Category Archives: Film

SEVEN NEW JEWISH DOCUMENTARY FILMS

SEVEN NEW JEWISH DOCUMENTARY FILMS

“ON THE MAP”

“On the Map” tells the miraculous story of the Israeli Maccabi team and their “David and Goliath” victory over the Soviet Red Army champion team in 1977. The film includes archival footage of Israeli-American basketball hero Tal Brody whose triumphant words would become a slogan for generations to come: “We are on the map and stay on the map! Not only in sports, but in everything!” Filmmaker Dani Menkin (“39 Pounds of Love”) and producer Nancy Spielberg conducted vivid interviews some forty years later with the team’s players, NBA luminaries and political leaders. Natan Sharansky says that Brody’s statement made him smile during the nine years he spent in Soviet prison following the historic game. Aulcie Perry, an African American player from New Jersey, discusses his conversion to Judaism.

“FOREVER PURE”
While “On the Map” is a feel good film, “Forever Pure” holds angst and racial tensions. “Football is not a very fascinating sport,” says Beitar team owner Arcadi Gaydamak, a Russian-born billionaire with political aspirations, who signed two Muslim players from Chechnya in 2012. Prior to this, Beitar was the only team in its league that had never fielded an Arab player; its loyal fans, La Familia, known for radical nationalistic right-wing views, reacted with violence and hostility, while other fans decried the racism. “So why does it attract so many fans? At the subconscious level football is a clash between two different groups. It is a kind of war,” says Gaydamak, who viewed the team as a propaganda tool. His controversial decision to bring Chechen players to an all Jewish team — according to his own admission in the film – was not because they were good footballers, but to spark a reaction amongst the fans against their own team in order to “expose its real face.” Despite its history of conflict, Beitar has had a huge influence on Israeli society and elections, drawing presidents, mayors and prime ministers to use the audience for campaigning.

“SUPERGIRL”
When nine-year-old Naomi Kutin breaks a powerlifting world record, she turns into a national phenomenon and “Supergirl” is born. The Forward covered her in 2012, starting a media avalanche. She seems like a typical Orthodox Jewish pre-teen, planning a fun Bat Mitzvah party, praying in synagogue and chatting with friends at Yeshivat [Noam] in New Jersey, but otherwise this girl’s extreme competitive sport is completely unorthodox (Naomi calls it her “powerlifting alter ego”). Director Jessie Auritt follows Naomi over several years as she fights to hold on to her title while navigating the challenges of adolescence and facing health issues that could jeopardize her future in powerlifting. I think the only thing more painful than a twelve year old lifting 265 pounds is watching her do it. (Imagine at 95 pounds squatting almost three times her body weight.) Naomi’s definitely a noteworthy and charismatic subject, but the paradox of this twelve year old slim, pretty, suburban Jewish girl as a powerlifter defies every stereotype. Although her story is captured well on film, it’s hard to quite grasp Naomi’s and her parents’ (who willfully train and encourage her) true motivation to acquire such record setting physical strength.

“THE FATHER’S CHAIR”
“Thy Father’s Chair” also documents atypical Orthodox characters, sixty-something quirky identical twins Abraham and Shraga, who live together in their childhood home in Brooklyn. After the death of their parents, they lost control of their surroundings, allowing trash to pile up, old food to decay and stray cats and vermin to move in. Propelled by a determined neighbor, the brothers allow a professional cleaning crew to sort and clean their neglected abode. There’s nothing Jewish about the bug infested, filthy household, except for the holy books deemed as “shaimes” to be buried separate from the garbage.

“BIG SONIA”

In “Big Sonia,” director Leah Warshawski follows her grandmother, Sonia, one of the few remaining survivors of the Holocaust in Kansas City, as she shares her inspirational story of survival on speaking tours, from 8th grade students to prisoners. The 90-year-old seamstress, who loves using animal prints (from her coat and hand bag to steering wheel and couch), now runs her late husband’s tailor shop in a mall that’s on the brink of closing. In the film, Sonia says that she had an awakening after hearing people denying the Holocaust. “I was naïve that now people will really take out the hate of their hearts and respect you for who you are as a human being, but I was very very wrong,” Sonia says. “It tortures me so deeply when I hear and see that we are going backwards and the hate is still growing.”

