Monthly Archives: March 2018

“The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland― Then, Now, Tomorrow” by Gil Troy— Updating Zionism

Troy,Gil. “The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland― Then, Now, Tomorrow”, with an introduction by Natan Sharansky, (JPS Anthologies of Jewish Thought), Jewish Publication Society, 2018.

Updating Zionism

Amos Lassen

Growing up, Arthur Hertzberg’s “The Zionist Idea” was part of my life as I am sure it was with many Young Judaeans. It was until the publishing of Gil Troy’s “The Zionist Ideas” the most comprehensive Zionist collection ever published. But as time marches on, so do ideologies and what was old had to be updated. “The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland—Then, Now, Tomorrow” is the definitive look at the diverse and shared visions for the realization of Israel as a democratic Jewish state. Troy builds on Arthur Hertzberg’s classic, “The Zionist Idea”, Gil and explores the back stories, dreams, and legacies of more than 170 passionate Jewish visionaries (four times the number in Hertzberg and that number includes women, mizrachim, and others.

Troy divides the thinkers into six Zionist schools of thought—Political, Revisionist, Labor, Religious, Cultural, and Diaspora Zionism and by doing so, he reveals “the breadth of the debate and surprising syntheses”. He also introduces these visionaries within three major stages of Zionist development that show the length and evolution of the conversation. Part 1 (pre-1948) introduces the pioneers who founded the Jewish state; those that many f us are so familiar with— Theodore Herzl, A. D. Gordon, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, HaRav Kook, Echad Ha’am, and Henrietta Szold. Part 2 (1948 to 2000) looks at the builders who actualized and modernized the Zionist blueprints, such as Ben-Gurion, Berlin, Meir, Begin, Soloveitchik, Uris, and Kaplan. Part 3 showcases today’s torchbearers, including Barak, Grossman, Shaked, Lau, Yehoshua, and Sacks.

With the addition of these new voices, we have diverse ideologies that reinvigorate the Zionist conversation with the development of the moral, social, and political character of the Jewish state of today and the future.

Troy presents an impressive range of thinkers, from the past and the present, from the left to the right, along with commentary, all of which affirm the enduring moral character of the Zionist idea: the fact that Zionism aside safeguarding the Jewish state, “is anchored in a humanistic ideology of universal resonance.”

Today we  live in a world of Zionist ideas with many different ways to help Israel flourish as a democratic Jewish state. We have a revived Zionist conversation, a renewed Zionist vision and these can help to give us a Jewish state that reaffirms meaning for those already committed to it, while at the same time, addressing the needs of Jews physically separated from their ancestral homeland, as well as those who feel spiritually detached from their people. I believe that a lot of conversation will come out of this book and as we talk about it, we will see, in the words of Natan Sharansky “How lucky we are to have this new book, filled with old-new ideas, Theodor Herzl style, to guide this important and timely conversation.”

Hertzberg gave us a great deal to think about just as Troy does here. It is as if we are bring asked to share a new vision for Jewish nationalism that is due to come into being. Theories of Zionism did not end with the creation of the State of Israel, they continue today. This new book expands our range of vision, as it looks at Zionism in its political, religious, and cultural dimensions as imagined by Zionists both in Israel and the Diaspora. 

Reading this is like being on a tour of Zionist thought that Troy is leading us through as he analyzes Zionism’s evolution from its early ideology as a national movement to its development of its own philosophy that underpins of its own manifestation to the miracle of statehood for the Jewish people.  We look at a diversity of views about an ideology that has actually come to life and we see the maturation of Zionism as part of a vibrant nation.

In 1959 JPS published Arthur Hertzberg’s “The Zionist Idea” and it became the foremost anthology of Zionist literature in the English language, and it was an inspiration for generations of young Jews throughout the Diaspora.

Zionism is also a way of launching ideas about what Judaism means, how Jewish nationalism can inspire us, and what Israel can mean to each of us. We can see Zionism as a framework for “learning more about our past, finding meaning in the present, and building a more inspiring future by working together as a people – and by seeing Israel as a living old-new laboratory for exciting new ideas and meaningful traditional values.”

