Category Archives: Film

“OBSERVANCE”— An Intense Thriller

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“OBSERVANCE”

An Intense Thriller

-Amos Lassen

Joseph Sims-Dennett’s “Observance” is a seriously intense thriller. It is a psychological horror tale that involves a private detective, Parker who, hired to watch a woman across the street, begins to have a violent mental breakdown. This is a creepy and quite unnerving film about a young man grieving over the death of his young son. To make matters worse, his marriage is on the rocks and there is little money. He has reluctantly returned to work as a private investigator and is assigned to observe a woman from an abandoned apartment. As he watches the bizarre happenings surrounding her, he slowly becomes aware that the building he is in has a dark presence that slowly threatens to consume him. This is the frightening horror tale of a man spiraling into madness. He does know why he is watching her which makes things all the more interesting as we watch a film with themes of voyeurism, blind obedience and grief.

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Lindsay Farris is Parker, the mourning father whose marriage appears to have dissolved in the wake of his son’s death. Struggling under the debt of the boy’s hospital bills, he takes a lucrative but dubious assignment in which he has to be in a filthy abandoned building across from a woman’s apartment and spy on her for a few days. Aside from a nail-biting scene in which he sneaks into her home to plant listening devices, all Parker does is watch through his telephoto lens and listen to her phone calls, reporting what he learns to a voice on the phone who represents Parker’s secretive employer. Even when he sees things that make him fear for the woman’s safety, he is told to just sit tight, do nothing and that everything will be okay.

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However, we get the impression that nothing will be okay. Parker is surrounded by rot and ooze, from the weird black liquid collecting in jars to the little animal corpses he finds in the least welcome places. Unsurprisingly, he gets sick, making his fevered dreams of his dead boy all the more disturbing.

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The film combines observation and memory in montages of close-ups and menacing sound design causing the viewer to wonder just how much danger that Parker perceives is in his own mind. We know that it all can’t because we glimpse things he’s not even aware of and hear hints from other characters about a conspiracy that he might unwittingly be part of.

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Halfway through, the film adds Asian horror to its mix of creepy influences and we realize that there are no answers to the questions that we have. I soon felt a sense of dread coming over me as I watched this film.

People are followed, watched, manhandled, scalded, grabbed, run at, slapped, trapped, tackled, face-grabbed, hit with objects and we see photos of bloody corpses and just lots of blood. There is sex and nudity and language that just might offend some people. “Observance” is ambiguous and the only thing that I felt was for sure was that there is something amiss. The film is from Parker’s perspective alone and therefore everything is up for interpretation.

“RAIDERS!: THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE”— Three Childhood Friends

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“RAIDERS!: THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE”

Three Childhood Friends

Amos Lassen

“Raiders” is the true story of three childhood friends and their journey to complete a shot-for-shot remake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. After Steven Spielberg’s classic film was released 35 years ago, three 11-year-old boys from Mississippi began what would become a 7-year-long labor of love and tribute to their favorite film: a faithful, shot-for-shot adaptation of the action adventure film. The New York Times calls their film “a testament to the transporting power of movie love.” They finished every scene except one— the film’s explosive airplane scene.

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Then some two decades later, the trio reunited with the original cast members from their childhood in order to complete their masterpiece. “Raiders” is the story of this project’s culmination. It chronicles the dedication of the friends to their artistic vision and this is mixed in with movie magic “to create a personal, epic love letter to a true modern classic”.

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 Special features include more than four hours on bonus content such as dual audio commentary tracks, deleted scenes, outtakes from the Adaptation, Q&A footage from the Adaptation’s 2003 premiere, a photo booklet featuring storyboard art from the Adaptation and an HD digital copy of the film

In 1982, three 11-year old boys in Mississippi, Chris Strompolo, Jayson Lamb and Eric Zala, set out to remake their favorite films of all times. They filmed the whole thing shot by shot except for the famous exploding airplane climax. Then some twenty-five years later they set out to correct this omission.:

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Filmmakers Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen followed filmmakers once they learned of and saw the guys’ “Raiders of the Lost Ark: Adaptation” that took the then youngsters seven summers and all they money they could scrape up from their birthdays and Christmas presents. Using the basement of one of their mothers’ house, they made their shot-by-shot recreation of the film they so deeply loved.

Coon and Skousen began their documentary just when the three began planning the completion their film: to blow up a full size airplane and finish the last scene. The documentarians capture the enthusiasm of these adult children living their dream even when one of them risked losing his job.

