Monthly Archives: July 2018

“OPERATION FINALE”— Finding Eichmann

“Operation Finale”

Finding Eichmann

Amos Lassen

Fifteen years after World War II, a team of secret agents comes together to track down Adolf Eichmann, the infamous Nazi architect of the Holocaust. It was Eichmann who organized the transport of Jews from countries all over Europe to concentration camps where millions were murdered. After the war, he fled to his home country of Austria and then moved to Argentina. The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad uncovered the whereabouts of the infamous Nazi in 1960, and teams of Mossad and Shin Bet agents staged a raid to capture the war criminal and brought him to Israel to face crimes against humanity and the Jewish people. He was sentenced to hang and was executed in 1962 and remained unrepentant all the way to noose. This is the story of the manhunt for one of the most diabolical war criminals of the 20th century.

Ben Kingsley plays Eichmann and Oscar Isaac is Peter Malkin, the Mossad member and head of a group of Israeli spies who took him down. Eichmann had murdered Malkin’s sister and her children so he had his own personal interest in capturing the man. He was sentenced and executed by hanging. Writer, humanitarian and Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal was instrumental in finding the location of Eichmann. The reaction of the world to the entire affair was as different as can be imagined and debates took place about Israel’s right to extradite and try the man for crimes against humanity. Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” and her theory of the banality of evil both hurt and helped her career as a political philosopher and perhaps even tarnished her reputation as one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century.

In the newly released trailer, we see Eichmann supervising the mass murder of hundreds of concentration camp prisoners, then defending his actions in a voiceover,  “You have no interest in what I have to say,” he says. “Unless it confirms what you think you already know. My job was simple: save the country I love from being destroyed. Is your job any different?”

Chris Weitz directed the drama from Matthew Orton’s screenplay about the capture of Eichmann, who organized the transport of Jews from all over Europe to concentration camps, where an estimated 6 million people were killed.

In the same trailer, Isaac’s Peter Malkin is warned,” If you succeed, for the first time in our history, we will judge our executioner… If you fail, he escapes justice, perhaps forever. I beg of you, do not fail.”

The film also stars Lior Raz, Melanie Laurent, Nick Kroll, Joe Alwyn, Haley Lu Richardson, Michael Aronov, Ohad Knoller, Greg Hill, Torben Liebrecht, Mike Hernandez, Greta Scacchi and Pêpê Rapazote. “Operation Finale” opens in theaters on August 24, 2018.

“BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB”— Based on a True Story

“Billionaire Boys Club”

Based on a True Story

Amos Lassen

Billionaire Boys Club tells the true story about Joe Hunt (Ansel Elgort), an ambitious entrepreneur who join forces with tennis pro Dean Karny (Taron Egerton) to establish an investment-and-social club known as the BBC in 1983. They gain some financial assistance from some of their wealthy former classmates and their get-rich-quick “investment” scam quickly becomes the talk of the social scene in Los Angeles.

However, things get out of hand when Ron Levin (Kevin Spacey), a Beverly Hills con artist who made a huge investment on the BBC turns out to be a total fraud. “Billionaire Boys Club” has an excellent young cast is thankfully blessed with a top-notch young cast but Kevin Spacey steals most of the show in a supporting slithery role.

Director James Cox manages his ensemble cast well even though his direction is nothing special. The young guys are lucky to be a part of the swinging social scene of Los Angeles. Hunt creates

“The Paradox Theory” in which bad can be good, and lines can be crossed once a perspective is changed and it does not take long before the Billionaire Boys Club is running a disarmingly straightforward Ponzi scheme, using funds from new investors to pay off old ones and support a lifestyle of sex, drugs and expensive living.

After a rocky start that attempts to cover too much ground, the movie settles down and becomes a passable version of a true-crime saga but it could have been so much better. The plot involves a lot of panicked decisions are not always the best decisions. When the Ponzi scheme crashes the focus of the movie changes and I cant share that with you so you will just have to see for yourselves.

This is simply a generic rise-and-fall movie that does nothing to elevate itself or differentiate itself. The characters are bland, the dialogue is wooden and even the best actors can’t do much with the plot. I understand that the film was finished before Spacey’s scandal.

“Billionaire Boys Club” is an entertaining film but not more than that.

