Category Archives: Film

“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

microwave massacre

“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

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“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

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“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

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“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.

“A MONSTER WITH A THOUSAND HEADS”— Health Insurance

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“A Monster with a Thousand Heads” (“Un monstruo de mil cabezas”)

Health Insurance

Amos Lassen

“A Monster With A Thousand Heads” begins with a late night medical emergency. A father, Guillermo (Memo), is ill and in need of care. As the film moves from home to hospital and back, we understand that this middle-class Mexican family is struggling to obtain the best course of treatment. Standing in their way and of which they have no control is a faceless, compassionless insurance firm that is intent on burying their claim in red tape.

Guillermo’s wife Sonia (Jana Raluy) refuses to take no for an answer and went about forcing the company to reconsider the case. She finds herself having to take drastic, desperate and dangerous steps in order to try and secure approval for her husband’s treatment. The stakes balloon higher and higher and the tension become more intense as the action unfolds in near real time.

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We are very aware of the plight of the struggling family and its limited access to healthcare as well as how well the elite that run the health system live and the protections and access afforded them are well drawn. What we see is total and relentless.

Sonia refuses to tolerate a broken healthcare system that doesn’t allow life-saving medical care to be provided for her ailing husband, Memo (Daniel Cubillo). She’s is very, very angry and rightfully so. With a gun hidden in her purse, she drags along her teenage son, Dario (Sebastián Aguirre), to the hospital to try to confront Dr. Villalba (Hugo Albores) who’s been ignoring her phone calls. She even goes to his home to wait for him there before displaying the gun to him when he refuses to help her husband who can die at any minute without the much-needed treatment that her current health insurance doesn’t cover. All she needs is to have the treatment approved as part of the health coverage, but that takes more than one signature as it turns out, so she goes up through the chain of command in the healthcare system to get what she wants without being afraid to use her gun.

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It is easy for us to empathize with Sonia. We might not agree with the way she acts but we certainly agree with the principal. We feel her anger, pain and desperation. She is a woman pushed to the edge by bureaucracy and an indifferent society. Her husband has cancer but the insurance company refuses to provide the medicine that he needs to ease his pain and perhaps reduce the tumor. Having been unable to reach the doctor in charge on the telephone, she goes to the offices of the company with her teenage son Dario but no one is interested in her case.

The receptionist is obstructive; the doctor (Hugo Albores) doesn’t want to know and as a voiceover of a trial plays over the action and we understand that something has occurred, or is going to. On following the doctor to his home, Sonia pulls a gun on him and his wife. She is determined to see her husband’s case reviewed and she resolutely takes it up the chain to the higher echelons of the company all the way to the CEO, Dr. Sandoval (Emilio Echeverría). Sandoval looks for a way to quiet Sonia and reveals documents that show his company has purposefully denied care as a way of making money and have told doctors to reject claims and ignoring rules.

Sonia is well aware that she is going to jail for her actions but she persists in having the documents printed and a deal between her and the company signed which will see the medicine released to her husband in return for her not publishing the evidence of malfeasance.

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What we see is that everyone is a potential witness and we are all participants (the thousand heads of the monster) to a society that treats the vulnerable unjustly, but it won’t be that society which is on trial. Sonia appears in the margins of the screen as someone who needs to be holding a gun before she is noticed, or taken seriously. Raluy plays Sonia without hysterics but filled with pragmatic fury. She retains her humanity throughout her ordeal.

The title suggests a health insurance industry that has run amuck with bad faith and unstoppable corruption. However, it might also be about Sonia as a Medusa-like figure who sets off a change of events that is violent and involves her teenaged son. There are many sad stories about caregivers being given the runaround by health insurance companies whose goal is making money, not helping patients. This, however, revolves around a woman whose husband is dying and needs an expensive drug in order to survive. When she finds out that their insurance company will not cover the treatment, her righteous indignation is aroused, along with a zeal to move beyond her feelings of helplessness.

