How to help Mexico after the earthquake

We list below organizations and community centers providing aid and support in Mexico after the earthquake.

You may donate clothes, water and food to the following organizations:

Red Cross MexicoOxfam MexicoSave the Children Mexico, and Direct Relief

UNICEF Mexico welcomes money donations.

Topos Mexico is a rescue brigade with a track record that dates back to the 1985 earthquake and is now taking donations.

Please also help by double-checking information before inadvertently helping to spread rumors or misinformation.

One weekend in London, a terror attack and a prediction

A dark object appeared in the periphery of my field of vision. A pair of hands were holding it, almost caressing it. Forcible insomnia after a red eye flight from Venice to London had forced my mind into overdrive. I was writing at a caffè while killing time to take the train to the city. Twin portraits of the Queen at Gatwick Airport had sent my imagination wondering about the absurdity of a hereditary monarchy in one of the largest economies of the world.

Yet Britain has run more smoothly than so many of its neighbors for the last five centuries so any argument against its system of government could hardly pass the test of history. It may very well run against the tide but we all know what the Age of Reason has brought upon mankind. And in this famously unconventional island formerly prone to outbursts of violence, the French Revolution and its excesses had a tempering effect, and pushed it towards political conservatism. To this date. So, the Queen and her descendants are probably set to reign in uncontested fashion for a long time to come.

But then I raised my bleary eyes and the dark object came into terrifying focus. It was a massive submachine gun. The man holding it was a British police officer smiling reassuringly but for a moment I felt close to violent death. It was just take a very soft pull of the trigger to create mayhem. There were other police officers walking around the tables, a dog sniffing bags here and there.

Sure enough, a few hours later a bucket bomb failed to detonate on the London tube. At that time, your correspondent was traveling on a different line towards a meeting. The trip was uneventful and the train was half empty. But after the meeting, when I went online at a fast-food restaurant, my business partner in Buenos Aires was asking me if I was alright. Only then did I check the news and saw about the botched terror attack.

Even after that, however, London went about its business as usual, and calmly so. The weather was English with an almost ironic overstatement. A storm was gathering after a mildly promising morning, then a downpour caught a few of us without umbrellas and then the skies cleared, letting the sun shyly come out briefly before hiding again behind an endless convoy of clouds.

A bunch of lunatics and discontents with civilization (and with freedom for women, which is at the root of all this brutal idiocy) are not going to disrupt easily the life of a city that put with a massive bombing and destruction in World War Two. Yet one wonders if the arrival of so many people unwilling to conform to the uses of British society pushed a majority of citizens over the edge to vote for leaving the European Union.

Herein lies the true challenge. The European Union is the culminating experiment of a continent that saw too much bloodshed only seventy years ago. It was a massive step towards a world without borders, that needs to be the final station of political evolution. Western economies have made huge strides towards the free circulation of ideas, goods and capital.

It is absurd that, in the end, men should be precluded from enjoying the same benefit in the very planet they share. Yet there must be consensus on equal rights for all, regardless of race, religion and sex. Terrorists are against that, but so are other, nonviolent people who have been flooding Britain as migrant workers. And the descendants of the peoples have been living on this island for centuries have been seeing how the outlook of their country has changed in some areas beyond recognition. Their gut instinct was to opt out of the European Union.

If it was only so easy. A number of economic and technological factors make migrations impossible to stop. So Brexit is not the answer. Immigration into Britain will continue unabated even after it leaves the European Union. That very Friday evening your correspondent met an old friend who works as an editor at the BBC.

As we were drinking pints of Guinness at a pub in St James, we barely spoke about the terror attack earlier in the day. Instead, we talked about old friends, family histories and how we had ended up at corners of the world we never thought would become home for us. And this BBC editor made this prediction: “Brexit is not happening.” For every solution to a problem that Brexit created, two new problems arose, like new tentacles growing in the place of the ones you cut off from the Medusa head. “Remember it,” the editor said. “Today, 15 September, 2017, I say Brexit is not happening.” Your correspondent raised his glass of stout: cheers to that.