“RETABLO”— A Peruvian Coming-of-Age Story

“Retablo”

A Peruvian Coming-of-Age Story

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio L. takes us to Peru where the beautiful landscape hides an intolerant and ugly undercurrent. The people that live in the rural villages of Peru are seen as having reactionary and religiously motivated attitudes towards same sex relationships. This is something fourteen-year-old Segundo (Junior Béjar Roca) finds out the hard way.

Segundo is training to follow in the footsteps of his artisan father Noe, (Amiel Cayo), a man whose artfully crafted story-boxes have earned him the undying respect of numerous Peruvian mountain communities. He may be a father to Segundo, but the townsfolk all unanimously refer to him as “maestro” or “master” without a lick of irony. On the drive to a community celebration, thanking the father and son team for a story-box they made, Segundo witnesses his dad in the midst of a sexual act with another man and his entire world falls Segundo is going through puberty in a toxically masculine landscape, where his father is the only role model worth looking up to. He slowly begins to realize that he has more in common with his dad than initially realized and this something which is going to cause considerable trouble.

The film is a visual feast. Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio L. and cinematographer Mario Bassino use long takes throughout the entire film, mainly focusing on characters staring in to the distance before we see what they see. From the beginning we are made aware of the father’s considerable attention to detail and the long shots evidence this. In the second half the focus is on Segundo’s coming to terms with the life altering sex act he saw and it’s here this motif changes. We see his gaze struggle to permanently fix in any direction like it did before thus giving the suggestion that he is trying to ignore a reality he can’t alter.

This is an emotionally brutal tale of self-realization that depicts the terror of a closeted life for people of different generations and it is haunting. The relationship between 14-year-old Segundo and his artisan father is the main point. They are isolated in the rural mountains of Peru and pass their time creating retablos of important families in the nearby city. The first ten minutes of this film are a study in mutual father-son love as both males hone their craft.

The delivery of the retablos that hint at the film’s conflict. The son first notices his father getting carried away with the celebrations in town and coming home drunk. Then he witnesses something that he can never forget and fractures within his close-knit family and society erupt and threaten to destabilize everything the boy knows.

Just the intricate artwork of the retablos and the insights into a Peruvian cultural tradition make this film worthy of seeing alone but then there is also the dynamic relationship between father and son artisans that that is going to face very difficult times.

“Munbai Matinee” by Ajay Kaul— Mumbai Through Stories

Kaul. Ajay. “Mumbai Matinee”, CreateSpace, 2017.

Mumbai Through Stories

Amos Lassen

The eight interconnected stories of Ajay Kaul’s “Mumbai Matinee” show the life and culture around the city of Mumbai. Ajay who comes from North India had no idea of what to expect when he moved to urban Mumbai. The culture shock of the dynamic city takes getting used to. He’s captivated, though, and soon falls in love with Mumbai and its many inhabitants. In is the city where he will find love, friendship, and community yet he is aware that there is also danger and the threat of disaster.

It all began in 1993, when Ajay came to Mumbai on a short assignment. He was quickly pulled into the shock wave of the 1993 serial bombings. Despite a brush with death, Ajay was determined to learn the secrets of the city.

After graduation, he came back and found new stories in the city’s streets. Ajay met an interfaith couple that taught him about the power of love, a local labor leader who was more than he seemed, and an acting teacher. He also had troubling experiences and there was one that pushed him beyond his comfort zone and taught him to love his adopted city and all it had to offer.

While this is a memoir, it is also a guide to Indian philosophy and a look at how the corporate world affects society. We really become aware of how much Mumbai has grown of late and we also get a peek at the impact of global terrorism and violence on this notoriously peaceful center of our planet (as seen through Ajay’s eyes). This also happens to be one of those books in which you feel the presence of the author throughout— so much so that I was surprised he was not sitting opposite me when I looked up. (Yes I know that is an exaggeration).

I really enjoyed reading about how the was able to bring the ancient customs into the modern world. In effect, Ajay introduces us to India and he does so with enthusiasm. It was really enlightening for me since I know nothing about India. The short stories might be fiction but they are based on Ajay’s real experiences and each one is a gem.

Because Ajay was living in Mumbai during some of the terrorist bombings, his descriptions of the dangers and the joy of watching people help each other during the danger really brings terrorism home.