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The film is based on a novel by Laura Santullo who also wrote the screenplay. This is an engrossing and taut drama that should touch many with its critical portrait of corporate malfeasance in the health insurance business. Sonia is a very sympathetic character, which makes it possible for us to empathize with her plight and her determination to save her husband’s life, no matter what it takes. The film raises many important ethical questions about greed, incivility, lying, cover-ups, and indifference to human suffering.

“THE PROFESSOR: TAI CHI’S JOURNEY WEST”— A Tai Chi Master

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“THE PROFESSOR: TAI CHI’S JOURNEY WEST”

A Tai Chi Master

Amos Lassen

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese form of exercise that is practiced daily for relaxation, health, harmony, flexibility, and personal renewal. It is grounded in Chinese philosophy and culture and is both a spiritual practice and a way of life designed to achieve balance in mind, body and spirit.

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Barry Strugatz’s new documentary focuses on Cheng Man-Ching (1902 – 1975), a Tai Chi master who brought Tai Chi to America in 1962 when he was 60 and set up a Tai Chi school in New York City’s Chinatown. There he taught practitioners the slow, controlled movements to improve the flow of “chi” (the life energy which is the source of movement and vitality). Among his were Ed Young, an award-winning illustrator; Maggie Newman, a modern dancer; Stanley Israel, a prison guard and union president; Ken Van Sickle, a photographer and filmmaker; and Robert Chuckrow, a physicist and they share their feelings about Tai Chi. Many of Man- Ching”s followers had been hippies and countercultural American youth during the 1960s.

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Cheng Man-Ching taught a program lasting nine-months program that shortened Tai Chi practice from 108 to 37 essential postures. He was able to apply tai chi to calligraphy, brushwork, relationships, and the seasons.

Although members of New York’s Chinese community criticized Cheng Man-Ching for teaching the “secrets” of Tai Chi to Americans, this did not stop him and kept on sharing this practice until returning to Taiwan and working on a book. He died there in 1975 after teaching in the United States for 12 years. Included in the film is vintage footage of Cheng Man-Ching’s exercises and demonstrations of Tai Chi thus giving us a clear personal portrait of him.

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DVD Extras include Cheng Man-Ching performs his 37 Movement Form • The Origin of Tai Chi • Medical Science & Tai Chi: Interview with Peter M. Wayne, PhD, Harvard Medical School.

“How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change”— A Documentary

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“How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change”

A Documentary

Amos Lassen

Documentarian Josh Fox travels all over the world to meet with global climate change “warriors” who are committed to reversing the tide of global warming. This documentary looks at the intricately woven forces that threaten the stability of the planet and the lives of its inhabitants. While Fox looks at the damage from possibly the greatest threat the world has ever faced, he also finds reasons for hope and we see how people around the world are taking action to protect their communities. Featured in the film are songs by The Beatles, Radiohead, Kate Bush, Angelique Kidjo and the Tune-Yards. Director Fox says that music is extremely important in all of his films, but especially so in this one. For Fox, music means love.

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Josh Fox happened to notice that his favorite Hemlock tree was dying from a parasite that has been advancing up the East Coast due to warmer winters because of human-induced climate change. That observation, together with the destruction from Hurricane Sandy, was Fox’s wake-up call and he knew that even if he could save his tree, a bigger war was yet to be fought against global warming.

