“PINSKY”— A Complicated Relationship

“Pinsky”

A Complicated Relationship

Amos Lassen

“Pinsky” focuses on a 26-year-old queer woman who is an aspiring stand up comic with a complicated relationship with her Jewish grandmother. Sophia Pinsky seems to be an adult with an adult life. She has a job, an apartment and a partner. But then, her grandfather died suddenly and her girlfriend left her. Marina, Sophia, Russian grandmother uses Sophia’s guilt and insecurities as a way to get her to move back home and live with the family. She begins trying to get her to marry a nice Jewish guy named Trevor but Sophia wants nothing to do with men and after a terrible date with him, Sophia goes to a comedy club where, with all of her personal problems, people find her to be quite funny and laugh at her jokes. She makes new friends with some of the club patrons and they all have the feeling of being outsiders everywhere but at the club.

Sophia’s relationship with her family comes to an explosion one Shabbat dinner and she now relies on her new family to be there for her as she learns to accept herself. At that same dinner, Sophia and Trevor try to humiliate Marina by pretending to have fallen for each other, not knowing that Marina has her own announcement— she is already dating her childhood rabbi and this puts Sophia and Maria at odds in attempting to define loyalty and love.

Rebecca Karpovsky and Amanda Lindquist are the brains behind this film and it is through them that we see and understand that family relationships are usually quite complicated. The film is not a criticism of the se relationships but rather a look at how complicated they can be.

“BIG SONIA”— A Diva

“Big Sonia”

A Diva

Amos Lassen

Sonia Warshawski who is over ninety-years-old is a Holocaust survivor and a diva that has just been served an eviction notice for her popular tailor shop in suburban Kansas City. Sonia’s trauma comes to the surface as she struggles with the concept of retirement. Sonia loves red lipsticks and clothing with animal prints and she is a vibrant force and a diligent worker who runs a six-day-a-week tailor shop by herself. For Sonia, the importance of keeping busy is no simple response to widowhood or means of fending off the loneliness of old age. A particular darkness has haunted her most of her life from her memories of the years she spent as a prisoner at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. As the only Holocaust survivor in the Kansas City area to speak publicly about her experiences, she has turned those memories into a form of action that is both enlightening and therapeutic.

Her granddaughter, Leah Warshawski, directed the documentary with Todd Soliday and their approach is clear-eyed and measured as they observe Sonia in at work and during her visits with students and prisoners as a motivational speaker. We get glimpses of the tattooed number on Sonia’s arm as she goes through her days.

Sonia acknowledges her emotional damage as well as her refusal to be bowed by it. At 13, in the Polish city of Miedzyrzec, she watched from an attic window as neighbors were rounded up for the camps. Soon her family would be found in their hiding places. She never again saw her father or brother. At 17, she witnessed her mother entering the gas chamber. Years later, she heard the history-erasing claims of Holocaust deniers and this galvanized her to counter their propaganda with her truth.

We see the effect of that truth on the faces of those listening to her quiet, impassioned words. In a program addressing bullying and aimed at reducing recidivism, incarcerated men appear shaken to the core when they hear what happened to her family.

But with her husband, who was also a Holocaust survivor, Sonia created a family. Warshawski’s access to Sonia’s children takes the film into the wartime experience as an emotional inheritance for the second generation. Sonia’s son, Morrie, recalls a sadness in the household and his awareness that he and his siblings weren’t as “natural and free” as other kids.

The filmmakers, like Sonia herself, acknowledge the ongoing struggle that’s essential to surviving such trauma. There’s hard-fought clarity when Sonia says that she leaves the matter of forgiveness to a higher power. Since we are losing the last of the Holocaust survivors, we see the urgency when Sonia insists on remembering.

“BYE BYE GERMANY”— Coming to America

“Bye Bye Germany” (“Es war einmal in Deutschland”)

Coming to America

Amos Lassen

The characters in Sam Garbarski’s “Bye Bye Germany”, live in a displaced persons camp near Frankfurt in 1946. David (Moritz Bleibtreu) is a Jewish peddler who was a successful wheeler and dealer before and during his time at a concentration camp. While he’s grateful for his liberty, he would enjoy it more with a lot of cash, and so he begins a scheme where he and his friends sell linens to local Germans at an outrageous markup. It’s a simple scam without guilt, since these very people were the same ones who favored David and his friends’ journey to the gas chamber, or at least pretended to be about what was really going on in their own country.