“THE WONDERFUL KINGDOM OF PAPA ALAEV”
“The Wonderful Kingdom of Papa Alaev” focuses on a domineering patriarchal father and grandfather, Papa Allo Alaev, approaching his 80th birthday, who rules his family as band leader of their family folk-rock group, implementing Bukharian customs and the belief that the nuclear family extends for many generations. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he moved his clan from their native Tajikistan to Israel, where they share everything – household and stage. Performing for over 50 years, they blend Eastern European, Jewish and Roma influences. Excluded from performances is Ada, the only daughter of Allo and the designated homemaker. While the men travel for gigs she secretly decides, with the help of her son, to form her own musical identity, calling into question the future of the family business.

“MOTHER WITH A GUN”
“Mother with a Gun” takes as its subject the Jewish Defense League. Rabbi Meir Kahane founded the JDL in New York City in 1968, training Jewish youth in self defense. Archival footage shows Kahane rallying for Jews to own guns: “Don’t be afraid of it. Be afraid not to have it.” Once considered the most active terrorist organization in the United States, the JDL is currently led by Shelley Rubin. Jeff Daniels’s documentary follows Rubin’s path to extremism, showing how an archetypal good Jewish girl defied family and community expectations to return power and pride to a nation of previous victims. In today’s climate where second amendment rights are being hotly debated, this film, which represents its subjects fringe views, seems particularly a propos.

THE ANATOMY OF MONSTERS”—A Gritty Serial Killer Romance

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“The Anatomy of Monsters”

A Gritty Serial Killer Romance

Amos Lassen

Director Byron C. Miller’s “The Anatomy of Monsters” begins slowly and  subtly and builds to quite a finale. But that does not mean that it is boring. Exploring sociopathic psyches, the film follows aspiring serial killer Andrew (Jesse Lee Keeter) as he abducts a young woman named Sarah (Tabitha Bastien) and he hopes to slaughter her. Shortly after getting her into the hotel room where he intends to commit the deed, however, Andrew discovers that Sarah has some murderous secrets of her own.

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As Sarah begins to recount unexpectedly falling in love with Nick (Conner Marx), it’s immediately apparent that the story isn’t going to end well. Thanks to powerful performances from both Bastien and Marx, the chemistry between the couple feels very real and makes their doomed relationship all the more affecting. We see Nick as a lovable goofball who understandably captures the affection of Sarah, who we see not as a villain but as a typical twenty-something woman. She isn’t pure evil; she simply has sociopathic tendencies that she sadly cannot fight off.

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The film is dark, disturbing and unpredictable. What unfolds is a diabolical game of cat and mouse, and a soul bearing confession of love and death. It is a kind of anomaly. It’s a low budget movie with quality of performances and strong dialogue putting it above average fright films of this kind.

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Andrew picks up Sarah at a bar, takes her back to a hotel room, handcuffs her, and then finds out she is also a homicidal maniac. The rest of the film is these two talking about how they became the monsters they are. Their stories are told in flashbacks (mostly Sarah’s). The film is never too frightening or chilling and we connect emotionally with the sociopaths. We wonder is this is what happens when the hunter becomes the hunted.

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As Andrew begins to kill Sarah, he wavers. What follows is the girl offering up some advice on how to get away with murder and a telling of her life story – from killing childhood pets to moving on to bigger prey. Most of our female sociopath’s story is interesting and engaging. She talks extensively about being careful but in one kill, while she crawled all over a guy’s car before killing him not leaving leave behind hairs and/or clothing fibers.

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This is mostly a one-room film with lots of talking, so there’s not a lot going on otherwise (minus a few flashbacks) but the story is fairly well rounded and shown in a way that makes sense. The thriller shows a lot of ambition and guts as it lets the strong script and decently talented actors carry the film rather than effects and gimmicks.

