end. The men are cartoons of men — in the manor of Snydley Whiplash. John Lithgow does what he can, but even the mayor’s character is mostly a joke. I’d say the lead actress was good, especially with the preaching speeches she had to make. But the audience loved it. Any every one of them stayed to hear this beautiful new song. But even though I hated it, I do hope that Trump voters and others of that kind hear the message about immigrants and women. They probably won’t.

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High and Low: John Galliano

This is a short one and I’m not even going to look for a poster to go with it. It documents the fashion designer’s career rise at Givenchy and Dior, and then his nearly overnight collapse after he was filmed saying anti-Semitic garbage to some people who were near him. It opens with the film, probably one of the earlier cellphone videos, where he claimed to “love Hitler,” and then told one of the girls that he would have gassed all of them, including all their ancestors or “forebears,” as he puts it. He apparently did this two other times — occasions which were not filmed but have been documented. He lost his job right away and he went to trial for anti-semitic hate speech and got off with a 6,000 Euro fine.

The minute he came on the camera — and I imagine he’s around my age now — about 66 or so, because he started out in London in 1980 where the “new” designer movement began, I couldn’t look at him. He stares directly into the camera, mostly, which gives this intense and what I felt was a deeply dishonest stare. He reminded me of a teacher I had who could not, whether on purpose or not, maintain a proper distance when he spoke to you. That man was also a furious and demented liar. I was going to say “self-serving” but all lies are self serving.

I could never, in the whole 2 hours of the movie — when he was young in the 80s or older in 2021 — feel anything about him. And it was especially interesting when they contrasted him a few times with another designer who came from that London group: Alexander McQueen, who took the reins of Givenchy after Galliano moved to Dior. In the documentary about Alexander McQueen, which could be a companion piece to this one, it’s clear that McQueen was suicidal and that he was openly stating so. Why people didn’t see this is beyond me since he talked about it so much and even wanted to include his suicide in one of his shows, which he thought was be a wonderful ending. In that movie, there’s some humanity in McQueen and his suicide briefly intrudes into this movie about Galliano, when Galliano claims to be devastated by McQueen’s suicide. But that too seemed disingenuous. He probably didn’t give a shit.

There are a few tiny and welcome moments when we get a non-interested party point out the obvious — that the arrogance dripped from Galliano when he ended his show as if he was the final model, usually sashaying down the aisle and taking the longest to get there and back. And there was another comment I can’t even remember anymore — maybe the rabbi who had talked to him and learned that he knew absolutely nothing about the Holocaust. (How in the world is that possible?) But for the most part, this is a puff piece — a rehab piece that’s intended to show how he is able to come back and be his creative self again. But really, he should just shut up and retire. Do some scrap booking and blame the Jews for everything, and France’s strict hate speech laws. I can’t find the original video online anymore — it may have been removed — but this is a sorry/not sorry story in the same vein as Mel Gibson’s rant and Kanye West, Trump, and PewDiePie, who find themselves in need of rehabilitation but aren’t willing to either apologize or dig deep enough to even think about what they did, or why. They usually end up saying, “well it wasn’t so bad,” or “i didn’t mean it like that,” or, “Its taken out of context,” or in Galliano’s case, “I can’t believe I said that. It’s not me.”

It is he.

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