We see here the power of liberal nationalism as a force for good in the world that galvanizes people to work together through the magic of democratic patriotism. Perhaps the biggest change that we immediately see is in the title of the book, We have moved from the Zionist idea to the Zionist ideas. Now we can attempt to answer the question of what Zionism means to each individual and what does Israel mean to me?” liberal nationalism mean to me?” Free download discussion guides can be found at www.thezionistideas.com.

“ANCHOR AND HOPE”— A Bittersweet Story About Love, Life and Longing

“ANCHOR AND HOPE”

A Bittersweet Story About Love, Life and Longing

Amos Lassen

“Anchor and Hope” is the story of lesbian couple Eva (Oona Chaplin) and Kat (Natalia Tena) whose relationship is put under strain when Kat’s close friend Roger (David Verdaguer) comes to stay. The women live on a houseboat so space is tight. Eva is not best pleased to have the Roger impinging on their space, until she realizes that he can help them have a baby. As the trio embark on a new journey of parenthood, their love and friendship for each other is put to the test.

The film is structured over four chapters with a look at modern love in a fresh way, We watch the three characters as they travel an intense physical and emotional landscape, as the love that binds them together also threatens to tear them apart.

Eva is a 38-year old Salsa teacher desperate to have a child. Her chemistry Kat is totally believable and the way in which she handles her emotions is heart breaking at times. Roger is a serial womanizer who is on a journey of his own as he deals with the prospect of becoming a father. There is also a cameo from Chaplin’s real-life mother Geraldine, who together with Verdaguer, are responsible for the film’s humor.

But what makes this a special film is the screenplay by Carlos Marques-Marcet (who also directed the film) and Jules Nurrish. It takes us on a journey filled with emotions set against a wonderful soundtrack that mixes classics with modern standards. This is a touching film about the things we are prepared to do in the name of love.

The film avoids sweet romanticism as it raises the question not only of what forms today’s families can take, as well as how complicated it is to make decisions when there are two or more people involved. They women talk about having a child without thinking that a decision like this has inescapable consequences for the future, will have major ramifications for these women, because each one has a totally different outlook on life. Family as an institution is questioned here and it is so done without championing of any kind of alternative, free of prejudice and clichés. The director seems to be telling us that the decision to procreate should not be a dramatic one, and that there are no clear answers to the impulses that lie behind parenthood. He doesn’t dramatize the conflict and we see the relationships between his leading trio in a playful atmosphere. “Anchor and Hope” is a small but a very special film.

NEW LGBTQ FILM STREAMING SERVICE LAUNCHED BY BREAKING GLASS PICTURES AND NAKEDSWORD FILM WORKS


NEW LGBTQ FILM STREAMING SERVICE LAUNCHED BY BREAKING GLASS PICTURES AND NAKEDSWORD FILM WORKS

Qreel Proclaims “Life is Queer, Watch it Here” with
Introduction of Video on Demand Platform

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Philadelphia, PA (March 26, 2018) — Breaking Glass Pictures and NakedSword Film Works today announced the launch of the premiere LGBTQ streaming service Qreel (pronounced “Q-reel”).

Qreel (http://www.qreel.com) is a new LGBTQ video streaming service dedicated to telling the intricate and compelling stories of our lives, Qreel offers high-quality content for everyone in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer community. From award-winning features to captivating documentaries and progressive short films, Qreel provides a vast and constantly expanding library of queer cinema that will make you love, laugh, cry, think, and celebrate the queer world around you.

“We are so proud to be partnering with NSFW on this exciting new venture”, said Rich Wolff, CEO of Breaking Glass Pictures. “Since our beginnings in 2009, Breaking Glass Pictures has been fully committed to the wide spectrum of LGBTQ films. We are always looking for new and creative projects that tell a story and represent every facet of the LGBTQ community. This new venture is poised to be a huge step forward in bringing these stories to a new generation of viewers. Qreel will be the ultimate “go to” streaming site for all things queer.”