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What the film does so well is pace the story in such a way that it unfolds slowly, but with each layer let loose, it leads to one fascinating revelation after another about these two people in this hotel room. These are two complex individuals and as they tell each other their stories as to how they both ended up in this room. We get to know the monsters underneath both of their seemingly harmless exteriors. This turns into a tale of who is the bigger monster, the woman or the man, as both reveal sides of monstrosity and humanity that usually isn’t seen in horror films, especially of the lower budget variety.

“EGG AND STONE”— A Chinese Coming of Age Drama

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“EGG AND STONE”

A Chinese Coming of Age Drama

Amos Lassen

Director Huang Ji in her autobiographical feature debut takes audiences to the village where she grew up in China’s rural Hunan province. Her parents moved to the city to work, so she at 14-years-old must now live with her aunt and uncle. She is left to deal with her fears and her desires as well as her sexual awakening.

Director Huang Ji’s has visual sophistication and cinema polish. She most certainly also knows how to tell a story. We meet Honggui (Honngui Yao) sitting on her bed as menstrual blood runs down her leg and this sets the scene for what is to follow.

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We see from this opening that we’re going to see a purposely-constructed work of feminist thought and new womanhood as our hero deals with her internal struggles. It is not until later that we learn that she was left with her aunt and uncle with her parents move to the city to find employment. She feels ignored and alienated by her extended family and the only vale she is in her outward appearance. She has been told in Buddhist parables about menstruation is a form of sin. Her environment was one of isolation and her only escape is her spending time with a local boy who gave her a stone-carved stamp that she uses to make art out of her menstrual blood, demonstrating ambivalence and confusion about her role as a woman. The way she lives shows the ongoing statement of gender relegation in modern China where a woman is only as valuable as the healthy baby boy she’s able to conceive. Honggui’s aunt and uncle eventually exploit her for her ability to procreate.

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 This is an intensely personal and emotional film about sexual abuse. Director Huang Ji spotlights contemporary Chinese gender inequity. Honggui was only supposed to stay with her aunt and uncle for two years, but she has spent the last seven in their Hunan village. Her aunt clearly resents her continued presence, but her uncle is suspiciously fine with it. The fourteen year-old gets pregnant and this puts her in a precarious position within a society that is very judgmental. However, if she has a boy, it becomes a marketable commodity.

Honggui’s life is profoundly complicated by two social dynamics, the illegal urban migration caused by extreme rural poverty and China’s cultural preference for boys over girls. Of course, the Party is not eager to discuss any of this, particularly in light of their only slightly relaxed One Child policy.

This is a profoundly political film that was shot in shot on location in the same provincial town where director Huang Ji herself was sexually abused by her uncle. There are not any of the trademarks of Western movies that deal with the subject of sexual violence against children. There is just a shy young girl who desperately tries to survive her intense life. 

Honggui hardly speaks to her uncle and aunt, and her only solace is a teenage boy about her age who gives her rides around town but their puppy love doesn’t last because the boy, who works in a nearby mine, soon leaves town to find a better job in the city. All the while Honggui struggles alone in the dark when she realizes her period is hopelessly late.

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Huang has said that she wants to convey through Honggui’s non-communicative and extremely shy character how ‘left-behind’ children often have no one to turn to and are left utterly silenced and alone. The film has many shots and stills to capture the mood of the main character’s hushed suffocation in her dingy room and surroundings. The many frames of the sealed window inside Honggui’s dark room reflect the insular world of a deeply frightened and troubled child and we a sense of helplessness and desperation of neglect and sexual violation.

“PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT”— The Woman Who Was Peggy

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“Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict” 

The Woman Who Was Peggy

Amos Lassen

Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland has made the most out of taped conversations with art collector, Peggy Guggenheim, a mover-and-shaker. Guggenheim was born into a wealthy family. She lost her father on the Titanic and she seemed to be always seeking freedom from the boring life that came with wealth. She escaped to Paris where she was met and was entranced by the creativity, rebellion, and exotic lives of artists and writers such as Salvador Dali, James Joyce, Fernand Leger, and Wassily Kandinsky. When her first marriage failed, under the tutelage of Marcel Duchamp, she opened a gallery in London in 1938. She saw herself as “a midwife” and so introduced art collectors and the general public to Joan Miro, Constantin Brancusi, Yves Tanguy, and many others.