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In one scene the documentary looks at the Nepalese bar scene from the original and then went on to set, one of their mother’s basement on fire without any real safety equipment on hand. This had to be scary for the boys’ family. Coon and Skousen show the dedication and spirit, even through the tougher times of production.

Anyone who’s ever had a passion project or loves the original film will enjoy this. Gradually Skousen and Coon bring in these kids’ more personal back-stories. They were the children of divorce.  Comic book nerd Zala was often lonely, but his life changed when he got a girlfriend, a young woman who got involved in their project. When local media began to show an interest, Eric and Chris were shown with props made by Jayson who got little to no mention and this caused resentment.  While Chris and Eric remained friends, Chris accused Eric of selling out his dreams with his 9 to 5 job, yet Eric stood by his friend as he began to get into the Hollywood drug scene until things became impossible to ignore.

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Therefore the twenty-fifth reunion of cast and crew to shoot that last, expensive scene, is, quite an achievement.  There are still multiple problems in achieving their dreams with Eric on the cusp of losing his job when he needs more time due to weather delays.  At first, watching these grown men spend thousands to finish a childhood endeavor seems crazy but we also see the passion they shared.

The original film embodies the spirit of adventure, which is what inspired the boys to begin with. It was an impossible task even then so there was no real reason to not finish it now. As we see all these different people from their lives come together to help make this dream a reality, we begin understanding that this project is immensely inspiring involved.

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Things certainly don’t go where we imagined they would. There’s stolen girlfriends, drugs, fractured friendships and difficult family situations. It seems as if anything that could go wrong, did for these wannabe filmmakers. Still, 30 years later, they could not forget this project from their youth. It gave them something when everything else was going wrong, and it’s a dream that their families have always wanted for them. It doesn’t matter how well done the finished product is because their fan film is the definition of persistence, imagination, and dedication. Watching them complete their movie gives us hope that we can accomplish all the goals we once dreamt of achieving.

 

“THE DEER HUNTER”— Three Hours, Three Movements, Michael Cimino’s Masterpiece

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“The Deer Hunter”

Three Hours, Three Movements

Amos Lassen

With the death of Michael Cimino this week, I realized that I had not yet seen his classic, “The Deer Hunter” so as a way of paying my respects, I sat down to watch this masterpiece of American cinema. “The Deer Hunter” is a genuine American blue-collar epic. At the same time that is anti-war, it celebrates America with astounding clarity. Director Cimino got everything right— the photography, the acting, and the plot. We meet the characters on the eve of their entry into the Army and they emphasize the moment of change. Michael, Nick, and Steven are best friends and when coincidence brings them together on the battlefield in Vietnam, they are tested like never before. The acting is excellent throughout. Robert DeNiro gives Michael a strength forged in the Pennsylvania steel plant where he worked, while the wild Christopher Walken acts with reckless abandon and total confusion as Nick.

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“The Deer Hunter” is a three-hour movie in three major movements. It moves from a wedding to a funeral as it tells the story of a group of friends and presents a record of how the war in Vietnam entered several lives and changed them forever. While this is not an anti-war film neither is it a pro-war film. It is emotionally shattering. We begin with men at work, in the furnace of the steel mills in a town somewhere in Pennsylvania. When the shift is over, the men meet at a saloon for a beer. The morning of the last day of their lives as they know it comes as they prepare to leave Vietnam.

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The movie lingers over these opening scenes. We come to know the characters and become absorbed into their lives. The opening movement is slow as we watch hard-working people who have come to eat, dance and drink at a wedding and wish good luck to the newlyweds and say good-by to the three young men who have enlisted in the Army. The party goes on long enough for everyone to get drunk; the newlyweds drive off and the rest of the friends go up into the mountains to shoot some deer. Shooting something is supposed to mean something.

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Suddenly Vietnam appears on the screen and the second movement of the film begins. This is about the experiences that three of the friends, Robert DeNiro, John Savage and Christopher Walken and we see one of the most horrifying sequences ever created in fiction, as the three are taken prisoner and forced to play Russian roulette while their captors bet on who will, or will not, blow out his brains. The game of Russian roulette becomes the organizing symbol of the film as what we believe about it becomes a way to look at the Vietnam War.