Five ideas on how to spend $1,000 instead of buying an iPhone X

Long gone are the days when $1,000 would get you far. Nonetheless, it is still a decent amount of money anywhere in the world. We mean, it can buy you more than a sandwich and a Coke. But we do believe that the best gifts are not things but experiences, like travel and food. Spend wisely.

We run down a list of ideas if you have that kind of spare change to spend. These are our top five:

  1. Take yourself and your significant other on a Caribbean cruise for a week, sailing from Florida. That may not sound like a fantastic idea right now but we are talking about sailing dates in February 2018.
  2. A return flight for two from New York to Paris, including a three-night stay at the five-star Hotel d’Aubusson will cost you $800. Keep the $200 change for an unforgettable dinner at a place of your choice with your significant other.
  3. Get a 1961 Haut-Brion, one of the best red Bordeaux wines you will find on the market. If you are lucky, this bottle can be yours for less than $900. Use the leftover money to send out fancy invitations to friends for a memorable winetasting evening.
  4. How about puffing away your thoughts and dreams in good company? A box of ten Cohiba Behike 54 cigars should cost you $999.
  5. Enjoy one of the most exclusive dinners in the world at Osteria Francescana, in Modena, at $300 the 12-course tasting menu. Throw in another $200 for the wine pairing. Spend the remaining $500 towards the flight to Italy or traveling around the country. Our suggestion: take the two-hour train to Venice and spend the night at the Danieli. You will feel like a movie star. True: including train fare and tips, it would get you a little over $1,000. But you can surely afford parting with another $100 or so.

You may also spend $999 in the new iPhone X and pay the monthly rates to whoever your provider is. And yes, you would look great on Snapchat with the fancy camera on it. Thanks, but no, thanks. Really.

Film director goes from prize in Venice to prison in Beirut

Lebanese-French director Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult was recognized at the Venice Film Festival last Friday, when Kamel El Basha was awarded the Coppa Volpi for Best Actor.

Yet the triumphant return of Doueiri’s to his homeland on Sunday turned into a nightmare when he was arrested upon arrival. The reason? Entering “enemy territory” without prior consent.

That is a reference to Israel, where part of The Insult was filmed. Some scenes are set in Tel Aviv, where a Palestinian doctor tries to understand the reasons why his wife commits a suicide attack.

Mind you, this is happening in Lebanon, one of the most liberal Arab countries. Moreover, Doueiri had the support of the Lebanese minister of Culture, who accompanied the director in Venice. Just imagine what would await someone like Douieri should he be returning to a place like Saudi Arabia, where sheiks swimming in oil relegate everybody but themselves to the dark ages under all sorts of religious pretexts.

Doueiri, whose French and Lebanese passports were confiscated upon arrival, was questioned by a Lebanese military tribunal but released. As of Monday, however, his situation remained uncertain.

Not only these restrictions violate basic freedoms and are massively idiotic. They have a profoundly adverse effect on culture in places that need it the most, like Arab countries ruled by dictatorial regimes or fragile democracies, like Lebanon’s, based on precarious arrangements of tribal divisions of power.

In the meantime, the cuts that can be brought together in films and movie theaters will be undone by states intent on parceling the world among themselves into little chunks cut off by border controls, barbed wire and huge ideological barriers. Future generations will look down upon the present world in amazement at the incompetence of the prevailing political order and the absurdities they impose on populations that are often more progressive than their rulers.