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Just at the same time, Guggenheim, who had no formal training in art, began purchasing paintings from these avant-garde artists. When World War II changed her plans, she returned to New York and set up The Art of This Century Gallery where she showcased the creations of an incredible number of artists. Her intuition led her to champion certain painters and for many years she was Jackson Pollack’s patron.

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Director Vreeland takes us through archival footage, stories, and expert commentary from art critics and others in order to celebrate Guggenheim who made so many contributions this to the world of art.

In this documentary Guggenheim tells her biographer Jacqueline Bogard Weld that she only had a fortune of $450,000 growing up, which was a paltry sum for a Guggenheim even in the days preceding the 1920s. She adds that her fortune doubled when her mother died and left her nearly five hundred thousand dollars. The arts are forever grateful to what she did with her inheritance.

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The film covers an impressive range of terrain as it tells Guggenheim’s journey from the cradle to the grave in which she defied convention, lived an eccentric lifestyle, and amassed a landmark collection of art.

We see prized pieces from Ms. Guggenheim’s collection but somewhat too quickly to appreciate them fully. Immordino Vreeland shows that Guggenheim’s real knack was not for spotting essential artworks, but rather for finding talent. She uses Guggenheim’s shrewd eye, passion for the arts, and penchant for veering from the mainstream to chronicle the host of artists she fostered in her career. Perhaps most significant among the artists was Jackson Pollock, but there were also post-World War Two painters as Clyfford Still, Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko. She was a major collector of the Surrealists, especially Max Ernst, with whom she had a short-lived marriage. Long before arts councils gave grants, there was Peggy Guggenheim and we hear how appreciative, the arts community was of her commitment to the arts.

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Guggenheim had the courage to preserve and take risks in a male-dominated field. Especially significant is Vreeland’s look at Guggenheim’s formative years as an art gallery owner near the onset of World War II. The film has Guggenheim recount the astonishing story about she amassed a collection of works that are now priceless for the mere collective sum of $40, 000 by purchasing paintings by artists who were fleeing the forces of fascism and needed funds to escape. As the film chronicles the growth of the Peggy Guggenheim collection in London, New York, and its eventual home in Venice, it shows how the various forces that created modern art were empowered and partially sustained by her.

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Yet the film doesn’t shy away from Guggenheim’s dark side as it acknowledges her failures as a parent and the scandals of her family, including an especially troublesome case in which her sister allegedly dropped her children off the thirteenth floor of a building. Similarly, the film tells of Guggenheim’s many with artists (from Ernst to Samuel Beckett) and her penchant for kissing and telling. The film uses the complexity of Guggenheim’s life to convey how richly the arts fill voids in an existence and add meaning when one searches for answers.

peggy6We hear from Robert De Niro (his parents, both artists, showed work with Guggenheim), Marina Abramovic, and Larry Gagosian, and they liken Guggenheim to a work of art in her own right. Guggenheim was a colorful and peculiar character. Few collectors, promoters, or gallery owners have left marks as lasting as those made by Peggy Guggenheim.

“SUBTERRANEA”— Living as an Adult

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“Subterranea”

Living as an Adult

Amos Lassen

“The Captive” (Bug Hall) has lived in isolation since he was a child and has spent his entire life in a dark cell. He has never seen the light of day or another human being. When he is released into society, he must learn how to live for the first time as an adult. As he approaches the age of thirty and without warning, he is released into society with nothing but the clothes on his back. Determined to find out who he is, The Captive learns that he’s the centerpiece of a dangerous orchestrated sociological experiment and sets off to find the truth about his existence. This ultimately leads to a thrilling confrontation with his maker (William Katt). The film is based on the best selling British neo-progressive rock band IQ’s album “Subterranea”, whose loyal following was instrumental in making the movie. The film features music from the hit album along with a soundtrack score featuring new music from the band as well.

