Victoria Jelinek


Bohemian Rhapsody
November 28, 2018, 11:34 am
Filed under: Film reviews | Tags: , , , , , ,

BohemianRhapsody_POSTERThe movie begins in 1970 when Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), an audacious youth with a mouth full of too many teeth, works as a baggage handler at Heathrow and lives at home with his parents. One night, he meets, and then joins, the college rock band, Smile, and together they become Queen, one of the biggest bands in rock history. The film chronicles their rise to fame and ends with Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985.

Critical reviews have been lukewarm. In the interest of being judicious, I’ll cover primary complaints. Changing direction midway through production – from Bryan Singer to Dexter Fletcher – results in the subject of Queen and Freddie Mercury being realized in a safe, by-the-numbers manner, even as it’s depicting a man and a band who were anything but ‘safe’ and predictable. Queen’s ‘path to glory’ is fundamentally free of any road bumps, progressing smoothly from student gigs to sold-out stadiums within a few years. The film’s focus on Freddie’s relationship to Mary Austin, rather than any real time on a happy, gay relationship, undermines who he was. This part of his identity is further injured by the discovery of his HIV status being revealed in a quiet montage. Finally, ending the film at Live Aid in 1985, rather than covering the story of Freddie’s last six years, undermines the work he did during this time.

There is reason to these assertions, but the film couldn’t cover it all, despite its tagline, without seeming underdeveloped. Yes, Freddie Mercury is an utterly fascinating and deeply moving subject, and Rami Malek, who plays Freddie, is absolutely spectacular – he’s a strutting, bodacious peacock who’s also incredibly affecting, providing visual excitement on screen at every turn, just as the charismatic Freddie once did. However, I feel this is more about the story of Queen than its  frontman, so perhaps a criticism could be that the script didn’t fully realize its stated goal? And, it’s not about their, or Freddie’s, struggle to fame, it’s about their struggle to remain true to themselves, and each other, and relevant to their fans. I realized while watching the film how unwittingly omnipresent the band had been throughout my youth (and I sang Bohemian Rhapsody to my infant son as a lullaby), but I had stupidly not realized how collaborative they essentially were. From the moment the film starts, we see the set up for a large concert, from the roadies, to the technicians, to the ticket sellers, to the artists, setting the stage – literally – for the film, which accentuates the mechanics of creating the music. In my opinion, this isn’t a light journey through the hits that some declare, or the story of Mercury’s complicated life, but, rather, some insight into how those hits were created and developed by the band. Their relationship, for better and for worse. It’s compelling material. On top of that, one revisits one’s own youth through the music they created together. Ending the film on the Live Aid show simply creates a focused arc, a ‘bookend,’ if you will, that provides dramatic tension. As for not focusing on Freddie’s homosexuality, I think that’s tripe. The entire story arc for his character is about realizing his ‘true’ identity, who he is ‘meant to be,’ as he struggles with the role he has within his family, his sexual propensities, and the effects of fame. Mary Austin wasn’t an aside or an act of curiosity – she embraced Freddie’s flamboyance before anyone else did and was a consistent friend and lover for years (he left his entire estate to her) despite the fact that she was not male and consequently does not fit into the general assessment of who he was. If one is to be truly liberal, one should account for the possibilities inherent in human sexuality, and not be so dogmatic about how one “usually” fits into a category or not.

In fact, this film illustrates that things are not always what they seem, through its minor exploration of Freddie’s sexual awakening and consequent proclivities, yes, but also in its insight into the band’s marriage, if you will, and Freddie’s realization of his power as a performer. Ultimately, I found the film interesting, joyful, humorous, and poignant–fantastic entertainment that made me forget everything else whilst watching it.

Advertisements


Homage to the USA

Patriotism is supporting your country all of the time, and your government when it deserves it. Mark Twain

