Letter from Joy
December 24, 2017
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and happy holidays to everyone. I hope the season finds you healthy and happy, and please remember that the greatest gifts you can give anyone are love and kindness. Be tolerant of others, and enjoy your time here on earth. Not everyone is as lucky as we are. Be grateful.
Okay, off my yearly soapbox.
As most of you know, we celebrate both major holidays in our house. We have a Menorah and a Christmas tree (which I like to decorate all by myself) and we make a big deal of gift-giving. Every year, I'm determined to cut back, but the truth is that I really enjoy shopping for my family, as well as just the act of shopping itself, so I suspect this tradition is here to stay. This year, I gave in to progress and actually ordered several items online, although one of the items has yet to arrive, and no one seems to know what happened to it! Not too happy about that, Walmart Canada! Hopefully, someone will sort this out sooner than later. And it's looking as if this is going to be a white Christmas, since after a very warm fall and a really mild winter, we actually got some snow and cold weather. Since we're leaving for Florida soon, I don't mind a bit. (Although, I have to confess, I'm looking forward to warmer temperatures.)
I've been busy trying to get as much work on my new novel done as possible, since I don't work when we're down south. So far, so good. I'm really excited about it. As I am about THE BAD DAUGHTER, which hits stores on Feb. 27th, and is available for advance purchase on Amazon, as well as through my site. It's been out in Germany, under a different title, since August and was on the German bestseller lists for some time, so hopefully we'll see a repeat of that in North America. It's already received some stellar advance reviews in Publishers' Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus Reviews. Hopefully that will continue as well, although with newspapers cutting down on their book sections, as well, as everything else, reviews are getting harder and harder to come by. I'm really mourning the loss of daily newspapers. I love pouring myself a nice cup of black coffee and reading the morning papers. Online coverage isn't the same, and TV news - when it's actually news and not opinion - doesn't come close.
I've seen quite a few movies: "The Darkest Hour" - Gary Oldman is terrific, but the movie is a little pedantic, and it's hard to generate suspense when you know the outcome. Still, it was entertaining and informative, even if a central incident was entirely fictional.(Churchill never rode a subway in his life.) "Call Me By Your Name" - my daughter loved this movie, but I found it too long, too slow, and too self-conscious. Also, it veered into the territory of soft gay porn. Not necessarily a bad thing, just a little repetitive. I did, however, love looking at Armie Hammer, a truly gorgeous man. "I, Tonya" - I hated this movie. The first hour was okay, but it went on way too long for such a slight story, and the people were so awful I didn't want to spend time with them, plus Margot Robbie is too old to play a teenager convincingly. She's a good actress, but it was impossible to believe her as a fifteen-year-old. Allison Janney was her usual terrific self. "Lady Bird" was sweet but slight, and both Soirise (?) Ronan and Laurie Metcalfe were terrific. "The Shape Of Water" was also very sweet and enjoyable, if disappointing. It's "Beauty and the Beast" for adults, romantic but simplistic. I much preferred Pan's Labyrinth," the director's true masterpiece.
And speaking of "Beauty and the Beast", I'm taking my beautiful grandchildren to see the stage production in a few days, and also a stage production of "Peter Pan." Hopefully they'll enjoy both. I certainly enjoy seeing these things through their eyes.
My grandchildren are, of course, the best, and growing smarter and more beautiful every day. My daughters continue to surprise and amaze me. They've turned into wonderful young women whom I'm proud to call my friends. My daughter, Annie, starts a new job in the new year, and I'm very excited for her. Shannon continues to grow as a dancer and an actress. Maybe she'll even write and record a few new songs this year.
As I stated earlier, we head to Florida shortly, and it's looking as if we'll have a full house for a while. Friends of ours are coming for a visit for a week, and the day they leave, my daughters and families arrive for a week. A friend of Shannon's will be in Palm Beach performing for a few days, and she might be staying with us as well. So, busy times. New Year's Eve is always spent with our close friends, Carole and Howard, and we plan to see as much of our Florida friends as we can while we're there. I also plan on getting as much reading done as I can. As I've said many times, when I'm working on a book, it's very hard to concentrate on other fiction, so this is my opportunity to catch up a bit.
And that's it for now. I'm off to buy some party sandwiches and muffins. Have a safe, healthy, happy New Year, and I'll write again next year.
Love you all,
Movie Reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. USA. Winner of the People's Choice Award, this is a wonderful film, starring Frances McDormand (who is her usual amazing self, but who could do this role in her sleep), Woody Harrelson and an Academy Award-deserving Sam Rockwell. This is the story of a woman whose daughter was raped and murdered and the crime never solved. The woman decides to rent the billboards in question in order to prod the sheriff into action. The script is terrific and surprisingly funny. A definite must-see. Rating: A-plus.
- Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool. UK. Another excellent script with terrific performances by Annette Bening and an incredibly sexy Jamie Bell. This is the true story of actress Gloria Graham (whom Bening eerily resembles) who went to England after being pretty much banished from Hollywood because of her scandalous personal life, and her romantic relationship with the much younger man she meets there. I loved every second of this film, even though I was crying so hard by the end of it that I actually had to bite my hand to keep from sobbing out loud. Rating: A-plus.
- Hostiles. USA. A western, of all things, and a wonderful one at that, about bigotry and hate. The story of an army man, wonderfully portrayed by Christian Bale, recruited to accompany a Native chief and his family back to their land, it couldn't be more timely, in light of the bigotry that's lately exploded in the States. Bale's character is a decent man who considers the Natives ignorant savages, and what happens during the journey to change his mind and help him regain his humanity. Also excellent is Rosamund Pike. This movie caught me completely off guard. I wasn't expecting much, but it was a real gem. Rating: A-plus.