sub21While being held, “The Provider”, only spoke to him through a hole in the wall. Once released, the homeless Remy (Nicholas Turturro) takes him under his wing and teaches him a thing or two. However, Remy is a thief with a tendency for murder and even betrays his friends (and that includes the Captive whom he eventually tries to frame for a murder that he, himself, committed). The police almost get their hands on him, too, but Maya (Amber Mason), has taken a liking to him and gets him off the street. She is also the first one who believes the Captive’s story and promises to help him find “The Provider” – and of course, the two fall in love and plan to just run away with one another but then she was suddenly gone.

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The captive then runs into Andrew (Howard Kingston), who claims to have shared his fate but now knows where “The Provider lives and wants the Captive to take his revenge on him.

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This is a science fiction story about and paranoia tale the film spins out of the premise and is totally original. It boast a fine ensemble cast that includes Bug Hall, Nicholas Turturro, William Katt, Amber Mason, Howard Kingston, Ken White, David Mills-Low, Ann Peacock, Lily Gladstone, Caden Zaluski, Angelina Mason, Ella Steinberg, Katie Kohler, Jeff Medley, Russ Gay, Adrienne Bertin, Tashia Gates, Jill Valley, Bear Strauss, Kale McClure, Sarah Leow, Henry Leow, Derek Emerson, Pierce Coulter, Logan Cook, Ali Tabibnejad, Dan Molloy, Megan Toenyes and Joseph Grady.

“WHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE”— In the Peruvian Amazon

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“When Two Worlds Collide”

In the Peruvian Amazon

Amos Lassen

Directors Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel bring us a partisan look at the clash between indigenous Peruvian minorities and government interests bent on “opening up” protected tribal lands to multinational-corporation mining, drilling and clear-cutting. That conflict became contentious, with highly publicized strikes and violence in 2009. The film begins with scenes of the pollution left behind by industrial “progress” in Amazonian rainforest areas, that destroyed both the environment and the local residents’ traditional ways of life, “When Two Worlds Collide” begins with Peru’s then-president Alan Garcia’s 2007 invitation to foreign (especially American) companies to invest in Peru’s natural-resources riches. Most of those resources (steel, natural gas, oil, etc.) required extraction from constitutionally protected lands belonging to native peoples who have lived there long before the arrival of Europeans. Garcia and his allies managed to push through legislation that auctioned off such rights without consulting the occupants of those “communal lands” and it is no surprise that those occupants were irate.

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The principal figure here is Alberto Pizango, a leading advocate of Peruvian Indigenous Amazon self-determination who became chairman of AIDESEP (Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest), an umbrella group. He headed a hard-line stance that demanded the government not merely revise but wholly repeal laws passed without input from native groups so that related negotiations could begin anew.

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When that request was ignored, locals began blocking roads to industrial sites and gained control of two privatized facilities. As police and then military were sent in to disperse the protestors, violence broke out that resulted in injuries and fatal casualties on both sides. The footage that we see here is hair-raising footage here and puts us right in the middle of the June 2009 armed conflicts, shot by not only the filmmakers but also indigenous and uniformed state personnel as well.

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Pizango and company insisted the locals retaliated only after being fired upon but Garcia’s coalition and allied national media outlets painted the Indios as bloodthirsty “savages” who were mindlessly opposed to any economic progress on lands that belonged not just to them, but also to the entire populace. Ultimately Pizango was forced into (brief) Nicaraguan exile. While some concessions finally were won (and Garcia left office, at least for the time being), the documentary suggests the government has skirted around its own laws, selling mining and other rights to offshore concerns on native lands.

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Felipe Virgillio Bazan Caballero, a retired Lima police officer comes across as conciliatory toward indigenous interests even when his quest to discover what happened to his son (the lone cop unaccounted for after 2009’s mayhem in Bagua) ends in a horrific discovery. By contrast, the high-ranking political figures interviewed here seem to be too inclined toward inflammatory rhetoric as a means of justifying government putdowns of protests and commercial exploitation of rainforest lands. The film makes its case powerfully and the many parallel situations in which private commercial interests continue to loom over environmental ones worldwide makes that viewpoint seem valid.