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We see how deliberate random violence touches the sanity of men forced to play it. Using this as a symbol makes any other statement about the war meaningless. DeNiro’s Michael is the character who somehow finds the strength to keep going and this two friends going as well. He survives the prison camp and helps the others. However, when he is finally home from Vietnam, he is met with a silence we can never quite penetrate. He is touched by desire for the girl that more than one of them left behind, but does not act on it. He is a “hero,” who is awkwardly met by his hometown people.

He delays going to the VA hospital to visit Savage, who has lost his legs. While he is there he learns that Walken is still in Vietnam. He had promised Walken that he would never leave him in Vietnam. They were both thinking, romantically and naively, of the deaths of heroes, but now DeNiro goes back in an altogether different context to bring Walken back. The promise was adolescent stuff, but there is no adolescence left when DeNiro finds Walken still in Saigon and professionally playing Russian roulette.

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“The Deer Hunter” is about many subjects including male bonding, about mindless patriotism, the dehumanizing effects of war, Nixon’s “silent majority.” It is about any or all of these but above everything else it is about the agony of Vietnam

“The Deer Hunter” insists that we not forget the war. It is the story of friendship among three guys who work in the mill, hunt together, drink in the same bar, go bowling together, belong to the same Russian Orthodox Church, and who don’t want to escape from their ordinary existence, quite content to live out their life in such a blue-collar town. Out of a sense of patriotic duty they enlist and go to Vietnam at a time when America was beginning to question the war. In their small town, there were no protests and their joining of the army was well received by the locals there.

Steven (John Savage), just before the boys go to Vietnam, does the honorable thing and gets married to his pregnant girlfriend Angela (Rutanya Alda), telling himself that he loves her and can’t leave her in this embarrassing predicament while he goes off to war and might never come back. His Russian immigrant mother is upset about this marriage and doesn’t not understanding why he is marrying her and what is happening to the world nowadays. The wedding is a traditional affair, as the camera catches it in all its glitter and ceremony inside the local Russian church. Nick (Christopher Walken) is the regular guy, who is to be the best man at the wedding. Nick’s date is the best lady, Linda (Meryl Streep), someone Michael has his eye on and would love to go out with, but does not do so because of his loyalty to his close friend.

At the lengthy reception the inner circle of friends make their presence felt and the viewers get to know them rather intimately. The wedding reception was a long drawn out affair, showing everyone in the community pitching in and helping with the celebration. We see the characters as they were dancing and horsing around and their personalities were allowed to come forth naturally.

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Michael comes out of his war experiences with an inner strength and courage that makes him tough it out, and he seems to be a natural leader. On the other hand Nicky becomes a basket case, losing control of who he is, losing contact with everyone, remaining in Saigon and playing Russian roulette for a living in the underground gambling clubs there. We see that men can’t escape from Vietnam, just like they can’t escape from where they were born.

Movement 3 is emotionally powerful and gripping and takes place back western Pennsylvania. Their deep friendship is played out against the American failures in Vietnam, as the war is by now considered a lost cause by the public. Steven can’t face himself as a cripple and shrivels up, afraid to come home from the hospital, and he is seen as a defeated man. Michael, the war hero, comes back to his hometown looking sharp in his uniform and seeming to be back to his normal self, but when he goes out hunting with the boys he misses with his one shot at the buck. That is something he never did before. He is unable to hide how the war has torn his insides out and changed him. Nick he is lost somewhere in Vietnam and can’t be saved by Michael, who tried unsuccessfully to get him back from Vietnam alive.

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In the last scene of the film, the friends huddle together all of them disappointed and devastated about how their lives turned out. They are trying to hold onto the only thing that has weathered the storm for them and that is the friendship they have for each other and the sense of community.

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This film offers a very puzzling and complex moral take on the war and on those who were directly affected by it. Cimino makes no apology for the volunteer soldiers fighting a bad war. What makes this film exceptional is the performers who take the story to new heights; they make you care enormously about the characters they play. DeNiro gives a powerful performance as he searches for meaning to his life, making his patriotism seem genuine and his participation in a war that made no sense to a lot of people. Streep’s performance is more subtle, as her facial expressions give way to the great psychological strain she is under, not sure of what is happening to her but realizing that there something terribly missing in her life. John Savage is convincing as a good guy who got a few bad breaks in life and couldn’t fully recover from it. Walken won an Oscar as a supporting actor in a film that won a total of five including those for best picture, editing, sound, and director. Walken playing a regular guy who just lost it in Vietnam and went into a shell is totally believable. We see how war shatters everybody, whether they go to war or stay home. The stupidity of the war and all its atrocities as it gives no chance to escape the moral implications of the war and neither does it give one a chance to recapture lost innocence. It is possible to run away from the Vietnam War and to try to avoid it but never completely and it touched every part of America. The film tells us to respect the opinions of conservative working-class Americans, the ones who sent their sons to fight this war. This is poignant reminder about war and it harmed even those who survived it. America was scarred forever by it and characters were transformed.

“THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY”— Hardly a Courtroom Drama

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“The Bloodstained Butterfly”

Hardly a Courtroom Drama

Amos Lassen

“The Bloodstained Butterfly” is a mild giallo film that is not a courtroom drama even thought most of it is about the trial of a TV sport’s presenter, Allesandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia), who is arrested for the brutal murder of a young French student, Francoise Pigaut (Carol And). Francoise’s body is discovered in a city park, as it rolls down the hillside towards two young children in the striking opening sequence. A man, who may or may not be the killer, is seen fleeing the park in a grey raincoat and hat by several witnesses. However, despite the fact that he is identified by a woman her testament is thrown into some doubt when it is learned that she didn’t have her glasses on. Then there is the fact that his coat was covered in mud from the park because he supposedly was splashed by a speeding car passing by.

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There is even more courtroom craziness when the suspect’s alcoholic mistress cut herself on her whiskey glass and this explains the blood on the alleged perpetrator. . The odds seem stacked against the defendant, probably because his defense lawyer is carrying on a torrid affair with his wife.

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Then more bodies, with the same MO, begin to pile up in the same park as where the French girl was found. The police have no choice but to release Marchi, and try and find the killer even though they may already have him.

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We meet anarchic playboy Giorgio (Helmut Berger), who is involved in a masochistic relationship with Marchi’s daughter Sarah (Wendy D‘Olive). This is one of the characteristics of giallo— a subplot t take our mind off of the main plot.

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The main plot is centered on the murder of Françoise in front of several witnesses whose testimony helps convict Marchi, a television sports presenter who is being cuckolded by his lawyer, Giulio Codrero (Günther Stoll). These extracurricular affairs mean that Alessandro’s wife, Maria (Ida Galli), and his lawyer, are both more than happy to let him rot in a cell for the rest of his life. However, when subsequent murders are committed, however, doubt is cast on the conviction of Alessandro. Meanwhile, simmering away beneath the surface, is a subplot involving Alessandro’s daughter, Sarah (Wendy D’Olive), and her boyfriend, Giorgio (Helmut Berger), a gifted but disturbed pianist with a dark secret. (I know this all sounds like I am repeating myself and I am—in order to keep everything straight in my mind as I write).

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Director/co-writer Duccio Tessari places strong emphasis both on the police procedural element and on the trial of Marchi. It is when the film shifts its focus to the rest of his family, that things get going and become more interesting. Tessari’s style is more muted than that of most giallo directors at this point in the genre’s cycle, but in technical terms, at least, the end result is slick and polished. Tessari also manages to get some impressive performances from his cast, with Helmut Berger doing his best “intensive” routine, while Wendy D’Olive is very easy on the eyes and is a fine actress.. Only Giancarlo Sbragia seems wooden in even the most intense scenes.

The film does not neatly fit into the two general categories of giallo since it doesn’t have extreme sex and blood and is missing whatever really characterizes the genre. the substance the characterizes the best examples of the more serious affairs of the genre.

“MICROWAVE MASSACRE”— Such a Bad Movie…. But It is Fun

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“Microwave Massacre”

Such a Bad Movie…. But It is Fun

Amos Lassen

I believe that “Microwave Massacre” was made as a spook of horror film and in that it is not only successful. However as a bad movie that is fun to watch, it is amazing. It is such a totally bizarre viewing that you won’t believe what you’re seeing even as you’re seeing it! I had the feeling that the film dared me to watch it in that those who made it know how bad it is.

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Donald (Jackie Vernon) has a problem. All of his coworkers at the construction site where he works at have better lunches than him. While they get subs,  he gets whole crabs— shell, claws, and all— stuck between two pieces of bread. Donald’s wife May (Claire Ginsberg), you see, thinks of herself something of an amateur Julia Child, but that is in her mind only. She’s worked Donald’s nerves down to almost nothing . Donald dreads his loveless, sexless home life and takes solace in his lunch breaks and his evenings at the local bar.

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At some point, however, he has to go home, and when he can no longer delay the inevitable, he reels through the door and always finds May there, waiting for him at the dinner table, with a disgusting pseudo-gourmet meal that she has prepared in her newfangled microwave (the film is set in 1978 when microwaves were still new).

