Director – Gideon Raff
Cast – Sacha Baron Cohen, Noah Emmerich, Hadar Ratzon-Rotem, Alexander Siddig, Waleed Zuaiter
Gideon Raff gives himself at least six credits in each episode of his new Netflix miniseries, The Spy. He doesn’t combine them for the sake of brevity (or humility), but instead, in highly irregular form, doubles down on them, giving himself a proud pat on the back before each episode has begun, and again, after it has ended.
As annoying as it is to see his name again and again and again, this knowledge comes in handy when you’re looking for someone to assign blame upon for the show’s many missteps, but also when you’re looking for someone to praise when it occasionally succeeds. Because by hogging the limelight, creator, executive producer, writer and director, Gideon Raff has also painted a target on his back. The Spy, for better or for worse, is a Raff enterprise. It lives and it dies on the back of its creator’s sensibilities.
Watch The Spy trailer here
The six-part miniseries arrives less than two months after his highly problematic Netflix film, The Red Sea Diving Resort. The Spy is an infinitely better experience, but one thing is abundantly clear now: Raff is a much better fit for television than feature films. Long-form storytelling irons out some of his more controversial tendencies, which were there for everyone to see in The Red Sea Diving Resort, a film that had the unique ability to offend different audiences depending on which corner of the world they came from. So while I found its divisive politics rather troubling, others thought it celebrated the White Saviour trope.
And either by complete coincidence or by design, the lead character’s skin colour plays an important role in The Spy, as well. Eli Cohen’s Arab appearance was one of the key reasons he was handpicked by the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, to undertake a highly dangerous mission in the 1960s. He would be their man in Damascus, Syria, at a tumultuous time between the nations. He would establish himself as a patriotic Syrian businessman, host lavish parties for statesmen and military officials, and relay whatever he learns to his handlers back home.
It took me a full episode to accept Sacha Baron Cohen as Eli, which is a shame, because once the initial shock of seeing him, a comic legend, deliver a dramatic performance wears off, he is revealed to be quite excellent in the role. The accent that initially seemed like it belonged to one of his Who is America? characters becomes less distracting as the actor sneaks under Eli’s skin. As broad as some of his choices may be, Sacha Baron Cohen can be disarmingly subtle, as well.
While Eli is shown to be a regular family man who adores his wife, his Syrian secret identity, Kamel, needs to wield an uncommon confidence as he develops relationships with important Syrian figures; he must be charming and sociable, authoritative but never arrogant.
The actor’s performance goes a long way in toning down some of Raff’s more eccentric directorial flourishes, none of which is weirder than his decision, in one dramatic sequence, to intercut between a military coup and an orgy.
The writing is also rather plain. As expensive as The Spy looks and feels (save for one glaring moment where modern cars can be seen on the streets of 60s Damascus), it is decidedly lowbrow in its treatment. It is the sort of show where fireplaces tend to make themselves available when letters are in need of burning; the sort of show where, if wives are being missed, a lookalike appears out of thin air to be followed on the streets; where secret conversations are conducted within earshot of exactly those people who shouldn’t be hearing them.
It sort of makes sense that the show is a smoother ride when it is focused on the character of Eli, and not when it slips into that uncomfortable political zone that Raff routinely finds himself veering into. You see, most of what has been documented about Eli’s life is from an Israeli perspective. To them, he is a national hero; a man who played a key role in his country’s victory in the Six-Day War. And it is with similar reverence that Gideon Raff tells his story.
I’ve always thought of Israelis as a paranoid people. As a child, minding my own business outside the French cultural centre in New Delhi, I was approached by a man in dark glasses and a suit – he looked like a secret agent! He asked me what I was doing, and vaguely dissatisfied with my answer, he noted down my name and address in a pocketbook. As he walked back across the street, I learned that he worked the security at the neighbouring Israeli embassy. I was later told that the Israelis across the street kept a better record of the goings on at the French cultural centre than the French themselves. To be clear, this was in New Delhi, perhaps in the mid-2000s.
Israel of the 1960s was a very different place; it was when the seeds of the nation’s current belligerent attitude were first sown. And Raff, to his credit, offers a sort of explanation for his country’s psychology back them. Because barely two decades before Eli was sent into Syria — his patriotism exploited for the greater good of his nation — the Israelis felt that they had been let down by the world, and made to believe that if they didn’t take care of their own people, no one would.
The Spy isn’t perfect, but at least it has the humanism of Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi and Yoon Jong- bin’s The Spy Gone North — both recent benchmarks for the genre.