Ajay’s memoir is memoir well written and fascinating. One of the wonderful things about reading is that we learn so much and here in just 200 pages I found myself becoming familiar with a place I had never been or even read about. I truly enjoyed Ajay’s observations and descriptions and I look forward to reading more by him. As I said earlier, the stories are interconnected but the characters are not. I am sure that this is intentional as I believe jay wanted to show a city with many different personalities and how they often disappear. Such is life.

 

 

 

“90s Bitch: Media, Culture, and the Failed Promise of Gender Equality” by Allison Yarrow— Overcoming “Bitchification”

Yarrow, Allison. “90s Bitch: Media, Culture, and the Failed Promise of Gender Equality”, Harper Perennial, 2018.

Overcoming “Bitchification”

Amos Lassen

I was out of the country during the 90s in America as well as during the years leading up to the 90s so I honestly have little memory of how women and girls were treated by the media. I was living in Israel where equally between the sexes is upheld (by and large) and I had forgotten how women in this country have been “maligned by the media, vilified by popular culture, and objectified in the marketplace.” This excellent new book by Allison Yarrow wonderfully filled me in on what I did not remember or even know. Strong women such as Hilary Clinton and Anita Hill were undermined by the media while others were put to shame and misunderstanding. With television and radio news shows becoming available 24/7 women were once again mistreated when they were spoken of and the sexism that seemed to be part of this country raised its ugly head once again. The remnants of this treatment or as Yarrow names it “bitchification” is still omnipresent in our society. The roots for this come from the 90s when “female empowerment was twisted into objectification, exploitation, and subjugation.” Be prepared that no one is safe from Yarrows probing of the patriarchal society that demands women to be quiet and obedient to men. We are reminded (as if we need to be) that the age of Trump is also an age of masculine insecurity.

There is a feminist backlash going on right before our eyes and in order to deal with it, we must look back to find where it began and how it can be stopped. Allison Yarrow presents that history to us in excellent prose in which she shows us that society has now embraced “the post feminist moment.” We become very aware here of women being subjected to double standards, negative portrayals and mistreatment.

We learn something about sexism on almost every page and there are many revelations that have been carefully studied and researched. To understand the state of gender equality today, we must understand the state of gender equality of the 1990s. We begin to see things from a different perspective. For those of you who lived through the 9os, you probably feel that you know what happened back then but the truth is that we have to look back at the period from today in order to understand it. The dynamic of today was created back then and I am pretty sure that many realized that this was happening.

I could tell just from reading the names of the chapters that this was going to be a fascinating and eye-opening read and I was not disappointed. In her prologue Yarrow tells us that she is using the verb “bitchify” and the noun “bitchification” to show how the media and society looked at women only by their sexual function and in this way they could stop whatever progress women were making. The word “bitch” in itself is insulting but it is also the best word to describe what we have here. I believe I read this entire book with my mouth open as surprise after surprise came through. For anyone who cares about gender equality, this is a must read.

“1982: THE US GENERATION”— The Authorized Story (on Blu ray)

“1982: The US Generation”

The Authorized Story

Amos Lassen

This film is the authorized story of the 1982 Us Festival and features remastered live performances of the Police, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and more. I was out of the country when this festival took place but I understand that it is considered one of the most influential music festivals of all time.

The Us Generation was directed by award winning filmmaker and rockumentarian Glenn Aveni and it is fascinating and fun from start to finish. The film is made up of rare concert footage and interviews with both organizers and performers. The 1982 Us Festival was an epic three-day event featuring an eclectic and unprecedented lineup of some of the biggest names in music, performing live in front of over one million people at Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino, CA. It was the brainchild of Apple visionary Steve Wozniak, who wanted to create something that was a true celebration of Americana. His idea was to cultivate positive vibes and building a deep sense of community through the power of technology and music. There are performances by superstars Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, alt-rock trio The Police, blues rock heroes Fleetwood Mac, guitar virtuoso Carlos Santana, retro-chic favorites The B-52s, and new wave icons The Cars; as well as appearances by Johnny & Joey Ramone, Carlos Santana, Sting, Ric Ocasek, Danny Elfman, and Fred Schneider; plus exclusive sit-downs with festival founder Steve Wozniak, Mick Fleetwood, Eddie Money, Marky Ramone, Kate Pierson, Stewart Copeland, and Mickey Hart, among others.

Unfortunately there is no movie of the entire concert and what was released here is only parts of songs. There is great music and fun loving people. I had a great time watching it.