The winners of the Venice Film Festival

The Venice Film Festival recognized directors and actors for movies that premiered at the 74th edition. The Venezia 74 Jury was chaired by Annette Bening, and comprised of Ildikó Enyedi, Michel Franco, Rebecca Hall, Anna Mouglalis, David Stratton, Jasmine Trinca, Edgar Wright and Yonfan. In having viewed all 21 films in competition, it decided as follows:

 

 

 

 

 

Golden Lion for Best Film to:
The Shape Of Water
by Guillermo del Toro (USA)

 

 

 

 

Silver Lion – Grand Jury Prize to:
Foxtrot
by Samuel Maoz (Israel, Germany, France, Switzerland)

 

 

 

 

Silver Lion – Award for Best Director to:
Xavier Legrand
for the film Jusqu’à la garde (France)

 

 

Coppa Volpi for Best Actress:
Charlotte Rampling
in the film Hannah by Andrea Pallaoro (Italy, Belgium, France)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coppa Volpi for Best Actor:
Kamel El Basha
in the film The Insult by Ziad Doueiri (Lebanon, France)

 

 

 

 

Award for Best Screenplay to:
Martin McDonagh
for the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri by Martin McDonagh (Great Britain)

 

 

 

 

Special Jury Prize to:
Sweet Country
by Warwick Thornton (Australia)

 

 

 

 

Marcello Mastroianni Award
for Best Young Actor or Actress to:
Charlie Plummer
in the film Lean on Pete by Andrew Haigh (Great Britain)

Venice rewards a love story between a mute woman and a river monster

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water won the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. As we have reviewed here, it is a love story between a river monster and a mute woman who works as a cleaning lady at a U.S. military facility in Baltimore.

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A team has captured a monster from the Amazon River who they want to use in the space race against the Soviet Union in some unexplained way. The Soviets have just sent dog Laika to space, so the Americans —we are led to believe— are going to send the monster. Until they decide they will not and want to get rid of the creature before the Russians get him.

You know how the movie will end from minute 10 into it. It’s your time and money if you want to see it. As for the jury, they will probably have to respond to history but not to critics, who have incredibly acclaimed a film that runs on clichés and commonplaces and, yes, stupendous photography and all the fancy production that money can buy. Yet another proof that the world has lost its way.

The jury partly made up for that massive lapse in good judgment by awarding the Grand Jury Prize to Samuel Maoz’z Foxtrot, a masterpiece of a movie that ended up being the runner up. There is still some hope in humanity and that in the end, reason will prevail.

Indeed, insiders are commenting that jurors were struggling to pick the winner out of a pool of very close contestants in terms of quality. Festival organizers were happy that the movie that took the top award will probably be a ticket box success on the other side of the Atlantic. That, they believe, will boost the festival’s reputation in Hollywood. In our opinion, Downsizing and Suburbicon were firm contenders that somehow did not make it. Everybody who has taken a first date to a movie praised by critics knows it can be a hit or miss affair. But perhaps things are changing, now that critics are falling for love stories with aquatic monsters.

Javier Bardem’s two-hour train crash about Pablo Escobar

 

Your correspondent does not claim any pedigree in the art of reviewing movies. Yet for all his humble credentials, Javier Bardem playing Pablo Escobar reminded him of the dreadful interpretation of El Zorro by his colleague and fellow Spaniard Antonio Banderas in 1998. If you want to get a feel of Escobar and his wars —against his rivals in the drug trade, against his own friends and the Colombian people— you will be better off with Narcos on Netflix. Even if you can’t watch the entire series, any chapter of the first two seasons will be vastly superior to this train-wreck of a movie that goes painfully on for more than two hours.

As in Banderas (who surprisingly got raving reviews back in the day, perhaps helped by a cast that included Anthony Hopkins: that never goes wrong), the first thing grating the ears of the audience is language. Banderas was as appalling giving voice to El Zorro in English as is Bardem in the role of history’s most powerful drug dealer in Loving Pablo. But in the latter case is even worse.

El Zorro at least was an American creation, so the case for having a Spanish actor speaking in English with a thick accent was more defensible than doing so for a Colombian character in a movie set in Medellín, where he mostly interacts with his countrymen.

