The English Teacher

Julianne Moore is The English Teacher. That she is 40-something and unmarried seems to be a major plot point, one that made me immediately vomit into my mouth. Apparently because her standards are too high, a prim, stick-up-her-ass voice-over lady informs us. And indeed we witness several of Ms. Linda Sinclair’s dates, during which she mentally marks them up with red pen and assigns them grades – mostly failing. She is much more comfortable in front of a classroom of teenagers, discussing the authors, stories and characters who never disappoint her.

But then an older student returns, having failed to make a living writing plays in New York City. Linda adores his play of course, loves it so much she steps out of her comfort MV5BMTA3MDcyOTY0OTdeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU3MDQwNjczMjk@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1505,1000_AL_zone to help mount it at her school, with the help of drama teacher extraordinaire, Mr. Kapinas (Nathan Lane). Things do not exactly go smoothly. The play is costly; Mr. Kapinas is demanding; the leading lady (Lily Collins) is a temperamental trouble-maker; the school board objects to the violence. All the while Linda keeps clashing with Jason’s dad (Greg Kinnear), believing that the play’s dark themes have been inspired by their real life.

The thing is, Julianne Moore is great, but the movie that surrounds her is not. It’s kind of a mess. The movie begins and ends with the prissy narration, but forgets it entirely otherwise. These little gimmicks only detract from a movie that’s already a bit hard to follow. It’s a modest movie about a playwright being forced to insert a happy ending into his work – which then forces a happy ending on itself, which feels completely improbable and doesn’t fit with the underlying sadness of the film’s tone. I didn’t hate this film but I cannot figure out the point of it. Only because I was hot for teacher will I generously give this a grade of C-.

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Transformers: The Last Knight

why-critics-say-transformers-the-last-knight-is-2017s-most-toxic-movie (1)I wrote a whole other review of this horrible, awful, infuriating movie and then accidentally deleted it.  Honestly, my review was unremarkable for the most part so it’s not a huge loss.  This movie makes no sense, it’s the fifth movie in a tired franchise that was only ever enjoyable if you, like me, liked seeing robots decapitate other robots in slow motion (and which stopped being awesome four movies ago), and it’s got Mark Wahlberg doing his usual “acting” by which I mean that he talks really fast in a whiny voice when he is under pressure and otherwise just stands around flexing his biceps and looking confused.  In short, it is the worst Transformers movie yet, and the next one will probably be even worse.

But there was one part of my review worth saving, and it’s this: Mark Wahlberg was clearly born to be in Michael Bay movies.  It is the perfect match of all perfect matches.  These two eventually found each other, but there are so many Wahlberg-less Michael Bay movies, and isn’t that a shame?

So…what if Michael Bay made special editions of his back catalogue, George Lucas style, and digitally inserted Wahlberg into all his “classics” as a way to link all his movies together?

Think about it!  It would be the greatest shared universe of all time.  We could have Bad Boys fighting bad robots under the supervision of Wahlberg and his good friend Joe Pantoliano, the space shuttle in Armageddon could be a robot who owes a favour to Wahlberg and who figures out a way to save Bruce Willis as payback, and Wahlberg could help bring Sean Connery and his estranged daughter Claire Forlani together while at the same time helping Nicholas Cage foil Ed Harris’ plot to steal that face-meltingly-deadly VX gas, this time without losing Michael Biehn’s whole SEAL team.  And then Wahlberg could assemble a team of one million Ewan MacGregor clones along with the time travelling pilot duo of Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett to destroy the Transformers once and for all, saving us all from ever having to see Transformers 6: Shia’s Revenge.

This needs to happen.

 

New Hampshire Film Festival 2017

Off we Assholes go to the New Hampshire Film Festival for the third year in a row. As film critics we’re supposed to say that we love all festivals equally but if you’ve been paying any kind of attention around here, you know that NHFF is our not-so-secret favourite.