Qreel is a passion project from the trailblazing and globally-connected film distribution company Breaking Glass Pictures (BGP), and NakedSword Film Works (NSFW), a producer and curator of LGBTQ features and shorts founded by innovative adult entertainment giants NakedSword and Falcon Studios. These pioneering and imaginative companies have come together to provide you with a new way to experience the best in LGBTQ cinema.

“Ever since NakedSword Film Works produced I Want Your Love and we saw the popularity of the NSFW section on NakedSword.com, I wanted to develop a streaming video platform dedicated to offering our community powerful and engaging entertainment,” states Tim Valenti, NakedSword Network and Falcon Studios President. “Working with Breaking Glass Pictures on Seed Money: The Story of Chuck Holmes and learning more about their library of content, it was clear that they were a perfect partner to launch this site. Qreel.com is only the beginning. Our vision is to build Qreel into a vast media network and become the best LGBTQ entertainment media distribution service.”

Breaking Glass Pictures and NakedSword Film Works first partnered to bring the “salacious, poignant, and inspiring” (Queerty) documentary Seed Money: The Story of Chuck Holmes, the story surrounding the rise and tragic end of the founder and figurehead of Falcon Studios. Seed Money will be available upon the launch of Qreel.com alongside over 100 other titles encompassing a mix of award-winning foreign and domestic LGBT features and shorts.

Subscriptions cost $9.95/month or $79.95/year. Cancel anytime.
www.qreel.com

ABOUT BREAKING GLASS PICTURES
Founded in 2009 by industry veterans Rich Wolff and Richard Ross, Breaking Glass Pictures is a film distribution and media company that focuses on releasing unique and visionary independent films, inclusive of all genres, from around the world. In addition to theatrical, DVD, digital, and Video-on-Demand releases in North America, Breaking Glass functions as an international sales agent in all film markets, a producer of compelling independent cinema, facilitates festival, theatrical, and special event bookings, and offers a full-service marketing team (marketing strategy, artwork and trailer creation, PR, social media) to independent filmmakers.

ABOUT NAKEDSWORD NETWORK
The NakedSword Network, founded by Tim Valenti in 1999, is a collection of award-winning gay entertainment brands including NakedSword.com, NakedSword Originals, TheSword.com and NakedSword Film Works (NSFW). Called “The Netflix of Gay Porn,” NakedSword.com is one of the most popular gay adult video membership sites offering fans over 20,000 scenes from over 200 independent gay porn producers. NakedSword Originals, the network’s content production house, creates acclaimed gay porn features available on NakedSword.com as well as on DVD. The network’s hugely popular blog, TheSword.com, covers everything gay, sex and life, and NakedSword Film Works (NSFW) curates erotically charged gay short films at NSFilmWorks.com. The brands of the NakedSword Network are continually focused on presenting the best gay adult content across its multiple platforms and pioneering innovations in the distribution of that content.

 

“WOKE”— Looking at Masculinity

“WOKE”

Looking at Masculinity

Amos Lassen

“Woke” (“Les Engages”) is about Hicham (Mehdi Meskar), a handsome gay Muslim living in Lyon. At 22, he can no longer bear the closet. He strikes out on his own to find Thibaut (Éric Pucheu), a LGBT-rights activist whom he once “almost” kissed.

Thibaut lives his life in the open. In the afternoons, he is an activist at the LGBT center. He spends his recreational time hanging out at local bathhouses.

Les Engagés

While Hicham longs to belong, the gender fluidity, celebratory sexuality that Thibaut personifies scares him. If you want to know if the two men ever get together, you’ll just have to watch the film.

“JOHN FROM”— The Logic of Passion

“John From”

The Logic of Passion

Amos Lassen

Portuguese director João Nicolau’s “John From” explores the theme of obsession. 15-year-old Rita (Julia Palha) becomes interested in her new neighbor, a photographer who is setting up an exhibit of his shots in Melanesia. What starts as a game turns into a blazing crush and Rita can’t distinguish between reality and fantasy anymore.

The neighbor, Filipe (Filipe Vargas), is much older than Rita who sees him as an adventurer and her mind slowly slips away into the world of unrestrained imagination.