Fox traveled to 12 countries on six continents and discovered that, while it may be too late to stop the worst consequences of climate change, there are sources of good news that must be strengthened and supported. We see him thinking intently about the

effects of continued global warming, such as rising sea levels, record droughts, super-storms, dying coral reefs, species extinction, food insecurity and increased conflicts over limited resources. He decides to begin a journey to visit both leaders and everyday citizens as he searches for meaning and the things worth fighting for. He interviews climate scientists, experts and activists including: environmental analyst Lester Brown, founder of Worldwatch Institute; Ella Chou, an expert on energy in both China and the U.S.; attorney and environmental activist Van Jones; Elizabeth Kolbert, author of “The Sixth Extinction”; Michael Mann, a climatologist and geophysicist at Penn State University; Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org; and Petra Tschakert, a professor of earth and environment at the University of Western Australia. He was well aware of the

scientific predictions about negative impacts in the near future as well as the testimony of individuals in communities suffering from climate change today and as a result he asks, “What is it that climate change can’t destroy? What is so deep within us that no calamity can take it away?” He tells us that the ideals of resilience, innovation, democracy and community are among the ideals that we must work towards in order for us to deal with the challenges that are yet to come. People in such diverse places as China, Africa, the Amazon, the Pacific and the U.S. are relying on these very qualities and basic civic values in their ongoing battles to save the planet and those who live on it.

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The film is a poetic journey by Mr. Fox who has the air of a modern day missionary, spreading his teachings to grateful natives in five continents. Sometimes he even listened to the natives — no matter what nonsense they espoused. Fox listened to various peoples in various places and heard their stories. Some of the stories are quite wild—a tribe told him that they are descended from jaguars. Another believed that everything on the planet — every animal, every tree, and every leaf — has a spirit. Fox concluded that no amount of nonsense that comes from a colorfully dressed native should ever, ever be questioned. They are special. After all, what compelled Fox was the discovery that a tree he planted as a child was being destroyed by a beetle.

Fox takes us through a list of extreme weather caused by climate change including the polar vortex shift that had led to the “extremely cold” record-breaking winters in Boston and New York in 2010 and 2011. Climate change is causing both extremely mild and extremely cold winters in the same place. Throughout the film it was case of different continents and there were the same contradictions.

Even before the film starts, we are bombarded with doom before spending the following hour and half on an uneven and unconvincingly uplifting tour of those who are still trying to tackle climate change. This seems to be Fox’s personal crusade – this time sparked by a tree that he’d helped rear as a child being blighted by pests thriving in warmer winters – to speak to leading experts, capturing testimonies on a variety of cameras with the image quality shifting dramatically between one interview and the next, not to mention a barrage of news clippings and simulation videos that pop up between them to illustrate various ominous points. The film, in that aspect, is like a patchwork quilt. There are moments that the film is particularly moving like when we see and hear from those who were devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

Fox meets a group of representatives from various Pacific Islands who have banded together as the ‘Climate Warriors’ and attempt to disrupt coal transport from the Australian port of Newcastle by blocking the exit with flotilla of kayaks and dinghies led by a hard-carved wooden raft. These episodes however do not come together to form a cogent whole and there is little sense of what exactly Fox is aiming to achieve. He states his intention outright; to “find the people who’d found this place of despair and got back up” but the film loses that idea.

To save human life ad civilization we must first save our planet by making radical, wholesale changes to modern society in the next three to four years. However Fox does not mention this. Late on he is told a total societal collapse will perhaps be humanity’s chance to refocus something Fox should have done to his film. He has a lot of good things to say but we lose track of them with everything else going on.

We see explosive montages of devastation, intercut with terse warnings from environmentalists that drive home the agonizing truth that it’s too late and we are heading toward a nightmare. The journey takes him from Iceland to Samoa, into areas where “intoxicating beauty” is endangered, and idealists take pleasure in their battles.

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Fox’s discovery of “things climate can’t change,” from resilience and innovation to love, leads him to an epiphany and he gives us a hopeful resolution that not everybody will buy especially after sitting for two plus hours where we are told that there is really nothing that we can do.

At first, Fox was overwhelmed by the number of scientific studies on a wide range of intensely investigated environmental issues that predicted the end of time. He did give up and set out to understand all of this.

The timely documentary debuts MONDAY, JUNE 27 (9:00-11:10 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO. Other HBO playdates: June 30 (8:20 a.m., 5:15 p.m.). HBO2 playdates: June 29 (8:00 p.m.).