The drive from Ottawa to Portsmouth is dazzling this time of year, with all that stupid-beautiful New England foliage just hamming it up, begging me to take blurry cell phone pictures out a moving vehicle about every 30 seconds while Sean prays that he remembered to buy me an American data plan while mentally doing the math on the damage if he didn’t. Portsmouth itself is idyllic and the area where the festival runs is charming as all get out – it’s almost like walking around in your own Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls reference!). The venues are sublime (love The Music Hall!), the people are friendly, and the food is so good it makes me actually consider skipping a movie in order to eat more of it. We’ve always been very warmly greeted in New Hampshire and we’ve come across some excellently-curated films. Some, like The Florida Project, have been making the rounds of all the festivals, but you can be sure we’ll come across some lesser-known gems as well.

As usual, you can follow our shenanigans on Twitter @assholemovies

Harvey Weinstein & Hollywood’s Complicity

So. This is a difficult subject to broach because of its sheer scope. Unless you’ve been hibernating under the proverbial rock, you know now that Harvey Weinstein has been accused of rape, sexual misconduct, and various kinds of inappropriate behaviour that are mind-boggling in their number. Harvey Weinstein is (was?) a producer and film studio executive who co-founded Miramax, which produced several popular indies, including Pulp Fiction, Clerks, and The Crying Game, and 24th-annual-producers-guild-pga-awards-backstage-roamiwon an Oscar for producing Shakespeare in Love. He was recently ousted from his own company because of these accusations, though it should be said that it was likely a form or self-protection for the company rather than any sense of moral obligation. Indeed, many people at said company will have had knowledge of, and helped cover up, the very reprehensible behaviour that got him ousted in the first place.

We know why women stay silent – it’s the same reason the abuse took place in the first part. Men in positions of power take advantage. Weinstein is (was) a king of Hollywood. He did indeed make and break careers. To reject him is to risk your career, your whole life ahead of you. But his power continues to assert itself long after you’ve left the room. It’s something that has clearly haunted dozens if not hundreds if not thousands of women for decades, and now, because of a few brave women speaking up, it’s all come tumbling out. But Weinstein, who clearly has an M.O. as you’ll see below, cannot have done what he did without people knowing. People as in the many, many male colleagues who have attended the same meetings and events. Weinstein, for example, is responsible for the breakout success of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. He greenlit Good Will Hunting and they have remained loyal friends of his. So you know what? Hollywood’s women are calling them out.

Ben Affleck came forward to condemn him (eventually), only the second man in Hollywood to do so (George Clooney was the first). Affleck’s statement:

I am saddened and angry that a man who I worked with used his position of power to intimidate, sexually harass and manipulate many women over decades. The additional allegations of assault that I read this morning made me sick…We need to do better at protecting our sisters, friends, co-workers and daughters.

BUT a) he was then reminded of his own groping incident, for which he has since apologized; and b) Rose McGowan has reminded him that when it happened to her (when they were costarring in Phantoms), he said “Goddamnit! I told him to stop doing that!” Which, you know, kind of sounds like he knew about prior incidents on top of her own. And can I just say: stop branding us as sisters and daughters. We’re human beings and we deserve to not be sexually abused regardless of our relationship to you. You shouldn’t have to be fond of or related to someone before you don’t want to see them get raped.

But Affleck’s not the only one under fire: both Matt Damon and Russell Crowe have been accused of killing one journalist’s report of these incidents as far back as 2004. Damon claims he did call the reporter but didn’t know anything about sex-related accusations in the article, and that may be true, but it’s also sort of damning that he didn’t have anything to say about this until it was to clear his own good name. Just how many men in Hollywood have been complicit with their silence?

 

Trigger Alert: I’m including all the victims we know about so far, and the crimes that were perpetrated against them. These are just the ones we know about, and in cases of sexual abuse, that’s usually the tip of ice berg, which is disconcerting since we’ve already uncovered a land slide. Harvey Weinstein is a bad dude that Hollywood’s been covering for for far too long. And he’s not the only one.

 

Gwyneth Paltrow: recently confessed to the New York Times that Weinstein touched rs_600x600-171010105954-600.Harvey-Weinstein-Brad-Pitt-JR-101017her and suggested having joint massages in the bedroom shortly before filming Emma. She said she told her then boyfriend Brad Pitt about the incident and he confronted Weinstein [Brad Pitt has confirmed].

Angelina Jolie: Jolie told the Times she had to turn down advances from Weinstein in 1998 and chose never to work with him again, after making Playing By Heart. She has been warning other women about him ever since.