Those were my three favourites. Other good movies, in no particular order, are:
- Disobedience, UK, starring Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz. A non-judgmental look at the Orthodox Jewish community in London, as Rachel Weisz returns home after her estranged father dies and reestablishes relationships with those she left behind. McAdams is particularly wonderful. Her performance is outstanding. Rating: A.
- Three Christs. USA. Starring Richard Gere and Peter Dinklage, based on the true story of a psychiatrist who did pioneering work with paranoid schizophrenics, three of whom in this film think they're Jesus Christ. This is a lovely film that makes you care about all the characters, letting you see beyond their mental illness to capture their souls. Rating: B-plus.
- In The Fade. Germany. Diane Krueger won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her powerful portrayal of a woman wallowing in grief and bent on revenge after her husband and son are murdered by a terrorist bomb. Not a pleasant subject but a very powerful film and Krueger is excellent. Not sure what the title means, but the movie will have you on the edge of your seat. Rating: B-plus.
- Breath. Australia. Simon Baker (of TV's The Mentalist) stars and directs this comic-of-age story about an aging surfer and his adrenaline junkie wife who befriend a couple of young boys and teach them about life and love. This is a gentle, often exciting film - the surfing footage is extraordinary - that moves at a languid but never dull pace. I enjoyed it thoroughly, although I had the nagging feeling I wouldn't have enjoyed it so much had the young boys been girls in a similar situation. A grown-up having sex with a thirteen-year-old is never a good thing, no matter what the sex of those involved, and because of that I have to give it a B, rather than the B-plus I might have otherwise.
So, those were the best of what I saw. The others, again in no particular order, were
- Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, USA, a documentary based on the life of Scotty Bowers, pimp to the stars and one-time keeper of their secrets. This was an interesting film but there was too much Scotty and not enough Hollywood. And Scotty comes across as a true naif, with no insight at all into the forces that made him the man he became. It's more sad than sordid, despite a few surprising revelations about Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Rating: C.
- Loving Pablo, Spain, starring a terrific Penelope Cruz and her husband, Javiar Bardem, outfitted with what I hope was a prosthetic stomach. I wanted this movie to be better than it is. Based on the true story of Pablo Escobar and his lover Virginia Vallejo, I was hoping for something juicy, violent and exciting. And it is, in parts. Just not enough parts to make up for a lazy script that, while entertaining, doesn't really go anywhere. But Cruz is gorgeous and lots of fun to watch. She makes the movie worthwhile. Rating: C.
- The Lodgers, Ireland. I was really hoping for a good scary ghost story since I love horror movies and I didn't pick anything from Midnight Madness this year. Unfortunately this wasn't it. Despite an interesting setting and a terrific performance from its lead actress, Charlotte Vega, who deserves much better, what this movie is in desperate need of is a decent script. Nothing about the story makes sense and there are no thrills or chills or anything even remotely scary. When are film makers going to learn that when you don't care about the characters, you don't care what happens to them? Rating: D.
- Kings, USA. Very disappointing. It stars Halle Berry and Daniel Craig and takes place during the L.A. riots after the three officers captured beating Rodney King on tape were acquitted by an all-white jury. This should have been a great film, but it never goes anywhere. It's all background and no story. I kept waiting for a plot. Instead, we get a lot of noise - a lot of noise - and no real substance. We never get to know who these characters are or why they do the things they do, and Daniel Craig seems to be acting in a different movie altogether. I kept thinking, who are these people? Lots of chaos but no cohesion. Rating: D.
- Euphoria, Sweden/Germany. Awful. The story of two estranged sisters who go on a mystery trip. Except it's no big mystery for the viewer. Clearly we know Eva Green is dying from the second we see her. It's only her dour sister, Alicia Vikander, who's clueless. The movie, while lushly shot, is a big disappointment. The story is simplistic and irritating, and no professional photographer would ever take pictures with her cell phone! Rating: D-minus.
- Rainbow - A Private Affair, Italy. A mess. The story of a Partisan fighter in Italy during the Second World War, our supposed hero, Milton, goes searching for his best friend who has been captured by the Fascists, not to save him but to find out whether or not he slept with his pretty but empty-headed girlfriend. It gets sillier and sillier and the only two scenes that engage have nothing to do with the actual story. Then the whole thing just ends, as if the writer/director brothers, forgot what the movie was about and decided to just pull the plug. I can't imagine this film will get released. Rating: F.
- Felicite, France/Senegal/Belgium/Germany/Lebanon. This film actually won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at Berlinale this year, so I was expecting something worthwhile. It wasn't, except for maybe a brief glimpse into the way people in the Congo live. But the movie itself is a real disappointment. Nothing really comes together and the characters are largely unsympathetic and not very interesting. I was tempted to leave and probably should have, but I kept hoping that something would happen to justify the praise. Nothing did. Rating: F.
- Sweet Country, Australia. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all, since I'd heard that it was "an instant classic"and it actually won one of the Festival's main awards. But I didn't think it was very good at all. Interestingly enough, it covered much the same territory as Hostiles, which I loved. This one is about the same subject - man's inhumanity toward those he considers inferior, in this case the Aboriginals of Australia. But while Hostiles soared, making you feel compassion and understanding for all those involved, this one takes the easy way out, portraying all the white men as villains. They may well have been, but just because a subject is worthy doesn't make it a good film. Rating: F.