The film eventually morphs into a surreal and exotic fantasy while keeping its charms and candidness intact. It is an idiosyncratic portrait of maturing and sexual awakening and the partial loss of innocence.

Rita’s best friend is Sara (Clara Riedenstein) and they share a “secret language”. Rita builds a little tropical paradise on her balcony as a way of escaping the boredom of that summer. Rita learns of an exhibition in remote Melanesia and this is when everything changes: the exotic and supernatural take over her life. She also discovers that the photos being exhibited were taken by her new neighbor.

What we see is the radiance of youth and the surprising effects of one’s first love (something we only get once in our lives). The film is a charming and candid fairy tale which infects the viewer with its cheerfulness and innocence.

“JASPER JONES”— Childhood Dreams, Small Town Secrets

“Jasper Jones”

Childhood Dreams, Small Town Secrets

Amos Lassen

Rachel Perkins directed this engrossing and enthralling adaptation of Craig Silvey’s iconic Australian coming of age novel, “Jasper Jones”. It takes us back to a time when childhood dreams were all about courage, adventures, discovering the unknown, keeping secrets and making bonds for life. Set in Corrigan in the 1960s, we meet Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller) who escapes the town by reading Mark Twain and engaging in heated superhero arguments with his best friend, Jeffery Lu (Kevin Long). One night Charlie’s dreams are shattered by a tap on the window from Jasper Jones (Aaron L. McGrath), a Corrigan outcast and who leads Charlie into the woods where the dead body of Jasper’s girlfriend Laura is hanging from a tree.

Jasper is in a panic convinced that his reputation and mixed-race will see him convicted of the crime which he says he didn’t do. Charlie believes him and agrees to help him track down the real perpetrator.

Jasper reached out to Charlie because they are both outsiders struggling to find their places. As the police start to investigate Laura’s disappearance elements of small town politics are exposed as is Corrigan’s racism that is ingrained and at times deliberate.

Charlie feels that he has the weight of the town on his shoulders, and constantly looks like he will give out from the pressure of what he knows. Miller perfectly captures this conflicted nature. Charlie’s own relentless investigation leads him into conflict with both his mother (Toni Collette) and Mad Jack Lionel (Hugo Weaving), a local scary recluse with a gun on the porch and a car in the garden. Jasper finds some much needed emotional support from his father, played quietly by Dan Wyllie.

Mark Wareham’s cinematography captures both the beauty and the danger of the bush. As we follow Charlie and Jasper into the woods or creeping into Mad Jacks’ house, you feel like you are one of the gang, holding your breath with your heart pounding in your chest.

“Jasper Jones” captures the immediacy, all-consuming and breathlessly magnified nature of childhood discoveries and adventures. The film was adapted from a coming-of-age Craig Silvey novel, this 2017 Australian blend of coming-of-age film and mystery.

“THE RAILWAY CHILDREN”— The Film of the Stage Version

 

“The Railway Children”

The Film of the Stage Version

Amos Lassen

Edith Nesbit’s story of three children who help save a steam train from derailing and causing death and serious injury is as magical, charming and popular as it was when it was first written more than 100 years ago. Since then the book has been adapted for film and TV and now it has once gain been adapted for the screen with a film of the award winning stage version and that is just that, a film of what you see on the stage.

The lives of siblings Phyllis, Peter and Bobbie Waterbury change dramatically one day when some mysterious men take their father away. They children are forced to pack up and leave London with their mother and go to a cottage in rural Yorkshire and it is here that their adventures begin.

The acting is excellent especially from the three children— Beth Lilly as Phyllis, Rozzi Nicholson-Lailey as Bobbie and Izaak Cainer as Peter. But the real star of the show is the train that steams onto the stage. 

The play was filmed at The National Railway Museum in York, England. This is a children’s story about a family trying to adapt to life in their new Yorkshire home after their father is falsely accused of spying.Everybody is nice and very little happens; yet it has lasted over a century.