Over the course of the film, the characters have to examine their own pasts, what has happened to them and to their country, and wonder whether Germany is even their country anymore.

David recruits the other characters to join him in his scheme. The idea, of course, is to make enough money to leave Germany and head for America. And so this likeable group, filled with energy and audacity starts churning out curtains that are “made in Paris” and selling them to their German customers using a series of cynically comical methods, and rather visionary ones too in terms of marketing. 

Alongside these comical incidents, there is another plotline that is more solemn. Over the course of a series of interrogations, a young German Jew who emigrated to the United States shortly after 1933 (Antje Traue), who has come back to Germany to join the post-war effort, tries to establish, on the orders of the allied forces, whether or not David collaborated or not from his concentration camp, to survive there. Each plotline leads to a big twist of fate, which could be seen as positive or tragic, before David concludes by sparing a thought for the Jews who, like him, made the inexplicable choice to stay behind.

“THE MIDNIGHT ORCHESTRA”— Going Home

“The Midnight Orchestra” (“L’orchestre de minuit”)

Going Home

Amos Lassen

After leaving Morocco during racial tensions brought on by Israel’s Yom Kippur war, Michael Abitbol (Avishay Benazra), the son of a once famous Jewish musician travels to his home country to bury his father. As he meets the members of the band, his life unexpectedly transforms.

Abitbol returns to his childhood home in Casablanca to be reunited with his elderly father: legendary bandleader and local hero Marcel Botbol, from whom he has been estranged. Botbol is returning there himself for the first time since leaving his native city and adoring fans for Israel in 1973. No sooner do they meet again when tragedy strikes and the son must engage with officials of the local Jewish community to bury his father. But first Michael must fulfill his father’s last wish— he must reunite the band and this becomes an overwhelming desire to do so for one last gig.

We see the power that Casablanca exerts on the imagination. Both Jews and Muslims have been shaped by the city’s magic. Michael left Israel for America and became a successful Wall Street speculator who hopes to repair the fractured relationship he has with his father, Marcel, a famous Moroccan Jewish musician, who has also returned to the city after many years abroad.

Their return home, their universal story of return and remembrance, is at the heart of the film. For 2,000 years Jews have gone to Morocco, first as refugees from the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and later as victims of Christian and Muslim persecution. Life there was not always easy, and the relationships with their non-Jewish neighbors have had ups and downs. But by the 20th century Moroccan Jews had become an integral part of the culture of the country.

The funeral of Marcel helps bring together the members of his old band in “The Midnight Orchestra.” The quest to find the band members is both comical and suspenseful and for Michael a bittersweet nostalgia trip too. His childhood around the band and its members is beautifully evoked by sepia tinted footage of the musicians in their prime. Michael sees the little ghost of his younger self too, haunting the places where he played as a boy.

For the audience the film is a look into the past and present of a Jewish community little known outside Morocco and into the now cordial relationship it has with the country’s Muslim majority. This is a poignant about regret and relationships, memory and getting old.

“Music is what brings them together,” director Jerome Cohen-Olivar has said, “but that’s really just a metaphor for a people who have been deprived of so much.”

“ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES”— “You can’t run! You can’t swim! There’s nowhere to hide!”

 

“ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES”

“You can’t run! You can’t swim! There’s nowhere to hide!”

Amos Lassen

I happen to love this movie and think that it is very witty, clever and silly. I believe that is was meant to be spoof on horror films and not meant to be taken seriously and though it does not work all the time, it still fun. Unfortunately, it has ruined by appetite for shakshuka.