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May is very proud of her microwave and what comes out of it while Donald finds it to be completely unappetizing and terrible tasting. One night he finally snaps and kills her but he was drunk when he did it and can’t remember anything about murdering his wife . When he finds her in the microwave (the next morning, he knows that he has to hide the evidence, so he cuts up her body, wraps the pieces in aluminum foil, and puts her in their extra refrigerator out in the garage. There is a slight problem though. Donald soon can’t remember which wrapped-up bits are his wife and which are food but that is solved quickly when he realizes that he is hitting her hand and likes the way it tastes. Soon he brings parts of his wife’s body to his friends at work and he soon becomes very popular.  However he cannot keep up with the demand for meat and begins killing prostitutes and the like in order to keep up the supply for himself and his friends. Then the movie is over.

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Director Wayne Berwick claims to have made this movie for “stoner crowd.” Never to be left behind by technology, it was only a matter of time before the horror genre found a way to put the microwave oven to macabre use. This cult classic is the result of that.

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After a short prologue with a closing shot on a decaying skull inside a microwave and then the story begins. It is rather a dark comedy and not an out-and-out horror film with no suspense and no spooky music. Most of the killings occur off-screen, so the gore is really just severed body parts. The microwave used in the film is around the size of a refrigerator. I understand that some of the earliest microwaves were fairly huge in the 80s but this is a somewhat silly. For the plot to move forward, the film operates on kind of a bizarre level that you just kind of have to excuse. Every female neighborhood seems to be either a prostitute or a sex-starved nymphomaniac and they all seem to want to have sex with Donald. For the sake of the film, you just have to sort of accept certain illogical issues and just go with it.

“BACK IN TIME”— “Back to the Future” Movies and Modern Culture

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“Back In Time”

“Back to the Future” Movies and Modern Culture

Amos Lassen

“Back in Time” is a documentary that looks at the very real impact the “Back to the Future” movies have had on our culture. We see that what was once a little idea became something truly amazing that resonated through the culture.

The documentary was two years in the making and has footage of the original “Back to the Future” trilogy and interviews. We hear from Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, James Tolkan, Lea Thompson, Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox who speak about about their experiences with the movie.

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“Back in Time” began as a project conceived by Jason Aron, a fan of the “Back to the Future” for which 600 people together pledged over $45,000 in for it to be made. It “gets to the heart of the movie phenomenon, proving as enjoyable as the franchise it affectionately explores”, calling it “a delightful return to, and updating of, a beloved story”.

“Back to the Future” is one of those movies that you never forget nor do you forget the first time you saw it. It is as perfect as a film can be. Everything came together just right: the story, the actors, the music, the script, and so on. It has been 30 years since it opened and it is still one of the most popular movies ever.

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The documentary begins with a look at the making of the film. Director Robert Zemeckis, co-writer Bob Gale, producer Steven Spielberg, and stars Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Lea Thompson are share their memories, from inception to completion

From there, we see how the movie has stayed so popular. We see that it is so much more than just a movie but also something that has captured the public’s imagination.

Director Jason Aron had a little trouble with organization and the documentary bounces around with little or no transition but it is still a fun watch. But then “Back in Time” isn’t a straight “making-of” documentary and even though we get a degree of information, anecdotes, and memories of the shoot, it doesn’t linger anywhere for very long. And aside from an inspection of the futuristic elements of “Part II,” there’s basically nothing shared about the sequels aside fan appreciation. “Back in Time” is primarily devoted to the fans (after all that is who makes a film popular).

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“Back in Time” Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras  include:

  • “Rob Klein Props” (3:00, HD) takes a look at some of the finds collectors have discovered while hunting for anything “Back to the Future.”
  • “A Vegas Story” (3:01, HD) visits a Nevada car show to explore fandom out in the open air, discussing passions and replications with hardcore trilogy admirers.
  • “The Fans Talk DeLorean” (8:38, HD) concentrates on the special “Back to the Future” car, detailing restoration projects and love for the time machine.
  • “More from the Cast” (10:15, HD) collects a few more anecdotes from the stars, exploring careers before the trilogy and ensuing fame, even for supporting players.
  • “Mick Smith” (4:33, HD) chats up the pyrotechnician for “Part III,” who shares a few tales from the set, with emphasis on the climatic train explosion.
  • “Bit BTS” (6:38, HD) follows director Jason Aron and his crew as they travel around America gathering interviews for the documentary, highlighting on-camera mischief and awkward small talk with the talent.
  • And a Trailer (2:31, HD) is included.