USA flag_Jasper Johns.jpgI was born in Oregon and spent most of my childhood there. We fished for crawdads in mountain creeks during the summer, took inner-tubes down small rapids, climbed the trestles for the Great Western Pacific trains, biked everywhere through the fields and pastoral lands, with the gentle mountains in the distance. We ‘drag raced’ down Main Street on the weekends, saved money for the state fair and Turkey Rama, picked magic mushrooms in the forests, and went to Friday night football at the high school – not necessarily because of interest in the game, but because it was a community social event. My family regularly camped and hiked at Neskowin, Canon Beach, and Newport City, and ate clam chowder at “Mo’s.” I remember that my bright red feet from the cold of the Pacific Ocean would not deter me from playing in it. We grew up skiing on Mount Hood, and dining at a pizza barn near Government Camp, as well as hiking at Multnomah Falls and through the Cascades. Family holidays involved traveling in our VW van with a styrofoam mattress laid out in the back for we children, staying in Motel 6’s or KOA campsites. I remember that hanging our washing out to dry made it smell even lovelier after a rain, and lying on my back in order to look up at the leaves of the many ancient oak and maple trees on my family’s property (though raking them in the autumn was an onerous task). Badminton and croquet over a bumpy, rooty lawn. Trading candy with my siblings after the Halloween haul on the floor of our den. Thanksgiving as the only time my father would cook things simply.

Typical to a small town girl, I moved away as soon as I graduated from high school: first to Portland, then Seattle, then London, then New York, then Los Angeles, then Berlin, then back to London, then to France. I’ve now lived in Europe for a third of my life, and half of my adult life. I’m formally naturalizing as a French citizen on Thanksgiving this year (not through my own design, but because that’s what the Minister of Interior set as the date). I’ve always maintained that one place is not “better” than another place – they simply represent our different needs and desires at a given time in our life. The inherent values in Europe, of a safety net for the public, even as there are capitalistic markets, align with my personal values: healthcare for all, housing subsidies for those in need, mandatory WEEKS off of holiday, paid, per year, plus personal days, and free (or almost free) university education. Additionally, the pace of life is slower in Europe, and I appreciate this because I believe the frenetic pace of American life is debilitating and anxiety provoking for the populace.

Visiting the USA each year, keeping in close touch with my family, and assiduously reading the global news each day, means I have watched all the negative elements of my native society become exaggerated: workers not taking the minimal days off they have ‘cause they can’t afford to, or they’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs; the employment figures being misrepresented, as many people have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet; there is no time for most Americans to simply rest, ‘cause they are always working, and stores and restaurants are always open, implicitly encouraging the people to consume more than they need; the cost of an emergency or a long term illness fells a person or a family who does not have adequate healthcare coverage; even as the USA has the most highly trained teachers in the world, they are paid the least and the public school system receives substantially less each year in federal funds than the penal system does; diets for most Americans are evidence of a cultural polarity – there are those that are hyper ‘healthy’ with diet and exercise, and those that are obese. Suffice to say, that the milieu that I want to live in is one in which there is a social safety net for those that pay their taxes (however nominal), and people are encouraged to have time to eat, think, and spend time with their families and friends.

That is NOT to say that I am not also in love with my native land, the USA. I love it and it hurts me personally when people criticize it, even as I may agree with them intellectually. For me, I think of my interesting, liberal childhood, the gorgeous and diverse nature of the land itself, its film, its music, its ingenuity in all things, and my heart fills with nostalgia, pride, and gratefulness. Even as I have lived abroad in tough times – the Reagan/Thatcher reign, the GATT Talks 1994, Bush Jr’s reign, to name a few – I have always been proud to be American ‘cause I believe there’s a certain ‘energy’ to us, both good and bad. But now, to see my beloved country so divided within itself, and so alienated from the rest of the world, truly breaks my heart and makes me feel ashamed of what it happening there.

The intolerance and loathing from both sides of the aisle – the fact that there ARE just two choices in American politics – is shockingly fierce and illiberal. To observe cynical, self-serving politicians capitalize on the American people’s personal fears and anxieties, encouraging tribalism, so that the people will be too busy infighting and creating scapegoats, that they will not notice what is happening to their land and their laws, is starkly shocking and sad. It’s as though all the goodness of the USA – its receptivity to new ideas, its consequent ingenuity, its warmth, its diverse and gorgeous cities, natural landscapes and wildlife – are succumbing entirely to its underside – blind ambition, greed, racism, anger, violence, and ignorance. My defense of my native land in conversation here usually goes along the lines of explaining the context for the current situation (the electoral college, the Southern Strategy, Super PACs, Fox News, and an effective smear campaign against Socialism as “commie” interests, the vast swaths of land effecting perspectives), but this falls deaf on European ears. Ironically, they seem to believe MORE in the idea of personal responsibility for one’s destiny socially and politically than Americans generally do, even as we are professed individualists. Even so, they will politely listen to my contextual explanations if the wine keeps flowing, then they predict that it’s simply a repetition of historical dominance of given countries, the fall of the Roman Empire, so to speak, and if there is any fear here, it’s that it will effect the world order ‘cause there will be no one to lead in global policies that monitor corruption, extortion, human rights infringements, and the need for clean energy. Lamentably, the USA and its leaders cannot be quarantined.