Book Review of Debutant Author, T. Shree, ‘What If….’
|Title:||You’ll Always Be My Favorite “What If”|
This was the book we had mentioned in our article of last month ‘What If…’ The book is a romance based on contemporary times. If we look at romances and novels we have a preconceived notion but this book drags down that notion and brings in space for so much more. Romance is the most versatile topic and it has been beautifully expressed by T. Shree in the book. It’s a fairytale-like pretty story bringing in the different emotions at different moments.
The book will blow one’s mind, it’s a book filled with a variety of characters, the building of the characters, the plots, and their twists put you to think more about this story. It’s a book on the details are kept to the story there is no loose end in the story making it a blissful read.
Amisha & Avyansh had met up in an arranged set up but the marriage never happened because of Avyansh’s abrupt refusal to the marriage proposal. The protagonist of the story faces tragic situations in her day-to-day life. She has herself a social network and then she has her true own self. Managing two different personalities, two different images becomes a task for her. She has a big void formed inside her, as the social image of her being this happy, bubbly, and cheerful girl has completely taken a toll over her personal life making her empty of all her emotions and feelings. The book is settled in a middle-class family, talks about the pressure and Amisha was married to Nikhil forcefully and Avyansh was married to Sunanya but there was something between them. Destiny got them again into the same settlement after 15 years; professionally in the same company. Avyansh was President Band 2 and Head of Business Development for APAC and UK. He was famous as “The Forbidden Fruit aka Tempting.” He had already proved to be the one of all the ladies in the company with his intense looks and attitude. Amisha also joined the company as a VP- branding and social media strategy in the same company and she had looks and style to turn a million heads around. It was all fine until they met each other; it was the silence before the sea Strom.
The book is based on a beautiful saying, what if it happens? And it says it all. There is such a deep connection with the characters in the story that you at one point will feel like being part of the book. It’s a great experience to read something this connective. It’s that one piece of contemporary romance that’s filled with thrill, bits of aww moments, and lots of hows and what’s.
Life is the result of our decisions taken at every point in life. Amisha, who was 18, and Avynash, who was 21 were in love with each other; it was love at first sight. They had planned to spend an entire lifetime of togetherness. But none can do their will against destinies play. Amisha’s family got her married to someone else, the marriage couldn’t stand for a very long time. Destiny had its plan of crossing their paths after 15 years.
The book is very engaging, The little notes at the beginning of each chapter are super adorable and the highlighted dialogues and quotes make it very interesting. This book basically tells u- “If it’s meant to be, it will be” The book is full of suspense and makes us so much familiar with the protagonist of the story. It’s like indulging in something so much interesting. The author deserves appreciation for the small details and the well-put story making it a beauty in itself.
This YA Yarn Would Be A Bit More Bewitching If Its Witch Made Better Choices
The Fourth of July has come and gone, so *checks calendar* it’s time for everyone to start decorating for Halloween, right? Yes, I am That Girl who uses spiders in all of her decorating. But really, who couldn’t use a little magic in their lives right about now? Time to break out the Hocus Pocus and pick up books like Laura Sibson’s Edie in Between.
Edie in Between was touted as “a modern Practical Magic.” An intriguing idea, as Alice Hoffman’s bewitching Practical Magic is not only a critically-acclaimed classic, but one of my favorite films of all time. Having read Edie, I think a more realistic comparison would be The Craft — still a lot of fun, but far less nuanced and ambitious.
Celtic/Wiccan magic runs in Edie Mitchell’s family. The Mitchell women dry herbs, note the solstice, and hide secret forests with rhyming spells. Edie herself can see dead people, among other things, but she’d rather just be a cross-country jock that has nothing to do with any of it. Which she got away with, until her mother’s death outside their home in Baltimore almost a year ago, at which point Edie moved onto her grandmother’s herb-covered houseboat in the Chesapeake Bay.
Despite being a socially awkward person who loathes this small town, Edie does make a couple of friends: Tess, who runs with her, and beautiful Rhia, who works at the local occult shop. It’s Tess who tells Edie about the “haunted” Mitchell property, so of course Edie has to investigate. Her presence bungles some sort of spell there, triggering a chain reaction of dangerous magic that goes from bad to worse. With the help of her new friends, GG (her grandmother), Edie’s mother’s journal, and a lot of magic, they manage to unlock these secrets of the past one by one.
Now, my upbringing was heavily influenced by Greek culture, so I am predisposed to have certain views on superstitions and the supernatural. I’m also a poet, so I have strong opinions on rhyming poetry. I acknowledged both of these things, and then set them aside so I could enjoy Edie’s story with an open mind. And for the most part I did, apart from Edie’s willful disregard for meter — I wish she’d thrown that out the window a lot sooner — and blatant ignorance.