The entire plot is right here in the title. Killer tomatoes attack and that’s about it.  Oh yes, people try to stop the attack. This is a director’s cut which includes a long prologue about the cult status of the film there is even a running commentary throughout the film in which the director makes comments on the movie itself.  Unlike other horror movies, there is no gore aside from crushed tomatoes and a few people dying. The film is made up of lots of loosely-tied comedy sketches held-together around the idea of killer tomatoes. Political correctness was thrown out of the window while this was being made just as it was when “Blazing Saddles” was filmed. The difference is that today, one could never make “Blazing Saddles” because the humor in it would be considered politically offensive. Killer tomatoes do not deal with race or gas so it is relatively tame in comparison but then there is no comparison if Mel Brooks is involved.

There is a scene involving a Japanese scientist that contains dialogue which is highly offensive, to say the least.  Yet, most of the dialogue is sharp and funny. The film has achieved cult status.

Tomatoes have turned evil and are eating people. Jim Richardson (George Wilson) is charged to stop this menace and so brings in Mason Dixon (David Miller) and his team, led by Lt. Wilbur Finletter (Rock Peace), to handle the situation. Cub reporter Lois Fairchild (Sharon Taylor) gets involved trying to warn the public about the horrors, but instead becomes a part of everything.

There are plenty of groaners and that’s the point of the film—it’s meant to be dumb and it’s meant to be bad.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of film (1.85:1)
  • Original 2.0 Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • Audio commentary from writer/director John DeBello, writer/co-star Steve Peace and “creator” Costa Dillon
  • Deleted scenes (SD)
  • Six exclusive featurettes:

–        “Legacy of a Legend” (14:13, SD) is a collection of interviews, including comments from John DeBello, Costa Dillon, film critic Kevin Thomas, fans Kevin Sharp and Bruce Vilanch, future Tomatoes mainstay John Astin and actors Steve Peace, Jack Riley, and D.J. Sullivan

–        “Crash and Burn” (3:40, SD) is a discussion about the famous helicopter crash that could have killed everyone because the pilot was late on his cue

–        “Famous Foul” (2:21, SD) is about the San Diego Chicken and his role in the climatic tomato stomping ending

–        “Killer Tomatomania” (4:33, SD) is a smattering of interviews with random people on the streets of Hollywood about the movie

–        “Where Are They Now?” (2:51, SD) fills viewers in on what the cast and crew have been up to over the past couple of decades

–        “We Told You So!” (3:07, SD) takes a hard-hitting look at the conspiracy of silence surrounding the real-life horror of killer tomatoes

  • “Do They Accept Traveler’s Checks in Babusuland” (the original 8mm short that inspired Attack of the Killer Tomatoes) (with optional audio commentary) (SD)
  • Original theatrical trailer (SD)
  • Radio spots
  • Collectible poster

“A BAG OF MARBLES”— Two Young Brothers

 

“A Bag of Marbles” (“Un Sac de Billes”)

Two Young Brothers

Amos Lassen

Christian Duguay’s “A Bag of Marbles” looks at a difficult period in modern French history. Two young brothers are forced to fend for themselves when the German occupation of France and subsequent persecution of Jews puts their lives in danger.   Maurice (Batyste Fleurial) and Joseph (Dorian Le Clech) leave their parents Roman (Patrick Bruel) and Anna ( Elza Zylberstein) behind in Vichy France and travel to Nice in the free-zone to join their older siblings Henri (César Domboy) and Albert (Ilian Bergala).  The family is soon reunited, but once again the German occupation separates Maurice and Joseph from their parents and brothers.  The two face possible capture and deportation before the family can come back together.

 

Director Christian Duguay emphasizes the sense of loss on both sides as the children flee the Nazi occupation. The film is a remake of the same title and it is a beautiful film that is based on a true story.

Maurice and Joseph are devoted to themselves and show an incredible amount of malice, courage and ingenuity to escape the enemy invasion and try to get reunited their families again. The two brothers  who are now in their 80’s are still Paris with their families.

One of the most important messages comes early on when a Jewish barber, the father of the family, stands up to a German soldier and speaks out while he is still able to do so. Jo is the youngest son of that barber. Over the last years of the war, Jo’s family (including his three older brothers) are repeatedly separated and reunited as they try to evade Nazi capture. With his smarts, his sometimes heartbreaking emotional bravery and a bit of plain luck, Jo survives under numerous assumed identities across the south of France, sometimes with his family and sometimes on his own. It’s a coming of age amidst the most harrowing crucible imaginable.