Louisette Geiss:  Called to a late night meeting with Weinstein in 2008, he emerged in a bathrobe and told her he would green light her script if she watched him masturbate. “He returned [from the bathroom] in a robe with the front open, buck-naked. He told me to keep talking about my film and that he was going to get into his hot tub which was in the room adjacent to his office, steps away. I kept talking as he got into the hot tub. When I finished my pitch, he asked me to watch him masturbate. I told him I was leaving. He quickly got out of the hot tub. As I went to get my purse to leave, he grabbed my forearm and pulled me to his bathroom and pleaded with me to watch him masturbate. My heart was racing and I was very scared.”

Judith Godreche: Weinstein tried to massage her and pull off her sweater after asking her up to his Cannes suite in 1996.

Dawn Dunning: Called to his hotel in 2003, Weinstein presented her with three scripts for his next three movies which he would let her star in, if she had a three-way with him. 

Tomi-Ann Roberts: Weinstein met her when she was waitressing as a college junior in 1984 and told her to meet him at his home. When she arrived he was naked in the bath and told her she would give a better audition if she was nude. 

Rosanna Arquette:  Claims her career suffered after she rejected Weinstein’s advances in the early 1990s – he tried to put her hand on his erect penis during a meeting.

Asia Argento: Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her when she was 21. “He terrified me, and he was big. It wouldn’t stop. It was a nightmare.” She documented the alleged attack in her 2000 film Scarlet Diva.

Katherine Kendall: Weinstein changed into a bathrobe and told her to massage him. When she resisted he returned naked and chased her.

Lucia Evans: Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004 at a ‘casting meeting’ in a Miramax office in Manhattan. 

Mira Sorvino: Weinstein tried to massage her in a hotel room at TIFF in 1995. He then went to her home in the middle of the night but she called a male friend to protect her. She claims turning him down adversely affected her career.

Rose McGowan: She’s been talking about being raped by a studio head for years, always keeping his identity secret. Now we know she sued him after he assaulted her in 1997 at Sundance. He paid her off, like he did many others, and she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to close the suit.

Ashley Judd: During the filming of Kiss The Girls, Weinstein repeatedly asked her to watch him shower. She says “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”

Emma De Caunes: Weinstein offered to show her a script, and asked her up to his hotel room, where he began to take a shower. He emerged naked and erect, asking her to lay down with him on the bed and telling her that many others had done so before. ‘I was very petrified,’ said de Caunes. ‘But I didn’t want to show him that I was petrified, because I could feel that the more I was freaking out, the more he was excited.’

Lauren O’Connor: A former employee of The Weinstein Company, she told executives there in 2015 of the ‘toxic environment for women at this company’ after one of her colleagues told her that Weinstein had pressured her into massaging him while he was naked.

Cara Delevingne:  Weinstein brought up sexual subjects during more than one business meeting and also tried to get Delevingne to kiss a woman in front of him.

Ambra Battilana: In March 2015 Weinstein asked if her breasts were real before grabbing them and putting his hands up her skirt during a meeting. She reported the alleged incident to police, but they did not press charges. Weinstein later paid her off.

Jessica Barth: Pressured her repeatedly to give him a naked massages from 2011 onwards.

Laura Madden: An ex-employee, Weinstein had asked her to give him massages from 1991 onwards. “It was so manipulative.”

Emily Nestor: Temping for the Weinstein Company for just one day in 2014, Weinstein approached her and offered to boost her career in exchange for sex.

Zelda Perkins: An assistant of Weinstein’s, she confronted Weinstein after she and ‘several’ others were harassed and later settled out of court. 

Elizabeth Karlsen: The Oscar-nominated producer of Carol and The Crying Game, told of an incident dating back almost 30 years where an unnamed young female executive who had worked at Miramax with Weinstein had found him naked in her bedroom one night. 

 

Liza Campbell: Weinstein summoned her to his hotel room and told her to get in the bath with him.

Lea Seydoux: “We were talking on the sofa when he suddenly jumped on me and tried to kiss me. I had to defend myself. He’s big and fat, so I had to be forceful to resist him. I left his room, thoroughly disgusted. I wasn’t afraid of him, though. Because I knew what kind of man he was all along.”

