Category Archives: Film

“CREATING A CHARACTER: A The Moni Yakim Legacy”— A Teacher

“CREATING A CHARACTER: A The Moni Yakim Legacy”

A Teacher

Amos Lassen

Moni Yakim was born in Jerusalem and began his career as performer himself, taking part in classics like Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man,” but it is not his background is only a small part of the film. His heroes are Étienne Decroux, who created mime, and Stella Adler, who believed that actors must master techniques beyond their own knowledge and experience in order to portray a variety of characters. Moni became a teacher who gives over much of his teaching time to having his gifted young actors imitate mime and spends most of the class time in getting them to twist their bodies every which way. These gymnastics are the focus of the movie. We see his students yelling gibberish, or crawling on the floor learning the necessity of freeing the body. Yakim puts 90% of his energy into the physical work. He takes students beginning in their second year while his wife Mina works with the freshmen.

We have interviews with alumni such as Jessica Chastain, Michael Stuhlbarg, Oscar Isaac, Kevin Kline, Laura Linney and Anthony Mackie. We see former student Alex Sharp who went on to win a best actor Tony for his lead role in “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time” when he was  a young man working in Moni’s class.

Moni Yakim has taught movement at the Juilliard School since 1968and is a guiding force for many actors, some of whom make brief appearances to celebrate their former teacher. The reunion between Yakim and Kevin Kline is very moving as the two embrace and talk about acting challenging each other in a game of pantomime. We feel the real, mutual affection and admiration between the two. Watching Yakim and Kline discuss and actually perform, takes us below the surface of Yakim’s core philosophy of acting: Movement is the most important tool an actor possesses.

This is a straightforward biography of Yakim’s professional life—starting in Israel, learning the art (and shunning the shallow entertainment) of pantomime in Paris, and coming to the United States to run his own company (with his wife Mina) before being recruited to teach at Juilliard. As intriguing as his life has been, the biographical part of the film shows us his central thesis about acting.

Yakim is, above all, a teacher whose legacy is the the success of his students and with this film we can see the actual theory and process of his teaching.

“FIRE BIRDS”— The World’s Most Exclusive Club

“FIRE BIRDS”

The World’s Most Exclusive Club

Amos Lassen

When an eighty-year-old man’s body is found with three stab wounds to the chest and a number tattooed along his forearm. Amnon, a police detective and second generation Holocaust survivor, is assigned to the case. As the plot moves between the past and present, stories unfold.

Two plot threads develop. One of them is about the cop who has been disgraced in the past but who now has a chance to redeem himself by solving a mystery. His wife has also thrown him out and would like to return to her and to his daughter. The other plot thread is unconventional and we see some of Israel’s finest actors. Neither plot thread winds up resolving itself expectedly, but it’s hard to decide if some ultimately unresolved and undeveloped plot points reflect the modern tolerance for uncertainty in narratives or if something is missing.

 This is a black comedy about a man who is determined to crash “the world’s most exclusive club” of wealthy Tel Aviv widows who are Holocaust survivors. I find it fascinating how we laugh and cry at the same time and while the idea of a comedy about Holocaust survivors sounds strange, it really works here.

Director Amir Wolf and his two co-screenwriters Orly Robensthein Katcap and Itzhak Wolf play with complex timeframes. In the present tense,  detective Amnon (Amnon Wolf) is ordered to investigate the death of an old man found dumped in the Yarkon River. The body had an Auschwitz tattoo, and Amnon, the son of two Survivors, does not want this assignment, but because he is on probation,  he has no choice.

Amnon’s investigation is cross cut with the story of how “Amikam” (Oded Teomi) spends his final days. Amikam (if that is really his name) runs afoul of two widows: a famous actress named “Zissy” (Miriam Zohar) and a retired surgeon named “Olga” (Gila Almagor) who are also survivors as were their now dead husbands. In one scene, Amnon takes his young daughter to visit his elderly parents. “Danielle” (Sarit Vino-Elad) so she can interview them and learn more about her family history. However, Amnon doesn’t want her to know about any of the “things” he learned as a child. So in answer to the question “Where did you and Zayde meet?” his mother (Aliza Rozen) describes a camp on a chocolate river filled with marzipan. “Every day we had tea with Mister Himmler!” Danielle is entranced and here is an example when tears and laughter come together. 

I realize I have really not said much about the plot but to do so would be to spoil the film. You just have to see for yourself.