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In July 28, 2006, Alan García was sworn in to office for his second term as the President of Peru, 16 years since his first stint ended with social unrest and severe hyperinflation. In 2007, he delivered a televised address in which he invited American entrepreneurs to invest in Peru. On June 5, 2009, García ordered Peruvian police and military personnel to forcibly prevent protestors from blocking the major road that is used for accessing the country’s fertile Bagua region causing many indigenous people and government troops to be killed in the ensuing riot, and many more would die in the violence that was the result of that initial clash. No political conflicts, indeed.

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This is all captured in “When Two Worlds Collide,” a strikingly present documentary debut that traces how the friction between a government and its people can metastasize into a dangerous state of insurgency.

“GOAT”— Toxic Masculinity

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“Goat”

Toxic Masculinity

Amos Lassen

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After having to deal with an assault over the summer, Brad Land (Ben Schnetzer) is ready to start college and is determined that things go well and getting his life together. Brett (Nick Jonas), his brother, is already at the school and a member of a fraternity that assures Brad that he will be protected, gain popularity and establish friendships that he will have for life. Brad is happy to join even though Brett has reservations about it and their friendship/brotherhood becomes divided over this. After pledging, hell week is on the near horizon and this is a time that is supposed to mark the passage to manhood and consists of a series of torturous and humiliating events. Traditionally hell week involves the formation of brotherhood along side some supposedly harmless hazing of pledges. However, things get out of hand and the friendship and the relationship of the two brothers are put to the test.

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Brad is desperate to belong but as he sets out to join the fraternity his brother exhibits reservations, a sentiment that threatens to divide them. As the pledging ritual moves into hell week, a rite that promises to usher these unproven boys into manhood, the stakes violently increase with What occurs in the name of “brotherhood” tests both boys and their relationship in brutal ways. While this is not a gay movie in any sense of the word, there is a sense of homoeroticism in watching what goes down.

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There are a lot of “shirtless shenanigans” and it is produced by James Franco.

“THE DRILLER KILLER”— Death by Power Drill

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“The Driller Killer”

Death by Power Drill

Amos Lassen

Abel Ferrara is Reno, a struggling artist and a man pushed to the edge by the economic realities of New in the late seventies. Then there is the No Wave, a band that is constantly practicing in the apartment below. Soon, his grip on reality begins to slip and he takes to stalking the streets with his power tool in search of prey.

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“The Driller Killer” is the definitive look at NYC’s underbelly. Abel is a slasher who is as much at home in the art house as it is the grind house.This is a darkly fascinating look the late-’70s New York punk and pop-art scenes as well as a horror film. Ferrara stars as a misanthropic painter who lets his frustration with insensitive art dealers and obnoxious neighbors push him over the edge and that means causing him to commit homicide by power drill. Ferrara’s fascination with New York subcultures overtook the project, leading him to use half the picture hanging out with fringe-dwellers before finally getting around to offing them.

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Reno wanders into a church, sits down next to some guy with a white beard and stares at him. Then the guy grabs Reno’s hand, and he freaks out and runs and gets into a cab with his girlfriend Carol, going on about how the guy was loony, when it was clearly him that is the crazy one. We have no idea what this means. He goes into this punk club and then home to his apartment building where a nubile young woman is trying to drill a hole in a door. She has gotten wound up in the cord and can’t decide where she wants Reno to drill the hole for her. And so it begins.

There’s an awesome scene in which some woman at the punk club warns Carol to stay away from her man. Then finally Reno snaps and gets to drilling someone. He picks a homeless guy.

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I later read that Fererra made this movie over the course of a few years, just picking up the camera at various points and shooting a bit and then leaving it for a while, finally trying to fit it all together into a narrative.

The movie is a nightmare with poor film quality and mediocre acting but the story line is very interesting.