But what makes it even worse is that sometimes it can be very difficult to understand what actors with a thick Spanish accent they are trying to disguise as Colombian while speaking in English are saying or mumbling. Thankfully there were subtitles in Italian to save your correspondent. If you want to hear English with a Colombian accent just walk around Jackson Heights or any other Latino neighborhood in Queens, New York. In this movie you get a barely understandable caricature of that.

It was a concession he made —a very big one— to get financing for the movie and make it viable. Even if you can allow for that, the stiff acting by most of the cast and a terrible script make things even worse. It all looks like a big school play, in which supporting actors seem to be trying to impress a particularly wicked headmaster, again —it must be said— very uncomfortably in a language not their own and, most importantly, not the characters’ they represent. And evil indeed Escobar is.

We all knew it, as we knew how it ended. But still. The scenes of violence come across as wantonly gruesome most of the time, as if inserted to make up for a story that does not hold up. And that’s a shame, because fewer characters in the world could offer more elements for a powerful drama than Escobar and the violence he unleashed around him.

Take the script. The bad lines are too many to list them all. A sample of two: Penélope Cruz, in the role of Virginia, a journalist and lover of Escobar, says that is “better to cry in a private jet than in the bus,” a clumsy rewording of the phrase attributed to Marilyn Monroe about crying in the back seat of a Cadillac. Even if it is taken from real life, it just worsened a poor script because the quip falls flat.

Never mind that Cruz, as Virginia, appears simply as a loose woman who happens to have a good job as a TV anchor. Again, her character —based on real-life journalist Virginia Vallejo— is much more nuanced and convincing in Narcos. But there is a memorably catastrophic line when the DEA agent tells Cruz, who looks splendid at all times in the movie, that it would be hard for her to get another job in reporting not only because of her association with Escobar, but because her looks and legs “are not what they used to be.”

You would not expect DEA agents to be good judges of feminine beauty, but you see Cruz sitting across from him with her all impossibly gorgeous looks in full display and it makes you wonder if the man has left is eyeglasses home. Why would a woman like her —who could have any man at her feet in seconds— attempt to seduce such a dull man so blatantly is beyond comprehension.

It all is a shame, really. For Bardem at the press conference in the Venice Film Festival spoke persuasively about his drive to interpret Pablo Escobar, his fascination with the magnetism that such a slow and passive man as the drug-lord was in real life mobilized those around him to follow him and commit the worst atrocities to satisfy his blood thirst.

And once and again, Bardem made very clear that there is right and wrong, and that Escobar was a monster. He made a passionate call to fight the thrill of the crime life, that it was a false way out of poverty, that it only creates death and destruction, and he warned Mexico is now going down that road as Colombia once did. In response to a question from Verb.Company, he said he thought Escobar was on a quest for respect, which in the end was self-destructive, dragging with him many lives. From this character, Bardem added, he learned that he wanted to be “on the good side of things.” Bardem has deservedly earned respect for an outstanding career. It can be forgiven for this mishap.

‘Suburbicon,’ Clooney’s satire about America’s heart of darkness

With their strong bias for style and good looks, it is unsurprising that Italians have such a weakness for George Clooney. And in Venice, he is revered as a local patron saint: he married here, he loves it here and orders lavishly at bars and restaurants, including his favorite, Da Ivo, where he recently footed the bill of over 3,000 euros for a party of five that included Matt Damon.

They surely had plenty to celebrate as Suburbicon the feature Clooney presented as a director in Venice was received with roaring ovation and applause. The plot is simple enough, even though it takes a while to understand what really is going on. Matt Damon (yet again: see our review of Downsizing) plays the role of Gardner Lodge, a bored suburban husband and father of one, who lives with his handicapped wife, Rose, and her look-alike sister, Margaret (both splendidly interpreted by Julianne Moore).