“CAMERA TEST SUBJECT”— Facing the Camera and Himself

“CAMERA TEST SUBJECT”

Facing the Camera and Himself

Amos Lassen

In  director Sean Meehan’s “Camera Test Subject, in less than three minutes, we take a look at a short existential film that says more than movies fifty times as long. An actor (Timothy Cox) questions why he has shown up for a camera shoot on the New York streets. He knows that he is being watched as he walks yet he knows that he is good at what he does and really has no reason why he is coming for the shoot. He does not need to say a word since we see how he feels through his facial expressions and the way he moves and Cox is, as usual, brilliant at portraying his character. Cox is an “everyman” reflecting the way an actor feels when he is being tested by the camera.

We see the actor through the lens of the cameraman who is never seen but is obviously quite present. As the actor is before the camera, he not only acknowledges it but also stares, acknowledging that he is present. The camera follows him and films him in a shop and then follows him home, refusing to stop shooting. The camera operator is really in control and when we are being controlled by someone else, we act differently. I could not decide if the film was about the actor or the cameraman and it is stunning to see how much we have in such a short time.

What is with the actor who does not fully grasp when he has been chosen to the be the camera’s subject and neither do we. He becomes quite frustrated when he s told to do this or that. It does not take long for him to wonder if he has everything together and even questions the presence of the camera. Could he be losing “it”?

Filmed with crisp cinematography with a hand-held camera, we see a fascinating New York that is atmospherically filmed late at night and into early dawn. What seems to be a simple idea—“A peek inside the mind of an actor in the throes of something truly terrible: a camera test” becomes an intense viewing experience. Watching the actors “thoughts” gives us something of a look inside ourselves when we know we are being watched.

Cox is the narrator of the film and he shares what he is thinking to a degree but it is what we see that really makes this such a cinematic experience.

“EINSTEIN’S UNIVERSE— Celebrating Albert Einstein


“EINSTEIN’S UNIVERSE”

Celebrating Albert Einstein

Amos Lassen

“Einstein’s Universe” is a documentary from 1979 that celebrates the centenary of the birth of Albert Einstein and is narrated and hosted by Peter Ustinov and written by Nigel Calder, the author of the accompanying book of the same title. Set at the University of Texas’ McDonald Observatory,  a staff of renowned scientists and physicists take us through a hands-on experience of the various facets of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Peter Ustinov leads a discussion of the Theory of Relativity with luminaries such as John Archibald Wheeler, Irwin Shapiro, and Roger Penrose. In it, we see  numerous thought experiments of the type Einstein thought up.

The filmhas been re-mastered and digitally enhanced and we become thoroughly enlightened on the great physicist’s theories, especially General Relativity, by a renowned team of scientists including Dennis Sciama, Roger Penrose, John Wheeler, Wallace Sergeant, Irwin Shapiro, Sidney Drell, and Ken Brecher.

The experiments we see help us understand gravity, warped space, how light responds to gravity, the “Doppler effect” and how radio waves, as used in police radar, are an unbeatable way of measuring speed. From these simpler experiments, larger concepts are drawn, such as the discovery of a Binary Pulsar, the nature of black holes and how they are created, and the ultimate theory of how the universe was formed. Other demonstrations measure the speed of light, how time passes more slowly for people traveling in an airplane, the incredible accuracy of the Atomic Clock in Washington, DC and how time itself would appear to stop at the surface of a black hole. We see Einstein as a great humanitarian who although known as the “father of the Atomic Bomb”, had great concern for the potentially devastating effects splitting the atom could have on the future of mankind. His famous letter to President Franklin Roosevelt warned that although the splitting of the atom to detonate an atomic bomb could be used to end World War II, it could also potentially be used for far more deadly ends.

“THE JUNGLE OF ACCOUNTING”— A Mockumentary on the Past

“THE JUNGLE OF ACCOUNTING”

A Mockumentary on the Past

Amos Lassen

In just eleven minutes, we meet Charles (Ray Bergen) and Maryanne Bailey (Kathy McCort), who own a small accounting firm. We see them as they reflect stories of their past assistants in the 1980’s. As they searched for the right assistants to work with them, they met unforgettable characters from a not-so-hygienic sweater-wearing passive/aggressive personality to an eye-patch wearing worker who seems to know no bounds and a worker named Susan wo was wanted for robbing a bank although she is very honest.

As the younger Charles and Maryanne, Timothy J. Cox and Colleen Sproull are wonderful.  Writer/director Chase Pearson was inspired by actual stories that he had heard from his grandparents and uses them to keep us entertained, albeit for a short time.

The Baileys have had 19 assistants since the 80s, none of whom were more than just competent (if that).We just actually meet three of them. Now they have a new assistant named Rebecca who they hardly know.