Mike Kenny’s stage adaptation is done with imagination and we see why see why it has been a hit on stage but it is all a bit much on the screen, lots of adult actors pretending to be posh kids bellowing at each other across short distances, being plucky in the face of adversity.

The production means you can see the front rows of the audience and it is noticeable that the grown-ups seem much more enthused than the kids.

The plot follows the story of Roberta (Bobbie), Peter and Phyllis, three sheltered siblings who suffer a huge upheaval when their father, who works for the Foreign Office, is taken away from their London home and (falsely) imprisoned.  The children and their mother, now penniless, are forced to move from London to rural Yorkshire near a railway line.  The story deals with themes of justice, the importance of family and the kindness of strangers.

It was filmed with seven cameras by an expert team, who navigate the unique staging including moving platforms, props and rail carts, the film captures every moment of the fast-paced production. It is important to distinguish between a film and a filmed stage version. I found this to be absolutely charming.

“ARE WE NOT CATS”— Restarting a Life

“Are We Not Cats”

Restarting Life

Amos Lassen

Eli (Michael Patrick Nicholson) has hit the bottom. Within only just a few hours, he becomes homeless, jobless and dumped. What he needs is new start.

Eli was essentially homeless and sleeping in the delivery van that was his only source of income. He gets a job delivering an engine to a small upstate town that will at least keep him afloat for a few months where he meets Kyle (Michael Godere) who is having the engine put in his car. Eli gives Kyle a ride home and then Kyle takes Eli to an underground party in an abandoned warehouse space where he meets Kyle’s girlfriend Anya (Chelsea Lopez) who seems to be really hip.

Eli takes a job where Kyle works and when Kyle has to leave on a trip, Eli keeps Anya company while he’s away. At first she is firm about keeping things on a friendship level; the two have a lot in common and seem comfortable with each other but both of them are hiding something;’ We learn that Eli suffers from trichotillomania (a compulsion for pulling out one’s own hair) while Anya has trichophagia (a compulsion to eat human hair). We discover that Anya has been wearing a wig the whole time and is nearly bald from yanking out of her own hair and eating it. The two eventually have sex and while Eli sleeps Anya eats hair and both of them look like radiation victim.

One of the consequences of trichophagia is that it can create massive hairballs in the intestines and block the normal digestive process and this is what happens to Anya. Being that she lives in the middle of nowhere, no help can arrive for hours so a distraught Eli realizes he has to perform surgery on her himself.

I am reviewing the film not writing the screenplay and I know this all sounds a bit ridiculous and yes it is ridiculous. However, Eli and Anya are almost stereotypical Millenials. Actually, the whole film is an allegory for what it is to be from that generation; the characters have nowhere to go, nothing to do and are bored out of their minds.

Nicholson and Lopez are actors who obviously don’t mind taking chances. The scene of the home surgery home surgery is fairly bloody and visceral and it may upset viewers. There is a kind of absurdist humor that’s going on during it and that does lighten the mood considerably and in fact the whole situation is kind of abstract.

The landscapes are pretty bleak here and most of the movie feels grimy and post-apocalyptic even though it’s clear that society continues to function in the movie. Unfortunately the story feels disjointed and confusing and even though we know that there is a degree of nihilism present in modern society, it is not as much as we see here. However, as an allegory for how millennials are viewed it is edgy and at least tries to take a few chances.

There is also plenty profanity, sexuality, some disturbing images as well as a fair amount of drug use.This is definitely not your typically love story and I admire the nerve that it took to take a distinctly unusual premise and building an unconventional film around it; one that challenges conventions about storytelling and character. The special effects are “practical, disgusting, and very well done.”

“Are We Not Cats” is “a hair-pulling winner”. Bonus features include commentary from director Xander Robin, deleted scenes, slide show and more!