For the first time in history, Europeans know what a midterm election in the USA is and are paying attention. I’m pensive and worried today ‘cause I really don’t know what tomorrow’s vote will bring. I’m skeptical that despite all the noise, voters will NOT turn out in the droves that they need to in order to offset the gerrymandering and voter repression. I worry Trump, enabled by sociopathic ideologues like Pence, McConnell, and Ryan, will declare the results – IF they indicate congress will have a Democratic majority – as false and refuse to adhere to the vote of the citizens. My Danish husband says, “That’s impossible! That would be breaking the law, no?” I don’t know what to say to that. A president who has been accused of sexual harassment repeatedly, found fraudulent in his financial declarations and business endeavors, who has never revealed his tax returns publicly, who has been ‘caught’ telling as many as 200 lies in a single week publicly, whose administration has altered law and protocol to put two justices on the Supreme Court and push through over 50 more judges on the lower courts, and who has turned back clean air and clean water protections, food protections, and undermined national parks borders, caged children in privately profiting detention centers that refuse elected officials entry into them, and now has used the US military as an election gimmick to capitalize on his bases’ fears and racism (ostensibly declaring martial law)…well, it’s not inconceivable that he and the sitting GOP’s will just refuse to budge, no? What will the world do then? Perhaps it will be just the excuse to invade and topple this regime. But who could do it? China, Russia and Saudi Arabia have, together, the military might to take on the USA, but why would they do that when they have so much invested in the country? Alas…

Despite my worry and misgivings, I will try to believe that America will re assert itself as a land of hope for all. As the Marquis de Lafayette wrote about the USA after the French helped the Americans to overthrow the tyranny of the English: “Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country.”

 

 

 

 



A Star is Born
November 3, 2018, 1:09 pm
Filed under: Film reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A Star is Born movie posterJackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a country music star that falls in love with wannabe singer Ally (Lady Gaga). With his help, her star ascends while his stardom, hindered by long time tinnitus, emotional trauma, and alcoholism, slowly falls.

I found myself haunted after watching this latest version of A Star is Born. I was pensive as a stillness settled over me when I left the cinema, and this film was the first thing I considered when I woke up the next morning. Bradley Cooper’s character is utterly compelling and terribly sad. Despite what his childhood may have been like, the story effectively conveys that his perspective and behavior are the product of mental illness. He can’t help feeling unhappy, insecure, or his being self-destructive because he doesn’t know how to get help, or, indeed, what, exactly, to get help for. He is charming, kind and talented, yet he is also isolated, reactive, and full of self-loathing even as his life contains so much bounty. And he implicitly realizes this type of ungratefulness, which exacerbates his self-hatred. The plot is still a love story, as the other adaptations of this film have been, however, this version stresses the theme of mental illness and its vulnerability more than the theme of ambition and compromise.

A Star is Born (2018) is unequivocally worth seeing. And, it’s evidence of Bradley Cooper’s directorial sensitivity and ‘acting chops’ – he’s not just a pretty boy as he goes hand held and gets up close and personal even when the subject isn’t easy or attractive. Lady Gaga, too, is believable – tender, tough, and charismatic – and absolutely holds her own in the acting arena.



Halloween

Cambodia Pchum Ben RitualModern Halloween can be traced back to the Celtic Festival of Samhain (Sow-in), which took place two thousand years ago in Ireland, Scotland, and Northern France. Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest, as well as the beginning of the dark and cold months. For these cultures, winter intuitively symbolized death, and this has remained the case in the arts and literature today. Two thousand years ago people commonly believed that the boundary between the worlds of the dead and the living were blurred at this time, which made it easier for Druids to make predictions about the coming year.

Prophecies such as this were an important source of comfort and direction for these tribes during the long, dark winters. However, the same was true of all societies at this time, who were equally dependent on a volatile, natural world. Celebrations marking the end of the growing season and a heralding in of the winter months, as well as folk traditions that told of the day when the boundaries between the living and the dead were lifted, were common everywhere. The manifestations of the celebrations differed slightly from country to country, from festivals, parades, bonfires, and costumes, to gatherings of families and loved ones in cemeteries to pray for the dead, to feasting or fasting, but the concept remained the same. The ancient celebration of the contrast between life and death, the living and the departed, is intuitively experienced when the changing of the seasons occurs. In parallel to Samhain, there was, and is, the “Dia de Muertos” in Mexico, born of the Aztecs; “Ged Gede,” a voodoo festival from Haiti; “Chuseok” in South Korea, born from an ancient Shamanistic ritual; “Tutti i Morti” in Italy; “Pitru Paksha” in India; “Dzien Zaduszny” in Poland; and “Pchum Ben” in Cambodia, for example.