For whatever reason, Edie’s mother allowed her to have a childhood without the “burden” of knowing how to properly harness magic that is powerful enough to kill a person. Even after she bumbled into that old house and screwed up a spell she didn’t know was there, Edie continued making one bad decision after another. By halfway through the book I was as mad as GG, as concerned as Tess and Rhia, and yelling at Edie like she was a character in a horror movie that should NOT go into the dark basement. Which did lead to considerable personal enjoyment, but I suspect it wasn’t what the author was going for.
I did appreciate that Edie’s story was about fear and the power of grief — appropriate themes for the current time. It highlighted the importance (and frustration) of communication within a family, no matter what the generation. When there are words you can’t say, it definitely puts the words you won’t say into perspective. But I really would like to have known more about the Mitchell family’s history and the origin of their magic, and I wish Rhia and Tess’s characters both had had a bit more substance.
So if you’re craving cooler weather, hot apple cider, and the classic Charmed TV series, Edie in Between is a magical adventure right up your dark alley. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve already got Practical Magic in the queue anyway.
Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It by Oliver Burkeman – review
This wise meditation on human transience strikes a perfect balance between self-help manual and philosophical odyssey
In the current average human lifespan we get 4,000 of each day of the week: 4,000 Saturday nights, 4,000 lazy Sundays, 4,000 Monday mornings. When we are young, that might feel like a dizzying number of tomorrows. As the years go by, not so much. Oliver Burkeman’s midlife inquiry into how we might most meaningfully approach those days is perfectly pitched somewhere between practical self-help book and philosophical quest. Having been the Guardian’s resident “pursuit of happiness” correspondent for a decade, offering the weekly promise that “This column will change your life”, this is something like his accumulated wisdom.
It starts with some necessary caveats. The day will never arrive when you have emptied your inbox. There will always be too many demands on your time, or nowhere near enough. Anything might happen in the next half an hour. Burkeman’s own journey as he describes it over the past years is perhaps a familiar one. He started out in his adult life believing there might be a trick to optimising personal productivity. He was a planner, a to-do lister, a buyer of highlighter pens. He was half-persuaded that there might be three or seven or 12 robust habits that allowed you finally to feel in control, on top of things.
Slowly, as plans never quite went to plan, and choices were made, and kids arrived, he came to understand that in any interesting life, time will almost never be your own to “spend” efficiently, and that most of the secret lay in embracing that fact. As he works his way towards these truths, Burkeman provides a brief history of human ideas of time. The definition that we are most familiar with, the stuff that might require urgent management, was really, he suggests, the product of two things: the sharp decline of faith in an afterlife, and the Industrial Revolution. Our acceptance of finite time – of this being all there is – roughly coincided with clocking on and clocking off. This made time more pressured and precious. Most of our anxieties, Burkeman argues, derive from the fact that “every moment of our existence is shot through with what Heidegger called finitude”, or a nagging sense that we might be wasting what little time we have.
As he explores more closely what this might mean, he also proposes some strategies, or thoughts, to counter that anxiety. The traditional airport-bookshop volumes about time-management tend to emphasise the importance of finding focus. These concerns have been exacerbated by the great global engine of digital distraction; social media companies make their billions from the time you aimlessly, addictively provide them, “making you care about things you don’t want to care about”, as Burkeman says.
It helps, he suggests, rather to understand certain basic human limitations. Procrastination is unavoidable, though we can get better at ignoring the right things. Fomo – fear of missing out – is only debilitating if you fail to realise “that missing out is basically guaranteed” in life, the inevitable consequence of one path chosen over another. The self-help gurus might tell us never “to settle” in a relationship or a job. Burkeman argues rather that “you should definitely settle, or to be more precise, you don’t have a choice”. It is inevitable that you come to realise any chosen partner or job is not all other potential partners or jobs. Happiness is a factor of what you do with that information.
Productivity is also revealed as a fairly dubious modern virtue. “The Latin word for business, negotium, translates as not-leisure, reflecting the view that work was a deviation from the higher calling [of ease],” he says. If we make leisure only another arena for self-improvement then it sacrifices the present in favour of an imagined future. One hero of this book is the hobbyist, who can steal an afternoon for no purpose; another is the person who “develops a taste for having problems”, in the knowledge that the state of having no problems only arrives postmortem. Burkeman ends his book, as his publisher perhaps insisted, with 10 tips to take away. The how-to is not necessary; as with all the best quests, its many pleasures don’t require a fast-forward button, but happen along the way.
Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It by Oliver Burkeman is published by Bodley Head (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply
Source: The Guardian
Enter your email address to get latest updates