“THE SETTLERS”— Israeli Settlements on the West Bank

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‘The Settlers’

Israeli Settlements on the West Bank

Amos Lassen

There is no doubt in my mind that Shimon Dotan’s documentary “The Settlers” will provoke strong reactions wherever it plays. The film traces the history of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and their growth through both individual action and the sometimes-tacit encouragement of Israeli politicians. Dotan doesn’t disguise his pessimistic perspective on one of the most fought-over areas in the world. He comes upon a range of rationales for living on contested land (as well as some surprisingly unguarded interview subjects).

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The film begins by asking Israelis who have chosen to live in the West Bank questions such as “Are you a settler?” and “What is a settler?” Quite naturally we do not have much agreement on labels and definitions. This questioning serves as a framing device of sorts and by the end, we have divergent answers on how far the boundaries of Israel should go.

The documentary uses archival footage and contemporary interviews with the settlers and with academics and we see the settler movement’s growth as a kind of feedback l of incremental protests, governmental indifference and political calculation. The rabbi Moshe Levinger, a controversial leader of the settlement movement, describes the first push into the West Bank almost as if it was an act of civil disobedience, saying that “only after we actually settle will we be taken seriously.” Sarah Nachshon, a settler had her son circumcised in the Cave of the Patriarchs but the child died in infancy and she pressed for his burial in a West Bank cemetery. The film seems to say that this act had the effect of ensuring that some Israeli military presence remained in the area.

 

While we do hear from Palestinian voices, “The Settlers” is largely focused on the settlers, whose rhetoric often undermines their own case. One settler openly identifies himself as a racist; another gives details of his participation in a violent plot. We see signs of internal dissent when one settler admonishes another when he questions the wisdom of exclusionary politics.

We also look at the roadblock that the settlements have posed to the peace process. We see Yitzhak Rabin speaking about the cost of for security per family, adding that those costs don’t provide security for Israel. Talia Sasson, who published a report commissioned under the administration of Ariel Sharon, explains that she discovered that state funds were quietly used to build West Bank outposts. An interesting aside is that the name Benjamin Netanyahu is ever said in the film.

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The film does not put labels and there no given categories for settlers. The settlements receive visitors who are evangelical Christians visiting the settlements from the United States and there are those that visit for no apparent reason other than to see. We meet an Israeli who has moved to the area to take advantage of the real estate prices. One settler who has grown up in the West Bank has built her home as a sort of tent or portable house so that it can be packed up easily. We see young groups of extremists and Partisans on both sides of the conflict will have plenty to argue with, as would be the case with almost any movie on this topic but what is unique here is that the film goes beyond what we usually see and gives us a real sense of what’s happening on the ground and this, in turn, provides a sense of urgency.

The documentary captures both the beauty of the West Bank and the complexity of the geopolitics that are tearing it apart. Dotan is wonderfully skilled as an interviewer who is able to present the settlers, an often-misunderstood segment of Israeli society, to a wide audience. However, we learn more about the dogma of left-wing Israelis than it does about settlers.

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According to this dogma, the settlers are to blame for pulling Israel into the occupation. Aside from Ariel Sharon and Menachem Begin, Israeli politicians from both the right and the left are presented in the film as lacking agency and power to take on expansionist colonial practices not as a matter of policy but because they are forced to do so by radical Religious Zionists.

Levi Eshkol explains here that settlement expansion is not in violation of the fourth Geneva Accord because Israel has always used its civilian population as part of its military defense system and this suggests the possibility that Israeli politicians built settlements as a matter of policy. Similarly, Shimon Peres is depicted as caving into the Religious Zionists’ demands for settlement expansion.

There is no mention of Ehud Barak’s insistence on speeding up settlement expansion while participating in the Camp David talks.

Despite the fact that Netanyahu has been prime minister since 2009 and has continued settlement expansion throughout his tenure, he is totally omitted from the film. We see very shocking footage from the right-wing demonstration that took place on October 5, 1995, almost exactly a month before Rabin’s assassination, at which many demonstrators called aloud and explicitly for Rabin’s death. However, there is no mention that the demonstration was co-organized by the Likud.

The only present-day politician featured in the film is Naftali Bennett, leader of the settler-affiliated party Jewish Home. The lack of other contemporary politicians makes it seem like the Israeli government’s continued expansion of settlements in recent years is the result of the pressure placed by Religious Zionists on politicians like Bennett.

