Film & television reviews: ‘Traitor’s a treat, ‘The Old Man’s a snooze and ‘Blonde’ is a bore

Should you watch these films and television shows?

 LIOR ASHKENAZI and Orna Banai in ‘Traitor.’ (photo credit: Next TV/Hot)
LIOR ASHKENAZI and Orna Banai in ‘Traitor.’
(photo credit: Next TV/Hot)

Traitor, a suspenseful new series running on Hot VOD and NextTV, with new episodes coming out Thursdays at 8:15 p.m. on Hot 3, brings to mind the popular series False Flag.

This should come as no surprise, because it was cocreated by False Flag’s Amit Cohen, as well as Ron Leshem (Euphoria).

The eight-episode series tells the story of a plane flying from Israel to India that suddenly drops off the radar. Is it an accident? Terrorism? Or something more complicated? Israel’s security services rush to find the answer, and it turns out, naturally, that many of the passengers are hiding secrets.

Lior Ashkenazi, one of Israel’s leading actors, who is currently in the movie Karaoke, and who appeared in such films as Walk on Water and Footnote, as well as the series Valley of Tears, plays Georgie, senior Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) field officer who was wounded several years before and is now blind (coincidentally, Ashkenazi played an orchestra conductor going deaf a few years ago). Georgie’s wife and children are aboard the flight, and he is brought back in to help investigate.

Oz Zehavi (Yossi) is assigned to help Georgie, but has an agenda of his own, while Orna Banai, best known for comic roles, is grim-faced here as a commander under pressure. Niv Sultan (Tehran) plays a young woman whose war hero brother is aboard and who becomes suspicious when she learns that his girlfriend is Arab.

 ADRIEN BRODY and Ana de Armas in ‘Blonde.’ (credit: NETFLIX) ADRIEN BRODY and Ana de Armas in ‘Blonde.’ (credit: NETFLIX)

Just as in False Flag, there are more red herrings here than in a deli counter at sunset, but guessing what information matters and what will turn out to be irrelevant is most of the fun, and the series – which will likely become Israel’s latest export – is a lot of fun. I only hope the big reveal at the end turns out to be as interesting as the buildup.

The series was directed by Asaph Polonsky, who made the excellent dramatic film One Week and a Day, and has a wonderful touch with actors.

If Only The Old Man

IF ONLY The Old Man, a new series on Disney+, were as much fun as Traitor. Although it stars Jeff Bridges, one of the most appealing actors, and features a fair amount of action, from the first two episodes it seems to be something of a slog.

Bridges plays Dan Chase, a former CIA operative who has been living a quiet life for years, under the radar, and discovers that bad guys have found out where he lives and are after him again. It has something to do with the fact that he supported “one of the good guys” in Afghanistan 30 years ago, while his CIA bosses did not share his assessment.

John Lithgow is the CIA colleague sent to bring him back, while Joel Grey (and it’s great to see Grey on-screen again) is another former colleague. Amy Brenneman plays the sexy woman he inevitably meets while he tries to hide out, and Hiam Abbass, who has appeared in so many Israeli movies, portrays Dan’s dead wife in flashbacks.

I know this all sounds good and the cast is great, but this is the kind of series where characters turn their backs to each other, stare out of windows and utter platitudes about life, very slowly and very often. Bridges is so good, though, that I’ll probably tune in when they release new episodes.

Blonde

ONE THING you can say for sure about Marilyn Monroe’s life: It wasn’t boring. But that can’t be said of the much-hyped Netflix movie Blonde, a pretentious look at the tragic star, starring Ana de Armas.

Based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel of the same name, and directed by Andrew Dominik – who made The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, possibly the most boring Western of all time – the movie is the conventional take on Monroe: That she was victimized by Hollywood, which led her to commit suicide at 36. It’s filled with a number of artsy touches, such as slow motion dissolves and that kind of thing, and it almost slavishly recreates many famous photographs of her – the cinematographer and production designer are the real stars here.

There has been backlash against the movie because in one sequence, when she is a young, pregnant starlet, the movie studio forces her to have an abortion, and she is haunted by the decision later, fantasizing about a fetus that talks to her during a later pregnancy. Critics have said this shows an antiabortion bias, but I would say that it is more a sign of creative desperation on the part of the filmmakers.

The most convincing parts of the movie are the early scenes of her as a child (Lily Fisher), terrified by the erratic behavior of the mentally unstable single mother (Julianne Nicholson) whom she nevertheless loved. Anyone who would have gone through this harrowing childhood and subsequent period of foster care (according to biographies, she was sexually abused while in care, and she married a neighbor at 16 to escape the system, but neither of these parts of her life are dramatized here, oddly) would have had significant issues to deal with as an adult.

It seems facile to say that Hollywood, where she so quickly rose to major stardom, destroyed her.

Dominik has said that he was not familiar with her work when he took on this project and that no one watches her movies today, but this latter statement is patently untrue. Monroe’s 1959 movie, Some Like It Hot, directed by Billy Wilder, topped a 2017 BBC poll of the greatest comedies of all time. This was arguably her best film, but she was also very good in many others, including How to Marry a Millionaire, which holds up quite well.

George Cukor, who directed her in Let’s Make Love, said, “She had this absolute, unerring touch with comedy. In real life, she didn’t seem funny, but she had this touch. She acted as if she didn’t quite understand why it was funny, which is what made it so funny.”

We don’t get to see that gifted comedian here, although it’s not de Armas’s fault. A very lively and sexy actress from Cuba, who was the highlight of the otherwise leaden James Bond movie No Time to Die, she is made up to look as much like Monroe as possible and does a decent imitation of her, as these things go.

Remembering a legend

But no young viewer unfamiliar with the Monroe legend who saw this movie would have a clue as to why Marilyn became the most famous entertainment icon of the 20th century.

Blonde simply presents her as a perpetual victim, slightly dazed by her abuse much of the time. Her second husband, Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale), is a physically abusive lout, while Arthur Miller, her third husband, annoyingly called The Playwright here, is well played by Adrien Brody but does not make much of an impact. All the men in this story are there just to let her down, like the father, whose absence is presented as the key trauma of her life. She takes no pleasure in any of her success and sits murmuring, “Oh, Daddy, that thing on the screen, it isn’t me,” during the premiere of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

That’s actually one of the best scenes in Blonde, which goes on in this vein for nearly three hours.

It even leaves out Monroe’s best line. When she was asked whether it was true that she had nothing on when she posed for a calendar – there are many versions of this anecdote – she said, “I had the radio on.”