Even though we know Germany will be defeated and France regains her freedom, we are as overcome with joy as the characters are when it finally happens. Duguay uses his most disturbing footage to depict how the French treated collaborators after the war ended.

A Jew in hiding during World War II is someone who has to spend years without the simple privilege of being able to say who he is. As Duguay shows us, Jo never let himself forget.

“32 PILLS: MY SISTER’S SUICIDE”— A Personal Documentary

 

“32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide”

A Personal Documentary

Amos Lassen

The tragic death of her sister was Hope Litoff’s catalyst for the personal documentary “32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide.” Litoff was hoping to find some inner peace while making the film but found herself confronting issues of guilt, denial and addiction.

Near the end of 2008 photographer Ruth Litoff was found in her Manhattan loft, having finally “succeeded” after 20 or more suicide attempts over many years. The police who went to the scene said that the entire apartment was meticulously prepared for the event, with notes, presents, etc. and with instructions for disbursement to various friends and family. A few days earlier, Ruth decorated her Manhattan loft like a beautiful stage set with fifteen suicide notes surrounding her and specially selected gifts for her closest friends. Multiple bowls of cat food were left in case it took awhile to find her.

The film begins on the day that Hope found Ruth dead and it then traces over her fascinating life and work with the highs and the lows and the secrets and the lies. It follows Hope’s journey examining her sister’s rich body of artwork, interviewing friends and family, and reading her journals for the very first time. Ruth excelled at everything she so the reason for her taking her own life was a mystery.  Making the film forced Hope to face difficult truths and caused her to drink again after 16 years of sobriety.

Ruth was a complex person who was sometimes dark yet brilliant and Hope wanted this to come through in the movie. Her story is told through interviews with friends and individuals who came to know her in life and through her death.  Ruth was incredibly dynamic and her creative mind was never still.  She was sexual, never without a boyfriend, and took nude photos of every one she ever had. She struggled and was desperate to understand who she was, and took hundreds of self-portraits that alternated between pride and self-loathing. While photography was her main medium but she also created collages, drawings, wry cartoons and videos and even her many suicide attempts were documented. These are revealing and capture her inner world.

This film is Hope’s effort to know and accept Ruth in death in a way that she was never able to in life and to learn to live with the pain of losing her.

Ruth was a, high-achieving role model who began turning into an over-dependent problem at a young age. Her first suicide attempt came at 13 and she was eventually diagnosed as bipolar, though in retrospect Hope thinks that borderline personality disorder might have been her condition. She had severe mood swings, depression bouts and ideas of suicide that caused broken relationships and other external upheavals.

Both girls reacted to their affluent parents’ crumbling marriage: Hope escaped into recreational drugs and blackout drinking from early adolescence. Even before Hope started drinking again, her husband, Todd, worried that she won’t be able to handle the emotions.

We see that Hope may have laid Ruth to rest at last to a degree, but her own issues will be with her for a long time. The film is emotionally powerful and is difficult watch. It speaks deeply to those who have struggled with depression or addiction or loved anyone who has.

“D.O.A.: A RIGHT OF PASSAGE”— The Sex Pistols

“D.O.A.: A RIGHT OF PASSAGE”

The Sex Pistols

Amos Lassen

Lech Kowalski’s “D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage” is an American’s take on this seminal English punk band’s only U.S. tour that shows the significance of the Sex Pistols. It is filled with fiery energy and you-are-there immediacy.

The film includes galvanizing concert footage, often with subtitled lyrics. If you’ve managed to forget how ferociously powerful the Pistols’ music was and still is, “D.O.A.” is an excellent reminder. Johnny Rotten lurches theatrically all over the stage seeming to stare right into the camera. That same camera also alights on audience members with spiked hair and heavy makeup, and he interviews enthusiastic onlookers as well as outraged attendees and Bible-wielding protestors. The Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren reportedly booked the band into venues that he knew would be problematic and Kowalski captures the fraught energy of this tour-cum-suicide mission.