Lauren Sivan: Weinstein trapped her in a closed restaurant and masturbated in front of her to completion in 2007.

Jessica Hynes: She was asked to audition for Weinstein when she was 19 – in a bikini. When she refused she lost the job.

Romola Garai: Was already hired for a part in Atonement when Weinstein scheduled yet another work meeting in his hotel room and showed up to it in his bathrobe. He asked for another audition so she could be “personally approved by him.”

Unnamed assistant: Weinstein behaved inappropriately toward a woman employed as his assistant in 1990; the case settled out of court.

Another unnamed assistant: In 2015, Weinstein reportedly pressured another assistant into giving him a naked massage in the Peninsula Hotel, where he is also said to have pressured Barth.

Unnamed Miramax employee: At one point in the early 1990s, a young woman is alleged to have suddenly left the company after an encounter with Weinstein. Also settled out of court.

Unnamed woman: Was summoned to his hotel and raped.

 

The truth is, there are plenty more Harvey Weinsteins in Hollywood (and let’s face it- elsewhere, everywhere). Hollywood is built on sexism. It routinely treats women as inferior to men. It exploits the very young, ignores the not so young, denies female directors work, and treats its female audience like trash. Like we don’t exist, like we don’t buy movie tickets, like our stories aren’t worth telling. It’s a boy’s club that has gone on far too long. You’ve heard of the casting couch? Now think about what kind of sick euphemism that really is. And if you’ve read all this and are still wondering why these women didn’t come forward sooner – yeah, you’re part of the problem.

 

My Cousin Rachel

Philip (Sam Claflin), receives distressing news from his cousin and guardian, who adopted him as an orphaned baby. While recovering from an illness in Italy, he met and married a woman and now has regrets. If his strange and hasty missives are to believed, this woman, Rachel (Rachel Weisz), is trying to kill him. Philip rushes off to intervene but his guardian is dead before he arrives. He swears vengeance on the widow but she has conveniently disappeared.

Philip returns home, to the estate he will now inherit once he comes of age – and luckily, MV5BMDYxOTU1ZDItYjJkMC00ZTVmLWFhZDktNDFiODRlODI1MzQ4L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDcxNzU3MTE@._V1_his required 25th birthday is right around the corner. But before it can be celebrated, the ballsy widow shows up for a social call. Draped in black, she looks like a grieving widow, but passionate kiss shared between the two perhaps belie other motives. Of course, this particular widow does not look like the wicked witch of Philip’s dreams, but seeing how she’s played by the enchanting Rachel Weisz, probably looks more like the woman in a different kind of dream altogether.

So the film’s central mystery unfolds: is Rachel trying to seduce young Philip into sharing his inheritance (the will was never changed to reflect her at all), or are there genuine feelings here? Whichever way you lean, this is a dark romance at best. A bad romance (roma, ro-a-a?). Which of course is intoxicating to stupid virginal Philip who will follow his cock just about anywhere it seems.

Gothic and moody, Rachel Weisz is a commanding and alluring black widow. Unfortunately, director Roger Michell has less of a firm grip on this Du Maurier mystery. Did she or didn’t she?  Either he doesn’t know, or doesn’t care. So it’s less satisfying than it should be. But ambiguity would have been just fine by me; it’s what allows us to contemplate Rachel’s precarious position and explore the feminist slant – is a woman left penniless and powerless acting in her own self-interest really all that shocking or evil? In any case, Weisz is the reason to watch. Her every moment on screen is magnetic.

Blade Runner 2049

blade4Has there ever been a more beautiful vision of a dystopian society than what Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins serve up in Blade Runner 2049?  Even a photo of a dead tree will be captivating to those around you.  Nuclear wastelands, city-sized garbage dumps, and coastal dams will all amaze.  Visually, this is exactly the sequel that Blade Runner deserved.

Story-wise, Blade Runner 2049 is probably the sequel that Blade Runner deserved as well, though that’s not necessarily a compliment.  The story is muddled right from the hard-to-read title cards that try to bring us up to date on what’s happened in that world’s last 30 years.