Let’s face it— accounting is not the most exciting career yet director Person sure makes it interesting and adventuresome. It is the fine cast and this irony that makes this such a good short film.

“HAVEN”— A Secret Romance

“HAVEN”

A Secret Romance

Amos Lassen

In the Cayman Islands, Shy (Orlando Bloom) and Andrea (Zoe Saldana) are in love and this is a secret that her parents can never know. During a night of passion, there is the discovery of a devastating act of vengeance by Andrea’s brother (Anthony Mackie). At the same time, a shady American businessman (Bill Paxton) has fled with his daughter to the Islands to avoid federal prosecution and is pulled into a dangerous web of deceit. As lives come together and truths are revealed, a chain reaction of violence begins that will determine whether love can survive in this paradise.

Bloom’s is a disfigured, dirt-poor, formerly mute Cayman Island rude boy nicknamed  but he is too much of a pretty-boy and is ridiculous. Writer-director Frank E. Flowers attempted to make a gritty, intricate ensemble drama about the desperate, scheming characters who flock to the Cayman Islands, but his material is overwrought and plays like a soap opera.

“Haven” begins with shady businessman Bill Paxton fleeing the United States one step ahead of the law with his daughter (Agnes Bruckner). But before that intriguing storyline can be developed, Flowers pushes it aside for a full hour to focus on the less compelling star-crossed romance between Shy and the sheltered, virginal daughter Andrea from a prominent black family. After Bloom has sex with Andrea, her brother scalds Bloom’s face with acid to register his disapproval, leading to a revenge-filled third act that takes us back to the beginning. 

TheCaymans is a sunny place for shady people where the locals have learned not to ask too many questions about the cash-rich foreigners who are there. While there are excellent performances here, Bloom is wasted and he comes across as campy. The film is a melodrama that, seems to incorporate elements of “Laguna Beach” and “Romeo & Juliet.” Visually, the film is gorgeous.

SPECIAL FEATURES: 

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the main feature

  Audio: English 5.1 Surround

  English and Spanish Subtitles

  Making of Featurette (SD, 3:26)

  Original Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:30)

Special Features May Not Be Rated, Closed Captioned Or In High Definition.

“POSSESSION”— After the Accident

“POSSESSION”

After the Accident

Amos Lassen

Newlyweds Jess (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Ryan (Michael Landes) seem to have it all until a car accident changes everything and renders both Ryan and his brother Roman (Lee Pace) comatose. Things really go out of control when Roman awakens and tries to convince Jess that he is her husband. Beside herself with fear and grief, Jess is filled with fear and grief as she struggles with whether this is actually be the man she lost or if something more sinister is coming.

This is not a thrilling thriller— in fact is quite tedious. Jess had taken her husband for granted and this is probably because his messed-up brother lives with them. Jess used to be Roman’s parole officer, which makes it even more awkward.  When the brothers are involved in a car crash, both of them end up in comas.  While Ryan lay comatose, Roman awakens claiming to be his brother.  Jess is skeptical, but Roman seems to know things only she and Ryan would know. Somehow Ryan’s spirit became mixed up inside Roman’s body, or is Roman (who has a history of abuse) just putting her through mental torture?

Nothing happens for the longest time and I kept waiting, waiting. When it finally comes, it’s tame and it’s hard to care either way if there is some sort of supernatural activity or just head games between the characters.  

SPECIAL FEATURES: 

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the main feature

  Audio: English 5.1 Surround 

  English and Spanish Subtitles

  Making of Featurette with star Sarah Michelle Gellar (SD, 3:34)

  Deleted and Alternate Scenes (SD, 32:58)

  Original Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:26)

  Reversible Artwork

Special Features May Not Be Rated, Closed Captioned Or In High Definition.

“FIRST SNOW”— Facing the End Of Life

“FIRST SNOW”

Facing the End Of Life

Amos Lassen

Jimmy Starks (Guy Pearce) is a man whose life spins out of control after a psychic tells him his days are numbered. After his car breaks down in a desolate town visits a fortune teller, Vacaro (J.K.Simmons), to kill some time. The psychic’s reading sends Jimmy’s life into a tailspin when he learns that his life will soon end, but he is safe at least, until the first snow of the season. Now, with his end coming nearer, Starks becomes obsessed with revisiting his past in hopes of changing his destiny before it’s too late.

We see the sleaziness morally bankrupt salesman Starks when he tries to close deals on his cell phone while calling people “sweetheart”. His girlfriend Dierdre, (Piper Perabo), complains that he’s constantly on the line.  Hespeculates about how he’ll die— whether he will be killed by a disgruntled protégé, or the ex-con business partner he left rotting in a jail cell or if a mysterious heart ailment will kill him.