In addition to the footage of the Sex Pistols in the U.S., Kowalski gives us interviews and performances from other punks back in Britain. Other performers include The Dead Boys, Sham 69, and ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock tearing through “Pretty Vacant” with his new band, The Rich Kids. Some of this may be tangential to the Sex Pistols and their tour, but it helps to paint a picture of the era, and it’s exciting to watch.

D.O.A. isn’t simply a celebration of punk rock. It is impossible to ignore the evidence of Sid Vicious’ heroin addiction and increasingly self-destructive behavior. We see him bleeding onstage and there’s a moment outside of one of the venues where he has to be guided in the direction of the door.

Kowalski’s infamous interview with Sid and Nancy is here, too. The pair of them lay in bed, with Sid barely able to keep his eyes open, and struggling even more mightily to offer coherent answers to Kowalski’s questions. “D.O.A.” was released less than two years after Nancy’s murder and Sid’s arrest for the crime and subsequent fatal overdose, and the freshness of the tragedies makes a profound contribution.

 The film is probably closer than punk fans might want it to be. ”D.O.A.,” intends to be outrageous and is mostly ugly and sad while giving the impression that punk is as misunderstood by those who like it as by those who don’t. The music, which is not particularly well represented here is less arresting than the atmosphere that surrounds it. The Sex Pistols come across as the real thing

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the main feature.
  • Original 2.0 Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • “Dead On Arrival: The Punk Documentary That Almost Never Was” – A feature length documentary about the making of O.A. A Rite of Passage produced by award-winning filmmaker (and former MTV Senior Producer) Richard Schenkman and featuring exclusive new interviews with PUNK magazine founder and Ramones cover-artist John Holmstrom, renowned music journalist Chris Salewicz, legendary photographer Roberta Bayley, Sex Pistols’ historian Mick O’Shea, former Rich Kid guitarist and Ultravox lead singer Midge Ure, and original D.O.A. crew members David King, Mary Killen, Rufus Standefer, plus never-before-seen interview footage of Pistols founder, Malcolm McLaren. (HD)
  • 12 page booklet with liner notes written by John Holmstrom, founding editor of PUNK Magazine
  • Reversible artwork
  • Rare Sex Pistols Photo Gallery
  • 2-Sided Poster included
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (3:48, SD)

“THEY”— Identity Issues

“They”

Identity Issues

Amos Lassen

Iranian-born director Anahita Ghazvinizadeh’s debut feature, “They” is an artfully made if rather slight study of modern-day identity issues. The film follows a family of three over a weekend where a major decision will impact their lives for the long-run. Fourteen-year-old J (the “they” of the title) is unsure of which gender to choose for the future.

J (Rhys Fehrenbacher) has been taking hormone blockers for some time and now must is decide what sex they (J’s chosen pronoun) will be in the future. With the doctor’s appointment coming up after the weekend, J is joined by their sister, Lauren (Nicole Coffineau), and her Iranian boyfriend, Araz (Koohyar Hosseini), who settle into the house and bring their own set of identity problems about Araz’s status as an immigrant living far away from his homeland.

Initially the film concentrates on J’s placid if somewhat disquieting existence while revealing a few key pieces of information, though not quite enough to sustain a full narrative. Gradually, the focus shifts from J to Lauren and Araz, two artists who are about to tie the knot so that Araz can get papers and stay in the U.S.

Much of the movie’s middle section is a dinner at Araz’s aunt’s house at which relatives and their families argue. Here the film becomes an intimate look at one shy teenager’s gender confusion into a sort of home movie about Iranian-Americans. Our interest in Araz is thus deepened but this but pushes J out of the picture, and we only really return to the film’s principal subject in the closing section when it seems to be a bit too late.

Fehrenbacher brings some emotional depth to the proceedings, although we really want to learn more about what made J who they is (we only get a brief glimpse of parents at one point), or what they hope to be in the future. J is a smart, shy kid who spends a lot of time in the family greenhouse tending to flowers and, at the advice of a friend, keeps a daily chart logging whether they wake up feeling more ‘G’ or ‘B’.