The fact is that on a subliminal level, societies throughout the world recognize the magical possibilities inherent in the natural world, particularly at this time of year. In my opinion, the questions that follow are why it is that the Gallic rituals dominated to become our modern idea of Halloween? And, will the modern world return to these tribal rituals dominating culture – the consulting of priests, the convening with spirits, the sacrificing of animals – now that we are once again dependent on a volatile natural world?



WALL-E
September 17, 2018, 12:36 pm
Filed under: Film reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Wall-E-Movie-PosterHumanity has abandoned planet earth, leaving behind them a fleet of robots to clean up their mess. When the movie opens, however, the only one of these robots remaining is WALL-E who is fascinated by garbage, cleaning it up each day, as he’s programmed to, and taking various ‘treasures’ he finds back to his home. His enchantment switches to a new target when a super-robot EVE touches down, looking for signs of life on earth.

Released ten years ago, I watched this again recently with my young son after seeing a small robot that cleaned a pool at a hotel we stayed at – day in, day out, without stopping – that reminded me of WALL-E. It was in this re-watching, though, with our ever-growing global behavior of consumption and waste, that I truly appreciated the ambition, charm, and visual wit of Pixar’s film. The story can only be the result of inspiration and passion rather than marketing meetings and focus groups, ‘cause WALL-E brings a message about being nice to our planet and the evils of big corporations (ironic, yes, given Disney owns Pixar, but hey ho, this film was made). The setting, a future earth composed of great skyscrapers of trash reaching toward a permanently overcast sky, is prescient. As are the signs for a mega corporation, “Buy and Large,” dotting the nihilistic landscape. While our hero speaks maybe four words – and he has no mouth, no eyebrows, no thumbs – everything WALL-E feels is perfectly palpable and authentic. He is one of the most expressive characters developed in animation. It’s in the nervousness of his gesticulations, the tilt of one of his lamp-like eyes, and his emotive sounds (designed by Ben Burtt, the man who gave us R2-D2’s beeps and tremors) that he is empathetic and believable. Meanwhile, the humans have been reduced to fat toddlers living in Lazy-Boy-type electronic recliners in space, whose every need is met with a touch of the screen that is perpetually in front of them. Enter WALL-E, who reminds us all what is important in life.

If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do, with or without children. WALL-E is, arguably, Pixar’s most brilliant film in a canon of excellent films produced by the studio. It’s a hopeful film that reminds us of what it is to feel joy.

 



I Am Not An Easy Man (Je Ne Suis Pas Un Homme Facile) (2018)
July 15, 2018, 11:17 am
Filed under: Film reviews | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I Am Not An Easy Man movie poster USADamien (Vincent Elbaz) is a ‘player’ in modern Paris. He develops content for an apps company by day, and seduces women when not at his job. Alexandra (Marie-Sophie Ferdane) is Damien’s best friend’s assistant. Damien tries to pick her up at a book-signing event to no avail, then leaves and bumps his head on a pole he runs into while ogling women passing by on the other side of the road. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a world where women hold the societal position that men have held historically to present day. While there is much in this film directed and co-written by Eleonore Pourriat that is arguably cliché and flat-footedly drives home a point, it’s ultimately a diverting film that one considers after watching it.

A hackneyed element is the idea that men in the alterative world who are not married at a certain point are sad and likely to live with a cat. I also found it rather wearisome that men in their role of stereotypical women in the alternate world are effeminate in their mannerisms, actions, and behaviors, such as swinging one’s hips, flipping one’s wrists, using ‘up talk’, etc. Would this actually happen with testosterone flowing through their veins? Is this type of behavior truly just environmental influence rather than biology? Conversely, women in the alternate world strut and burp, have their babies holding on to a hanging exercise bar, then turn the care of the babe over to the male nurse or their husband – would this happen with all the hormones raging through our bodies that (generally) work to bond us to the process of pregnancy, birth, and infant