“Becoming Barbra” by Bill Eppridge— Photos of a Star

Eppridge, Bill. “Becoming Barbra”, Rizzoli, 2018,

Photos of a Star

Amos Lassen

“Becoming Barbra” is a  never-before-seen look at Barbra Streisand when she was a star in the making by award-winning photographer Bill Eppridge who had full access to her. There are photographs of Streisand’s beginnings in 1963 to her stardom in 1966. The photos were taken by renowned Life magazine photographer Bill Eppridge. He photographed Streisand shopping in a thrift shop; trying on outfits in her apartment; there are pictures of a Streisand appearance on the “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” which was then live from New York. We see Streisand meeting with Broadway producer David Merrick who wanted her for the starring role in Broadway’s “Funny Girl”, which took her up to celebrity status.

By the time Eppridge met Streisand in 1966, she was already a star— the film of “Funny Girl” had just wrapped, CBS had signed her to star in three television specials, five of her albums had gone gold and one platinum, and she had received three Grammys and an Emmy. Eppridge photographed Streisand throughout her rehearsals and recording sessions, then went to Paris where he covered her at fashion shows with Marlene Dietrich and Coco Chanel, and captured a Richard Avedon shoot of her for French Vogue.

The photographs say a great deal without uttering a word; they are “vivid, candid, and a truly intriguing and unprecedented look at the beginnings of Streisand’s career”. This is “an intimate photo album by a master photographer of one of the most talented performers of our time.

‪”SHELTER”— A New Identity

‪”SHELTER” (”Mistor”)

A New Identity

Amos Lassen‬‪ ‬

Mossad agent Naomi who had taken sick leave is called back from sick leave and assigned to a “babysitting” job. Now, under a new identity, she goes to Germany to protect Mona, a beautiful Lebanese informant, whom special agents have taken from her country and hidden her in a Hamburg safe house while she recovers from plastic surgery. Naomi soon learns that Mona is very close to a top Hezbollah leader, a man who she betrayed and who is now determined to revenge. During the two weeks the women spend together, they develop a bond that neither expected and it is based on the shared dangers, risks and understanding of loss. But in this high-stakes game of deception, questions of fate may be out of their control.

We see the two women secluded in a lonely apartment for their protection and each is determined to survive. Writer/director Eran Riklis shows the intimacy and tension of the relationship between the two women. The film is both a psychological thriller and an action movie. Thee two women are separated by almost everything in their personal biographies and yet have a great deal to share with personal traumas. Women fighting in the secret wars have no easy time and it is interesting that Riklis chose that idea for a film.

 

While the intentions and premises are interesting, it took me a while to settle into the plot. Naomi (Neta Riskin) and Mona (Golshifteh Farahani) are fine actresses and their chemistry is excellent throughout. They fill their roles as victims of terror and power that come together in the middle of the great game of the world powers in a small apartment in Hamburg. For two weeks, Naomi must protect Mona against the Lebanese revenge; against the games of the Germans and the Americans ,and the Mossad.

Riklis plays with the rules of genre film and he varies them, plays with expectation and surprise, and above all keeps his film’s tension. Naomi who was already out, on-leave for two years, is reactivated for a small job and she does not even need a gun. Mona sits in Hamburg, having had cosmetic surgery to make at least outwardly another person. But the phone rings, even though nobody knows the number. On the balcony opposite is someone in a red jacket who just might be watching her. She is suspicious of the kiosk operator and of a new neighbor and the janitor. Over and over, the film jumps to the Mossad or to the headquarters of the Lebanese Liberation army, a terrorist organization.

There is a sense of mistrust between Naomi and Mon but there is also the compulsion to be together. Why did Mona betray Lebanon to the Israelis? Riklis gives us scraps of information creating suspense. When the viewer has to know something, when he needs to know more, when he shares the non-knowledge with the characters. Say: when he has to share the mistrust with the characters. This creates a great suspense not only from the characters with their different, often unclear goals, but also because at the same time this threatens the Middle East, where at any time everything can change, coalitions, appointments, diplomatic and intelligence missions.

Riklis cleverly uses the reality of world politics to underpin his thriller. Paranoia is always an excellent basis for a suspense film and if that paranoia is based on reality, then the cinematic thrill comes very close to real danger.

“SHELTER” will open in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre, Monica Film Center and Town Center 5 on April 6. Other cities will follow.‬