Most of those interviewed are settlers, others are part of the security establishment, a few are Palestinians whose land has been occupied by Israelis, and still others are members of various governmental or non-governmental organizations who speak about different aspects of the occupation. Almost all share their personal experiences, and some also provide their own commentary.

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Dotan neatly divides Israeli society into two groups: the radical religious settlers and everyone else. He sees that it is the radical settlers (some 20% of those living over the Green Line) who are dragging the rest of Israel into the conflict.

Because everything is attributed to a small group of religious zealots, left-wing dogma ignores the complexity of the contemporary Religious Zionist settler community and its pre-1967 origins. Dotan sees this as beginning in 1967, after the capture of the West Bank and Gaza in the Six Day War, with a group of settlers that held one fixed religious ideology. But ignoring the pre-1967 antecedents of the settler movement, the film, at times, is difficult to understand. Early in the film, we hear how the deceased Gush Emunim leader Hanan Porat wanted “to bring back” the children of Kfar Etzion to Kfar Etzion following the ’67 war. However, we never hear that the settlement-kibbutz of Kfar Etzion, located in the Etzion settlement bloc, was based on a community that had existed in the same location prior to the War of Independence and that was destroyed in May 1948. No mention is made of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook (1865-1935), who was a very powerful figure in the history of Zionism who still has immeasurable influence over religious Zionists, even though he was dead before the state of Israel came into being.

Without understanding this power, it is difficult to understand the messianic fervor that gripped the Religious Zionist community after 1967.

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The ideological settlers that we see are represented through interviews and archival footage of men who played an active role in Gush Emunim (a settler movement formed after ‘67 by students of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook) who are described as “hilltop youth.” We get the impression that the entire Religious Zionist movement as it exists today descends in a straight line from this group, ignoring the evolution of the movement, and how the band of hilltop youth, for example, are held in contempt by many of the original Gush Emunim leaders. The reality is that the ideological settlers are much more diverse than the way they’re presented in the film.

By beginning the story of the settlers in ’67 we are to believe everything Israel was set off course with the occupation and settlement of the territories and therefore implying that a large territorial concession will swing Israel back on course. This is not what happened. Moving the settlers’ history to the aftermath of ’67 makes it easier to criticize them as a group that diverged from mainstream Zionism.

Dotan portrays the settlers as the Israeli left likes to see them; as a small group of fanatical Jews, at once entirely divorced from the rest of Israeli society and somehow capable of dragging everyone else into a deepening conflict. If Israeli society as a whole does not recognize its complicity in the occupation, it will never end.

“RISING TIDES”— Climate Change and Raging Seas

rising tides

“RISING TIDES”

Climate Change and Raging Seas

Amos Lassen

Having lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, “Rising Tides” is a movie I have been waiting to see. If we just think for a few minutes, the names Katrina, Rita and Sandy quickly pop into our heads— three major storms that our government could nothing about to alleviate the disasters they caused. Perhaps “could” is the wrong word here— it might be more correct to say “did” nothing about or was not prepared to deal with when it should have been. The devastating weather events seem to be becoming more frequent as we move more deeply into the twenty-first century. We see the realities of climate change and seas that are rising more quickly that they can be harnessed. The devastation we have seen is an omen of what we will see if nothing is done.

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Directors J. Lazarus Auerbach and Scott Duthie show us that many coastal communities have been fighting against vanishing coastlines for years with mixed results. Often it has been necessary to leave properties and move entire buildings. Yet, there are conservationists and scientists who feel the coastlines should be left alone for many different reasons.

“Rising Tides”, the documentary film explores and confronts coastline erosion. We see here what has been done in the past, what is being done now and what has worked and what did not as well as what the coastal areas can expect in the future. We see and hear interviews with scientists, experts, nonprofits, homeowners, government officials, and other groups offering possible solutions.

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The documentary was filmed along some of this countries coastlines that are most in danger (Florida, North Carolina and Southern California and in France, the Philippines and India). We hear from scientists, environmentalists, business owners and government officials and we see that there is concurrence about what will happen when glacier melt, thermal expansion of seawater, plate tectonics and man-made erosion have been used.

This is not a film to be taken lightly. By watching it, the viewer can decide what should or should not be done to combat this global threat in our very near future. Those of us who have lived through one of these devastating storms can tell you just how serious all of this is and the first thing to be done is to educate ourselves about all of the possibilities and this documentary is a fine place to begin.