The facts in the title cards turn out to be quite important to keep up in Blade Runner 2049’s world as we follow an LAPD officer (Ryan Gosling) trying to solve a 30-year-old mystery involving our old friend Deckard (Harrison Ford).  Though it is unfortunate that the title cards are as dense as they are, I would not have wanted the movie to try to retell its background story, as the 163 minute run time is plenty long enough already!

Refreshingly, Blade Runner’s world is not our world.  It is an alternative future, so there is no attempt to revise the original’s timeline (as you may recall, Blade Runner is set in 2019 in a world where robot slaves are fighting space battles and colonizing other planets for humans, so things did not exactly turn out in our world as the first film predicted).  Interestingly, those differences make it easier for the view to focus on the similarities between their world and ours.  Villeneuve has delivered another very thoughtful, deliberate and satisfying sci-fi film, and it’s easy to analogize to our world every time a replicant is treated as disposable property (which happens a lot).  The film also offers a lot to chew on regarding memory and the nature of reality.  Honestly, I’m still digesting it all as a I write, while also trying to sort out a few of the story’s finer points, and this film is one that I’m going to have to watch again to get everything sorted.

It’s remarkable how closely this sequel resembles the first movie,  in style and substance, despite being released 35 years later.  More remarkably, at the same time it is paying tribute to the original, Blade Runner 2049 is telling a fresh story set in this familiar world, and manages to leave the original movie’s largest question unanswered in a surprisingly satisfying way.  So while Blade Runner 2049 is not the best movie of 2017, it is a good movie made great by its technical excellence, which naturally makes it the perfect sequel to Blade Runner.

The Drop In

I enjoy short films because they are their own genre with their own rules.  Unlike feature-length film, there’s no standard runtime, only an upper limit of 40 minutes (including credits) in order to qualify for Oscar consideration.   The fact that shorts usually jump right into the action makes the genre feel freer and less predictable than feature films.  I also like that shorts tend not to use a standard three-act narrative structure (exposition-rising action-climax), forsaking it for the sake of moving right to the heart of the story.

The Drop In is only 12 minutes long, but in that time the film manages to delivers two big twists that took me by surprise (which I won’t reveal here).  The film starts with a seemingly innocuous encounter that soon turns into a tense, high-stakes confrontation.  Even before anything significant is revealed, that tension is apparent between the film’s only two characters. We may not understand why these two are in conflict but we know, whatever the reason, that this face-off means big trouble for Joelle, a Toronto hairstylist who agreed to stay late to help out a new client.

This short feels like the start of a TV series and the abrupt and inconclusive ending left me curious to see more. That’s often the best place to be, with interest piqued, trying to guess both what came before and what comes next.  But sometimes both past and future are better left unknown, and I think The Drop In makes the right choice by telling this story in short film form, rather than to try to make it feature length.  After all, the first rule of show business is to always leave them wanting more, and The Drop In does exactly that.

The Comedian

Jackie (Robert DeNiro) played a beloved sitcom character at the very beginning of his career, and it seems his fans only want to remember him for that one thing. He’s a stand-up comic now, desperate to rebrand himself, but audiences turn nasty the further he pulls away from his more iconic stuff. So in the style of hot-headed comedians, he allows a heckling fan to draw him into a fight, and of course it’s Jackie who winds up sentenced to community service (among other things).

At the soup kitchen, he meets fellow assaulter Harmony (Leslie Mann), an otherwise 2-h_2016docile woman who is pushed to do violence when she finds her man in bed with another woman. This unlikely pair bonds over their mutual sentence, and agree to do each other a solid: she’ll attend his niece’s wedding with him – he owes money to his brother (Danny DeVito) and his sister-in-law (Patti LuPone) never quits breaking his balls – and he’ll attend a birthday dinner for her disapproving father (Harvey Keitel).

After decades as an insult comic, Jackie is looking to reinvent himself, but the people in his life keep him from doing so. DeNiro trained with real-life comic Jessica Kirson, who also appears in the movie. DeNiro adopts one of her signature moves, in which she whispers to herself while turned away from the audience. Lots of other comedians lend an air of authenticity to Jackie’s world: Brett Butler, Billy Crystal, Jim Norton, Gilbert Gottfried, Hannibal Buress, and more. Unfortunately, the comedy is just about all this movie gets right. I’m not even sure what kind of movie it’s supposed to be: some sort of May-December rom-com? Aging comedian comes of age? Light social commentary?