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Bonus Features

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Michael Pattison and Brad Stevens

“DON MCLEAN: STARRY STARRY NIGHT”— Classic Folk/Rock

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“Don McLean: Starry Starry Night”

Classic Folk/Rock

Amos Lassen

Don McLean’s concert at the beautiful Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas is a pleasure to watch. It is a one-of-a-kind celebratory performance, beautifully staged and filmed. The bonus footage alone makes this a special treat.

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Don MacLean has written some of the best popular music ever and his intelligence, his lyricism and his sensitivity make for a great musical performance. At first, it all looks so simple but as the concert progresses, it becomes more and more interesting but it never becomes complex. The big hits are there, but many great songs are sadly missing. The special features on the DVD, we see Don is shown in vintage performances from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. The 70’s portion features 3 songs shot probably on 16mm when Don was at his peak as a forceful singer with passion. 

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Track Listing

  • Castles In The Air
  • Jerusalem
  • Crossroads
  • You Gave Me a Mountain
  • Crying
  • Singin’ The Blues
  • Vincent
  • Angry Words
  • Raining In My Heart
  • And I Love You So
  • Fashion Victim
  • If We Try
  • It Was A Very Good Year
  • You’re My Little Darlin’
  • American Pie

“A MAN CALLED OVE”— Dealing with Death”

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“A MAN CALLED OVE”

Dealing with Death”

Amos Lassen

 Ove (Rolf Lassgård) has yet to overcome the recent death of his beloved wife, Sonja (Ida Engvoll). He’s so depressed that he desperately wants to end with his life and join his wife in heaven, but his attempts at suicide fail each and every time. The other residents of his community think of him to be an eccentric and nasty old man because of the he behaves toward them. The arrival of new neighbors, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) and her husband, Patrik (Tobias Almborg), gradually changes Ove in a way that he least expected to change. He even agrees to adopt a cat. However, before he can truly change on the inside, though, he has to deal with trauma from his childhood.

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The film is based on the novel by Fredrik Backman, and it is bittersweet, witty and darkly comedic. Even Ove’s failed suicide attempts are funny in a twisted sort of way. The other humor is offbeat and balances well with the more dramatic scenes. Even though Ove isn’t particularly likable in some ways, he is indeed likable in other ways because there’s more to him than meets the eye given the psychologically damaging events in his past. As mean as he may seem, he has a big heart and as the movie moves forward, he becomes increasingly compassionate and kind in a way that’s quite sweet.

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Rolf Lassgård as Ove is perfect. We all have come across difficult people in our lives who are loud, critical and angry and we are quick to make judgments about. Ove is one of those. He is a genuinely grumpy old man who vents his spleen on all the idiots in the world who don’t know what they are doing or, even if they do know, mess things up. Laid off from the company where he has worked for 43 years, Ove keeps watch over the suburban neighborhood where he lives. He used to be head of the residents’ association but he was voted out of office for his extreme behavior yet he still goes through the motions of patrolling the place and looking for problems.

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Every day, Ove visits the grave of his beloved wife Sonja (Ida Engvolle) who died recently of cancer. She was the light of his life and he doesn’t want to live without her. Every time he decides to commit suicide, he is interrupted. Just as he starts to lose consciousness every time, bits and pieces of his difficult life are revealed and we begin to understand his anger, frustration and loss. As a child he had no mother and there was little money in the house but he learned how to get along. Now he has new neighbors from Iran. The mother, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), is pregnant and she is not afraid to ask her neighbor for help and it is her lust for life that provides the impetus for Ove’s breaking out of his shell.

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Soon Ove is tapping the love, kindness, and compassion he has always had within himself and we see him save a man who falls on a train track, let a gay men stay with him after the young man’s homophobic father threw him out and adopt a stray cat.

Hannes Holm directed this convincing and emotionally involving story of spiritual transformation.

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Bonus Features* include:

*Subject to change

  • Interviews with Hannes Holm, Rolf Lassgard and Bahar Pars
  • Filmmaker and Cast Q&A in New York
  • Make-up Effects Gallery and Time Lapse
  • Theatrical trailer