“First Snow” brigs together mysticism, suspense, and drama but this isn’t an easy film to get into; director Mark Fergus is preoccupied with dreary New Mexico locations blocking an easy access into the plot. Pearce well understands the tone Fergus is trying obtain and gives his performance the dramatic shadings the screenplay doesn’t always offer.

Watching Jimmy confronted with death, fate makes for a ticking clock and the characters gain confidence when they approach the end of the film. However, when Jimmy starts to get lost in the pessimism of his mind, things fall apart. This a film of great promise but it loses dramatic circulation. Yet as a psychological thriller, it works. Pearce gives a great performance as a tightly wound Type A personality who unravels trying to forestall his foretold death. Dealing with nothing less than our awareness of mortality, the film is a genre riff with something to say. Every scene of the vivid drama pulses with the question of how we choose to live and if we treat that knowledge as a gift or a curse.

The contemporary Southwest is the perfect setting for a story in which nostalgia is the source of both hope and doom. When he sees the validation of the fortuneteller’s abilities, Starks can’t rest until he knows the details and insists that Vacaro gives him a second reading and learns that his time will run out with the first snow.

Stark’s restless search for the cause of his impending demise begins here. His world becomes charged with omen. A medical checkup detects a possible heart problem. He senses ill intent from Andy (Rick Gonzalez), recently fired from his job. When persistent phone calls to his home, he hears something threatening. But it’s when he learns that an old friend has been released from prison that Starks believes he has found the source of what is happening. Heindirectly initiates contact with the troubled man and sets off a series of cataclysmic events. Along the way, he confides in his skeptical co-worker and pal Ed (William Fichtner).

Jimmy’s psychological disintegration goes through the five stages of dying – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – and Pearce moves through these with seamless intensity.

SPECIAL FEATURES: 

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the main feature

  Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

  English Subtitles

  Final Omen featurette (SD, 03:32)

  Behind The Scenes featurette (SD, 07:12)

  Interview with Actors Guy Pearce & Piper Perabo (SD, 6:54)

  Interview with Actor J.K. Simmons (SD, 1:20)

  Original Theatrical Trailer

“HIROSHIMA”— Bombings and Guilt


“HIROSHIMA”

Bombings and Guilt

Amos Lassen

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are among the most horrific war-time acts the world has ever seen. Between 129,000 and 226,000 people were killed, most of whom were civilians. American justification for the bombings is still open to debate, but the devastation is certain. The nature of world conflict changed afterwards and the fear of nuclear war remains with us.

That fear has been expressed in several films yet the subject of the bombings head-on, has not been fully explored. This probably has to do with the guilt Americans feel over the bombings. There also aren’t many well-known Japanese films that have been seen in this country. Of course, any film that criticizes the Commander of the Allied forces, General Douglas MacArthur, was prohibited after the occupation of Japan. No visual or verbal description of the devastation caused by Allied attack all was even suppressed or keep quiet to a degree.  Films about the bombings were effectively banned until 1952, when the occupation ended.

Hideo Sekigawa’s “Hiroshima” was made independently and is shockingly in-your-face, beginning and ending seven-years after the bombing, examining the physical and mental effects that remained, yet flashing back for most of the film to depict the event itself and its direct aftermath. It was too powerful and politically sensitive at the time though and was taken out of circulation following its original release. It did make it to screens overseas in 1955, but then only in a heavily cut form. The film in its full form has long been locked away but it’s fat last able to be seen in Arrow Academy’s restoration of the complete version Blu-ray release.

“Hiroshima” is bookmarked by scenes set 7-years after the bombing. It is centered around a class of school children, who discuss the repercussions with their teacher (Eiji Okada). It seems that the children have been keeping their feelings repressed. One of the class falls ill with leukemia, most likely caused by the blast’s radiation, and we meet a young man who lost his family in the bombing and later fell into a morally bankrupt life. In between these, we see, in detail, the bombing itself and its aftermath, all from within the city itself as we follow various ordinary citizens whose lives were changed and devastated by the event.

This is a very human retelling of the bombing in which we don’t see much of the military from either side. We’re thrown in to act as witnesses to the atrocity. This is a hard film to watch even though it is dated. This is  an incredibly believable depiction of the carnage caused by the bomb, particularly for a film from the period. It’s brutal and relentless and avoids sentimentality. It is hard to watch this with dry eyes.

The sections set in the ‘present’ are illuminating in how “Hiroshima” touches on a range of effects the bomb had on people. For example, we meet a girl who is devastated by the fact her disability will likely prevent her ever getting married. We really see the wide reach the destruction truly had.