It doesn’t matter because it doesn’t work on any level. It feels dated, immediately. Cringe-worthy at times. It’s bloated, meandering, and has some pretty bizarre and inexplicable subplots over which I’m still scratching my head. It’s misguided. It’s tired. It has its charming moments but then there’s also a song about poop so I’m just not in a forgiving mood. DeNiro’s choices lately are a betrayal to his talent. Remember him as he was, not as he appears in this stinker.

Maudie

Maudie was born “funny” – sharp in her mind but infirm in her body. She is discounted, invisible to the world. Abused then neglected by her brother, his monthly sum to her caretaker aunt doesn’t mean the aunt is nice to her, not at all. So it shouldn’t be surprising when Maudie seeks to improve her situation by lending herself out as a housemaid. The only person who’d have her is an ornery (possibly autistic, in a time way before that would be diagnosed) fishmonger who lives out in rural Nova Scotia.

maudie_01Maudie (Sally Hawkins) and Everett (Ethan Hawke) are a couple of odd socks – the world has discarded them and they do not belong together but for lack of anything better have somehow become a pair. Their relationship doesn’t exactly blossom into romance but their mutual tolerance and sometime thoughtfulness or generosity does translate into a partnership of sorts, and marriage. And while Maudie may neglect her household chores, she blossoms in Everett’s house as a painter. Her arthritis makes it increasingly hard to even hold a brush but her joyful spirit paints their modest, one-room home in bright, colourful designs. Soon the community around her will embrace her for it. Maud Lewis (1903-1970) is one of Canada’s best known folk artists.

Sally Hawkins is phenomenal. She underplays everything because she can, because she can rely upon her talent to communicate big things in small ways. Her eyebrows alone are Oscar worthy. Her smile is reminiscent of the real Maud – wide and innocent. She gives such dignity to this character who really led a simple life, a life of poverty, but a life that was more than enough for a woman who needed only some space and a paint brush in her hand to feel happy. Maudie is not just a tribute to the artist, but to her way of life. I was moved by this film, for Maud specifically and women generally, for anyone who was marginalized and squashed and found a way to bloom anyway.

TIFF: Gaga: Five Foot Two

Whether or not you love her music, you know Lady Gaga. You know the stunts, the hair, the makeup, the crazy costumes, the meat dress, the Madonna feud, the constant nudity. But when Lady Gaga wanted to rebrand herself with a new album,  Joanne, in which both she and her music would be stripped-down and very different from their former selves, she decided this documentary would be just the thing to introduce Lady Gaga-lite to her fans.

Like way too many documentaries of this sort, Lady Gaga only offers up what she wants us to see, nothing more, and definitely nothing very personal. It’s all about the music, so your enjoyment of this film will depend a lot on your appreciation of her music. Director Chris Moukarbel grants us backstage access to her shows, her recording studio, her music video shoots, and the preparations for her Superbowl halftime show.

I’m not a huge fan of hers, but I can appreciate her voice and her musicianship. I am a little less forgiving of the rich and famous who star in documentaries whose sole purpose is to tell you how hard their cushy lives are. As a fellow sufferer of chronic pain, I want to have sympathy for her plight, but watching doctors who treat the rest of us as drug seekers literally throw them at her is a little disheartening. And that’s not mentioning the personal masseuse and physio therapist she staffs round the clock, or the makeup artist who accompanies her to doctor’s appointments to make sure she never looks less than her best.

Lady Gaga arrives on the red carpet for her film "Gaga: Five Foot Two" during the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto

I suppose if you’re a big enough fan you can likely look beyond the privileged whining and appreciate the work she pours into her music, and the family story behind the album in question, which is actually quite interesting.

 

I did, at times, feel a little sad for her. In the documentary she seems ready to shed the more outrageous parts of her “performance”, wants to be taken seriously out of the crazy high fashion and in just a pair of jean shorts. Will her fans accept this transition? If you saw her at the TIFF premiere of the film, you’d be inclined to assume the answer is no. She seems to have already reverted to her old ways before the movie even hit Netflix. I guess my biggest takeaway is that yes, compromises have been made. Money and success don’t insulate from that.