Letter from Joy
September 24, 2017
Hope this letter finds you well. A very happy New Year to all my Jewish readers. May this year be filled with health, happiness and all good things.
Unfortunately, my poor husband is suffering from pneumonia at the moment. I've had pneumonia three times and it's no picnic, so hopefully he'll get better soon. Also unfortunately, I'm the one who gave it to him. I had a cold and passed it on to him. Mine went away; his turned into pneumonia! I guess it's partly the fact that we've been traveling so much, and also the time of year - the kids are back in school, and the weather is crazy. Suddenly, after a miserable cold and rainy June, July, and August, summer has finally arrived - in September! The last few weeks have been glorious, although yesterday and today were too hot, even for someone like me who loves the heat. And it's been a super busy time, so I guess we're more susceptible. And as I said, all the travel...
And speaking of travel... we went on a golfing trip to Scotland at the end of August, followed by four days in Paris. Scotland was great and so was my golf! After a so-so summer on the links, my game suddenly shifted into high gear in Scotland, and for the most part I played wonderfully. We played six courses in seven days and I was not only consistent but really good. Such a pleasant surprise. The only bad day was at Muirfield, which was more of an endurance test than a fun afternoon. It was just too hard a course for us - we went with another couple - and the women had to play from the mens' tees and hit over fields of fescue. Nobody did well. The other courses were fabulous and my husband actually got a hole-in-one on a 219-yard drive up hill! So that was really exciting and a definite highlight of the trip. The weather was perfect - sunny and (almost) warm every day, except for one afternoon when we played the Old Course and the heavens opened up in the bottom nine and we got thoroughly drenched before we even had the chance to get our rain gear on. One of the caddies actually told me that it was a pleasure to watch me play, so that was really nice to hear. We stayed in two different hotels, both of which were lovely, and the food was terrific. Lots of lobster and fish and sticky toffee pudding.
Then it was on to Paris. We stayed at the Hotel D'Aubusson on the Left Bank near the Post Neuf. We've stayed there before and it's a lovely hotel. Definitely not cheap, but then neither is anything else in Paris these days. We went walking along the Rue Faubourg-Saint Honore one afternoon and I couldn't believe the prices. Didn't buy anything! But Paris is, as always, a magnificent city. We went to the glorious Louis Vuitton Museum - no, it isn't a showcase for the Vuitton brand, but an actual gallery - and it's spectacular. Also went to the Georges Pompidou Centre and saw the David Hockney retrospective, which was fabulous. And of course the Musee D'Orsay is always a special treat. We had some terrific meals and just enjoyed walking around the city. Also got a chance to have dinner with my nephew and his lovely wife, who live in Paris.
Then back to Toronto just in time for the second week of the Toronto Film Festival. Because I missed the first four days of the festival, I didn't have time to see as many movies as I usually do, but I still managed to get in fifteen. As usual, about half were good and half were not, and I have to confess to getting fed up with having to stand in lines for hours at a time, especially when the movie turns out to be less than stellar. But it was fun anyway, and gave me the chance to acclimatize. (See my reviews below or on Facebook.) My last movie finished on Sunday afternoon and then on Monday, it was off to New York, accompanied by my husband and daughter, Shannon. Unfortunately, it was also the week of meetings at the United Nations, and all the heads of various countries were in town, including Trump, so half the streets were closed and traffic was impossible. It took us two hours to get from the airport to our hotel! (An hour longer than the flight itself.) We had dinner that night at one of our favorite restaurants - Nello's - on Madison Ave, and parts of that street, and many others, were closed to pedestrian traffic as well. So it was something of a zoo, and I have to confess, I'm not overly fond of zoos anymore. I used to love New York, but I just find it too crowded and too chaotic these days. Our visit was something of a whirlwind. I didn't even have time to call my cousin, and Babette, if you're reading this, I'm sorry. I was there to see my agents and publishers and didn't have time for much of anything else. Our meetings went very well. The team at Ballantine is fabulous, and I think they're going to do a great job on my new book, THE BAD DAUGHTER, which will be out on February 27, but is also available for advance order now, either through Amazon or on my site. (Just thought I'd sneak that in.) My agent was also able to get us tickets for the Broadway musical, "Hamilton", which is every bit as fabulous as you've heard. And then we left for home the next day. So, one of those blink and you miss it trips, but definitely worthwhile. Because of our experience getting to our hotel from the airport, we allowed two hours to get back to the airport, so of course, it only took 45 minutes, and we had to wait three hours for our flight home. But better early than late, and by this time, my husband wasn't feeling so hot, and wasn't up to running around anyway.
And now we're home, and I'm trying to settle back into a routine and get back to working on my new book. We have no plans to go anywhere until the end of October, so that's good. I've been asked to interview two British mystery writers, Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre, on October 21, as part of the International Authors' Festival in Toronto, and I'm looking forward to that. So I'm catching up on my reading of their work in order to have some interesting questions to ask them. I don't normally do this sort of thing, but I thought it would be fun, so if you're in Toronto on October 21 at 2 p.m., please join us at the Lakeside Terrace at HarbourFront. Recently, I read SINCE WE FELL by Denis LeHane, and found it hard to put down, although it totally fell apart in the second half. Still very readable, just that it turned into a completely different book, and the two halves never meshed. The latter half was completely unbelievable, which was a shame, since the first half was so good. I'm now reading a non-fiction memoir by Canadian writer Ruth Marshall called WALK IT OFF, subtitled "the true (and oddly hilarious) story of how I learned to walk, pee, run, and even have sex again, after a nightmarish diagnosis turned my perfectly awesome life upside down." Exactly.
And now, the movies: My festival favourites:
- 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.
Another movie I loved, but didn't see at the festival, is Wind River, starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. It's in theatres now and I highly recommend it. One of the bets movies I've seen all year.
An that's it for now. I'll be back next month. In the meantime, be kind to each other, and go buy some books.