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Some scenes are reminiscent of movies by the Coen brothers, and justly so, for the script is based on an original one by them. It’s the late 1950s —for some reason moviemakers keep turning back to these years— and the white flight from American cities towards the nascent suburbs is well under way. Indeed, they turn out in fury against the single black family, the Meyers, which makes the ill-fated decision of moving into Suburbicon, next to the Lodges’ home.

While enraged white neighbors are destroying the property of the Meyers’ and setting their car on fire, a double-crime is unfolding at the Lodges’ next-door, all instigated by Gardner and Margaret. But the mob has surely more important things to do, as the police are unable to contain them.

How you judge this movie will depend on whether you are at ease with irony and sarcasm in the face of tragedy. These crimes happen in America all the time: you hear the testimonies of surprised neighbors afterwards about how nice and average the family next door looked. But especially after Charlottesville and the resumption of the culture wars in the United States, Suburbicon will seem spot-on or ill-timed, again depending on your view of things.

Some critics were disturbed by the coincidence. Inevitably, Clooney was asked at the press conference at the Venice International Film Festival about the timing. “Making a movie takes some two years,” he responded, dismissing the notion that it was intentional. When the project began, there was no hint about controversies with statues of Confederate generals or that Trump would be elected president. But that it came out now, as monsters that have been lurking in the basements of American suburbs are reemerging, makes it an extraordinary coincidence.

‘Novecento’ was a ‘film like no other,’ says Depardieu in Venice

Among the classic movies presented this year at the Venice Film Festival, Novecento stands out in a class of its own. Gérard Depardieu, who starred in Bernardo Bertolucci’s film along with Robert De Niro, recognized as much. The restored version was a painstaking work that recovered some 700 frames that had been lost in the original cuts.

“This is a film like no other, they no longer make films like this,” Depardieu said in brief opening remarks before the screening. “All movies are now small.” He then went on to say, in somewhat halting Italian, that “Italy is beautiful, the women are beautiful, the land is beautiful.” As an acknowledgment to less pretty realities, he used flowery words, duly adding that “politics is a sh*t everywhere, except in Russia,” he said, to knowing laughs from the audience. In 2013, Vladimir Putin granted Depardieu Russian citizenship after he returned his French passport following a public fallout with then French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

But politics is beside the point, even if this article is about the most beautifully executed political epic in cinema. Novecento displays the full palette of colors, characters and sounds that turn all things Italian into a superior aesthetic and emotional experience. Children are playing in the field, while a couple is making love not far apart in the fields of Emilia that are brimming with life, lush vegetation, songs and dance. As can be seen in other Italian classics too, even the poor farm hands in their rags seem to have a sense of harmony of colors and shapes and not even the most brilliant propagandist of the Soviet Union could have dreamt up such a magnificent display of red flags as a humble train advances through the countryside.

Bertolucci was not able to attend due to health reasons. In a videotaped message shown before the screening, he reaffirmed his “anima rossa” or “red soul,” and dedicated the movie to his brother “with all my heart.” The Italian director is “a peasant of the film industry,” Depardieu said in his speech. Just like his characters, the Emilian peasants he so lovingly has portrayed. As one of them shouts to the cavalry as they are coming to evict him from his house of forty years due to his socialist convictions. “Go work the land to see what it means!”, the peasant screams in Novecento. “You will see what it means to work the land!”

But Bertolucci does know. He turned into his opera magna, and one of the biggest cinematographic feats of the 20th centuries. The money is not an issue: just check the costs of the Hollywood blockbusters. What is missing are epic minds and ambitions.

Clooney, Cardinale, Dench and other big names in Venice

Stars from all over the world paraded down the red carpet at the cinema palace in the Lido, the island off Venice where the oldest film festival is held. Fans were clamoring for George Clooney and his wife Amal, Julianne Moore, Judi Dench, Donald Sutherland, Matt Damon (starring in two movies that premiered here) and other big names, including Claudia Cardinale.