The film is very open and indeterminate in its structure. Whereas most films with a trans character at their center tend to make their experience of gender into the primary focal point of the plot, “They” places J’s self-inquiry into a broader context. Their parents are out of town, and so J’s older sister Lauren and her partner Araz arrive to look after them. Lauren has been away at school, and then worked as an artist, so she and J have some catching up to do, and Araz is a new acquaintance. There are familial relationships to be worked out aside from J’s own questioning of gender.

We get a surprising picture of a neighborhood, and by extension a world where J’s gender fluidity is no big deal. On a ‘G’ day, they go out in a dress. A neighbor compliments them on it; some area boys ask for J’s help with fixing their bike and are worried that J has gotten grease on their dress. As appealing as the world may be, there’s a sense in which it is so pointedly non-judgmental that it feels a bit artificial. Compared with most films about trans or gender-nonconforming characters, this film is a big surprise.

“They” is a solid drama that is sincere and thoughtful. It is gentle and tender, both in execution and examination and an impressive first film. We clearly see that gender is not the single way to define a person. Director Ghazvinizadeh’s meditation of life and humanity is not likely to be easily forgotten.

“COME WHAT MAY”— An Ideological Conflict

“Come What May (“En mai, fais ce qu’il te plait”)

An Ideological Conflict

Amos Lassen

Christian Carion set “Come What May” in 1939 just as the Germans are at the border of Arras. The French are distraught by their present circumstances and hope for a day when they can return to their regular lives. By 1940, they were fleeing their homes and farms as Nazi solders invaded the country. Hans (August Diehl) and his son Max (Joshio Marlon) leave their home in France and go to the plush rural area of Nord-Pas-de-Calais. But when they learn that the German soldiers are on their way, they and the townsfolk leave the area by foot and horse-drawn carriages. The mayor Paul (Olivier Gourmet) and schoolteacher Suzanne (Alice Isaaz) are the leaders of this caravan of pilgrims trying to escape the invading Germans.

In the mass confusion of the exodus, Hans is separated from Max and teams up with Percy (Matthew Rhys), a Scottish soldier whose comrades were executed by the Germans. Hans desperately wants to reunite with his son while Percy hopes to connect with the retreating British army.

The film’s most dramatic moments come when German bombers fly over the town caravan and return again and again to mow down the French men, women, and children. There is little that their leader, the mayor, can do and Suzanne tries to look after the lost and lonely Max.

The film emphasizes the plights of Hans and his son Max as they struggle to survive without each other. We learn that over 90,000 children during this period were separated from their parents and forced to witness the brutality and constant bloodshed of war. The fate of refugees is much in the news these days, Suddenly the story of refugees attempting to flee danger for the supposedly safety of the United States had a whole new relevance. Something at least somewhat similar is at play in this film that  documents a different kind of Exodus. While it’s not generally known outside of France, a large migration of people traveled huge distances in an attempt to escape the invading Germans as spring gave way to summer in 1940, many of them leaving their villages in the north for supposedly safer climes in the south.

Hans and his son Max had already managed to escape from Germany, and just in the knick of time, since the film’s opening scene details the police coming to arrest Hans for his underground activities. Without much explanation, the film segues to France, where Hans and Max have found work while pretending to be Belgian. But even this brief moment of refuge comes to a terrible conclusion that to a new need to escape. I just wish that we could see a bit more humanity here. Unfortunately, we learn little about the characters.

The film’s narrative comes across as broken especially as it takes needless detours. There are some emotionally disturbing in the film (the deaths of both adults and children), and we get a bittersweet version of happily ever after.

 

Special Features and Extras include:  

 

  • Audio Commentary with Director Christian Carion has some of his family history that inspired the basic framework of this story.
  • Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 2:16)
  • The Making of Come What May (1080p; 22:21) has some good behind the scenes footage as well as more information about Carion’s family’s history, which inspired the film.
  • Behind the Scenes with Ennio Morricone (1080p; 28:54) is a worthwhile homage to the iconic composer. This starts with a kind of funny anecdote by Carion where Carion relates how offended Morricone was to be brought into the project so late in the production process.
  • Interview with Christian Carion and Richard Pena (1080p; 38:59) gets into some of the actual history involved as well as the film’s treatment of it.