Fundamentally, however, I found the concept good and was rather unsettled by how the reversal of gender is depicted, which prompted me to consider my own attitudes to roles men and women have in modern life. For example, women don’t shave their legs or armpits in the alternate world, but men must shave all of their body hair or risk being seen as disgusting hippy apes by potential seducers; women bare their chests while running or walking around, whereas men attempt to accentuate any cleavage and play coy with their titties; professional women wear dark suits, and men wear something colorful that, ideally, displays their legs; men are dismissed when they proffer a serious opinion, while women are respected and listened to; and men are the objects of lust in films; when Damien is ‘picked up’ by a woman and they have sex – they struggle for dominance and when she’s finished, she rolls over and leaves.

Even as I didn’t find this to be a comedic film, which has, perhaps, a cultural element to it, I did find it droll (derived from the French “drôle” meaning humorous or peculiar). For example, classic literature and philosophy has been re considered, with books written by George Sand (a woman in fact) becoming Georgia Sand. Additionally, I closely considered both my uncomfortable response to what was being shown as gender behavior in the alternative society, as well as why (exactly) it might be that men have dominated the cultural, political, economic, and personal lives of everyone since the beginning of time…has it all been so arbitrary?



Matrices
July 13, 2018, 11:48 pm
Filed under: From the Soap Box | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Trump baby balloonOkay, granted I’ve spent the last hour-and-a-half on Twitter so I have a grim perspective as I write this at 90 words per minute. After midnight no less. However, as I have now read several gushing tweets by Americans thanking the English for their massive “support” of the USA due the anti-Trump protest in Central London (prompted by Trump’s state visit), I have several questions:

Doesn’t thanking the English for practicing civic action against a global pariah seem to lack a sense of irony? I mean, isn’t this kind of narcissism (lite) part of what bred the climate that allowed Trump to get into the White House in the first place? Did the English protest out of a sense of empathy for the plight of America and half of its citizens or because he is damaging global principles and alliances developed over the last century in order to avert war? Could they have protested because Trump and his administration pose a global threat to their own survival? Or, perhaps they protested ‘cause America influences culture, economics, values and practices everywhere, and they don’t want this US administration’s practices of bigotry, racism, xenophobia and avarice spreading?

I mean, if one considers all the pieces of Trump’s actions, such as cozying up with the likes of Duterte, Putin, Kim Jong-un (and implicitly supporting Assad) while being disrespectful of Merkel or May, pulling the USA out of the Paris Agreement, denigrating NATO, denigrating women, imposing trade tariffs on US imports, threatening trade deals, banning citizens of seven countries, and undermining journalism, don’t all these things have an impact on the rest of the world?  Of course it does, or there wouldn’t have been the massive protest in London. That said, why didn’t the Belgians protest a few days ago? Though there was the World Cup…but then, are the Finnish protesting, too? Let us hope so, particularly as it’s where Trump is meeting Putin. Though they have repeatedly been occupied by Russia throughout history, even threatened by Russia if they joined NATO, so they may be worried about making Putin angry…in which case, England certainly did represent Europe’s general view that Trump is a numpty.

I’m not raising these questions because I believe there isn’t empathy by many abroad for the citizens of the USA who are truly suffering due to the destructive nature of Trump and his administration. Nor do I deny that it’s encouraging for many good Americans* to see their own opinions and feelings echoed by those seemingly outside of the situation (very important in this age of ‘gas lighting’). I write this because I wonder if it isn’t more productive to view Trump in the context of the implications of his behavior and his actions for everyone everywhere. Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be more beneficial if we all started viewing political, social and economic actions throughout the globe outside the boundaries of our own personal, cultural, or geographical perspective and began, instead, to see the connections, connect-the-dots style? Or at least try to. Isn’t context important? Isn’t it the basis of reasonable assessment of any situation? Particularly given the growing ‘interconnectedness’ of the world’s populace…

digital-dollar-sign

*Addendum: I lived in London for 13 years. Until Brexit, I considered it my adopted home and have been grateful to the city that educated me formally and personally.  Now, I have lived away from the USA for 20 years continuously. However, I have never been so saddened or embarrassed (to this degree) by America till now, and the protest in London does give one a sense of affirmation, all the more important ’cause it’s a noble and respected city. And I do hope that there is a massive protest in Paris against Trump’s planned visit in November…this, too, would mean a lot both to thoughtful Americans and it would go a long way, too, to saying “no” to all that Trump personifies…