“MY KING”— Remembering Love

my king

“My King”

Remembering Love

Amos Lassen

“My King” is a look at the marriage between two very different people who struggle to define their relationship once the sexual attraction has cooled off. Giorgio (Vincent Cassel) and Tony (Emmanuel Bercot) meet in a Paris nightclub and begin a tumultuous love affair that takes them through courtship, marriage, parenthood, and countless battles to see who is in charge. Giorgio Cassel) is a rich restaurateur who is proud of his many friends. He is handsome and charismatic enough to stand out in a crowded room. Tony is in her 30s and a lawyer who gets a raw deal as their relationship develops over the years. She shares her feelings of inadequacy in bed remembering that her ex-husband criticized her for having a vagina that was too big. Although Tony is not really ready for motherhood, she accedes to Giorgio’s wishes to have a child, and a son is born.

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The main reason for the lack of sex in the marriage is Agnes (Chrystele Saint Louis Augustin), a former lover who is a Vogue model addicted to drugs and continuously feeling sorry for herself. Tony’s younger brother (Louis Garrel) and his girlfriend (Isild Le Besco) have strong opinions about Georgia and they are sometimes in the arguments of the married couple.

We learn about the marriage through Tony and her memories during her stay at a rehabilitation center after injuring her knee in a serious ski accident.

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Giorgio and Tony were unable to have the patience, understanding, and empathy, forgiveness that was needed to sustain their life together in love. After the birth of their child, they divorced but continued to be attracted to one another yet unable to start afresh.

During her pregnancy, Tony and Giorgio argued and fought and Giorgio wants to spend some time alone. An old jealous girlfriend Agnes tries to commit suicide and Giorgio seems more intent on looking after her than he is on Tony and the imminent birth of his son. Several of his business deals failed at the same time. Tony tries to leave him but is always charmed back even though Cassel’s clowning.

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Director Maïwenn uses some fairly simplistic scenes to bring us the story. What is really hard to understand is why Tony remains under Giorgio’s spell and charm. The acting and direction in the film are strong and Bercot won the best actress award for this film at Cannes in 2015.

Maïwenn let her actors use improvisation which is interesting at times. We also get revelations about the characters as the film progresses and cuts between Tony’s memories of her life with Giorgio and her current efforts at a hospital to recover from her skiing accident.

“FATIMA”— Struggling

fatima

“Fatima”

Struggling

Amos Lassen

Fatima (Soria Zeroual) is a divorced woman holding down several menial jobs while trying to raise her two teenage daughters. She emigrated from North Africa to France when she was twenty-years-old and she still struggles to speak enough French to communicate with her own daughters Nesrine (Zita Hanrot) and Souad (Kenza-Noah Aïche), whose lives she is devoted to improving. Nesrine is trying to strike a balance as she studies for her pre-med exams and dates, while the younger and more rebellious Souad is testing her mother’s patience by acting out. Fatima daily faces racism, suspicion, awkwardness, and shame on a daily basis and learns that the perfect outlet for her frustrations is also the best way to tell her daughters how she really feels.

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The film captures the authentic experience of alienation felt by a woman who feels that she doesn’t fully belong in her newly adopted country and whose children have pulled away from their mother and their family’s culture.

“Fatima” looks at the intelligence and fortitude of a woman doing what she can to hold her family together. It does so with quiet dignity. Fatima writes in her diary and as she does we learn of her frustrations, dreams and hopes (recited in voiceover). Unfortunately, she accidentally falls down some stairs at work and breaks her arm, causing her to fight for disability allowance when the pain prevents her from work. She patiently supports her daughters even though they show contempt for the way she does so.

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It moves quietly as it focuses on one daughter to the other and to the mother. Fatima uncomplainingly sells her gold jewelry to raise money and endures daily humiliations. The father (Chawki Amari), a seemingly amiable man who has worked in construction and is fluent in French, meets regularly with the younger daughter.

Fatima understands French, but is shy and embarrassed about using it. The film engages as authentic because it is low-keyed. Everyday struggles, tensions and humiliations affect the three very different immigrant women, each one striving in her own way to find her place in the culture.

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We become very aware of the everyday indignity of being a dark-skinned outsider in a sometimes hostile environment and the awkwardness, suspicion, condescension and fear that is there in everyday interactions between haves and have-nots.

“Fatima” opens in New York on August 26, 2016 and in Los Angeles in September.