There is no subtlety here but then dropping atomic bombs on two major cities populated by innocent civilians isn’t subtle. More than a film, this is  a devastating, tough experience that works on our emotions as humans with feelings. . We need to be reminded about events like this and what destruction they truly caused, so that hopefully they won’t ever happen again.

The picture quality isn’t great and there’s a lot of damage on the print, but the image is crisp. The audio isn’t perfect either but for such a forgotten film it’s probably about as good as we will get

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

  Original uncompressed audio

  Archive interview with actress Yumeji Tsukioka

  Hiroshima Nagasaki Download (2011), 73-minute documentary featuring interviews with survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings now residing in the United States, with an introduction by the director Shinpei Takeda

  New video essay by Jasper Sharp

  Newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mick Broderick

 

“LIFE IS A LONG QUIET RIVER”— Outrageously Funny

“LIFE IS A LONG QUIET RIVER”

Outrageously Funny

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Étienne Chatiliez’s debut film is a fast-paced satire about two families. The Le Quesnoys are middle class and their children are immaculate and have perfect manners and the grubby. The Groseilles are a mess and live in chaos. Both families learned twelve years earlier their babies were switched at birth.

A witty send up of class relations and family ties, Life Is a Long Quiet River was celebrated with a host of trophies at France s César Awards ceremony winning for best screenplay, best debut work and acting prizes for Héléne Vincent and Catherine Jacob.

This French farce in “which two French families from different social classes, one rich, one poor, face up to a baby mix-up”. A nurse had switched the kids to take revenge on her lover, and then spitefully reveals the truth that a son (Benoît Magimel) and a daughter (Hélène Vincent), both now 12, were swapped at birth

Chatiliez has fun with the typically Gallic culture clash between the middle-class and working-class families, and the contrast between the wealthy dutiful children and the poor delinquent kids.

The premise is that one person, emotionally wounded and deeply bitter, commits an unnoticeable crime that will hurt as many people as possible – people she loves, people she hates, people doesn’t know, and people only a couple of minutes old. The repercussions “ferment” as years pass and this gives the nurse significant power over the people that felt deserved this treatment. This is a character study of someone who was able to create chaos in the lives of two families and let the secret fester making its intensity grow stronger.

The plot goes like this: Nurse Josette planned to spend Christmas Eve with her adulterous lover Dr Mavial. That night, Mavial oversaw the delivery of two babies; one born to the impoverished Groseille family and the other to the wealthier Le Quesnoys with whom he is friends. At the last minute Mavial ditches Josette  and decides to go to a Christmas party with his wife. Josette decides to make everyone involved pay. She goes to where the newborns are sleeping and swaps their identities. Twelve years later when she is again rejected by Mavial, Josette tells all in an angry letter to her ex-lover. Momo is adopted by the Le Quesnoys, who also insist on keeping Bernadette. However, Momo has criminal habits and Bernadette becomes a bit unhinged when she learns the news of her true lineage. The upstanding Le Quesnoy household faces anarchy. 

During the first 30 minutes, we think that this is  Josette’s story or Josette and Mavial’s story. Their part in the proceedings is emphasized while we see Mavial as a disinterested alcoholic fake going between his shut-in wife with Josette who is both needy and overbearing.

Then, suddenly, everything changes. Josette and Mavial disappear from the narrative altogether once their affair is over and Josette writes the  letter. The focus then is on the story of Momo’s adoption by the Le Quesnoys, and it all suddenly becomes less interesting: as if the two parts of the film are entirely separate entities.

The moral situation that both families face is over quickly when the Le Quesnoy’s effectively buy Momo, and the Groiselles don’t seem to care either way. We now find ourselves with characters we haven’t really learned anything about.  There are so many characters to juggle – both families are large mobs, and there are several other supporting parts that appear and suddenly it becomes a mess.

The plot has no direction. About halfway through, we have a scene that completely shows the problems with the filmMomo’s mother (unnamed), when introducing the young boy to his real father, simply point at him and says ‘here is your father’.

The film is not particularly funny, the characters are unlikeable, most of the performances are wooden and the plot is hard to get over. I understand the film was loved in France but it did not speak to me.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS: 

  High Definition digital transfer

  High Definition Blu-rayTM (1080p) presentation

  Original Mono audio

  Newly translated optional English subtitles

  Archival interviews with director Étienne Chatiliez, actor André Wilms, co-writer/co-producer Florence Quentin and producer Charles Gassot

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Jonathan Romney