“RECORDS COLLECTING DUST II”— The 1980s Hardcore Punk Scene

“Records Collecting Dust II”

The 1980s Hardcore Punk Scene

Amos Lassen

“Records Collecting Dust II” is a look at 28 influential people from the 1980’s hardcore punk rock music scene people in Boston, New York and Washington DC and is made up of in depth interviews. They talk about the music, the bands and the records that changed their lives. We hear from Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, John Joseph of Cro-Mags, Dave Smalley of DYS, Roger Miret of Agnostic Front and Clif Croce of The Freeze and to be honest I had never heard of any of them before watching the film.

I understand that this is a follow-up DVD to a 2015 documentary of the same name that I have yet to see. It helps if you know the bands profiled here but I enjoyed it without knowing them. We see the musicians as they answer questions such as

“What was the first record you heard?” or “what was the first record you bought?” Most of those the interviewed grew up in the 1960s and 70s, we learn that a lot of the first records they bought were The Beach Boys, The Who, Alice Cooper, Kiss and Led Zeppelin. Most of them seem to be just average collectors and it is interesting that none of them speak of “hard core” bands as influences.

We do not get to hear any of the recordings mentioned and there is practically no music except an occasional clip from a heavy metal performance that is not identified. I am quite sure that there is a limited audience for this but I did enjoy watching it and I learned a bit.

“MOHSEN MAKHMALBAF: THE POETIC TRILOGY”— Three Lyrical Films

“Mohsen Makhmalbaf: The Poetic Trilogy”

Three Lyrical Films

Amos Lassen

Mohsen Makhmalbaf is one of the preeminent figures of Iranian cinema. He has written and directed an impressive array of acclaimed films and has been acclaimed at international film festivals and globally admired cinema audiences. This collection brings us three of Makhmalbaf’s most lyrical films. He calls these films his poetic trilogy.

“Gabbeh” is the story of an elderly couple that stops by a stream to wash a vividly woven traditional Persian rug (Gabbeh). Suddenly a beautiful woman, who is depicted in the rug’s elaborate design, appears and shares a heart-rending story of love and loss. The film is filled with the ideas of Sufism.

“The Silence” is about tells of Khorshid, a young blind boy from Tajikistan who earns rent money for his family by tuning rare instruments. He is enchanted and enraptured by the music he hears on his way to work each day.

“The Gardener” is an imaginative documentary that follows Makhmalbaf, and his son Maysam, to Israel to investigate the Bahá’í Faith, a religion with 7 million followers, which originated in Iran 170 years ago. I love this movie and it is very special for me. When I lived in Haifa, Israel my front porch was about up the mountain and three blocks from the Bahai gardens and I would awake every day to quite a beautiful view.

The three films here have been extensively restored and they are beautiful to watch. If that is not enough there are many bonus extras here:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of all three films
  • Original Persian soundtracks with uncompressed LPCM audio
  • Newly translated English subtitles
  • Audio commentary on Gabbeh by critic Godfrey Cheshire
  • Poetry in Motion: An Interview with Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an in-depth conversation between the Iranian auteur and film critic Jonathan Romney, newly produced for this edition
  • Mohsen with Closed Eyes, an imaginatively filmed archival interview with Makhmalbaf on The Silence
  • Original trailers
  • Stills and collections gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated booklet featuring new writing by film academic Negar Mottahedeh and Mohsen Makhmalbaf

“THE OSLO DIARIES”— Trying for Peace

“THE OSLO DIARIES”

Trying for Peace

Amos Lassen

 The Oslo accords eventually allowed for the recognition of the Palestinian authority over the West Bank and Gaza and this was certainly a consequential conclusion. Directors Mor Loushy and Daniel make sense of both the political realities of the talks and how they were received outside the rooms where negotiations took place. This documentary film is an excellent introduction to a much larger conversation, and while it avoids as many subjects as it addresses, it documents a time when peace, so complicated in this region, might have taken place.

In 1993 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat shook hands on an agreement that began a way for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace. The peace agreement was called the Oslo Accords after the place where the negotiations were held. The accords took place in 1990s, a time when Mideast peace was tantalizingly close at hand. The film is a sentimental look back at what could have been for Israel and Palestine. Using extensive footage from that time period, “The Oslo Diaries” is an emotional look at what might have been.. The film also includes re-enactments of the meetings in Oslo with actors who look remarkably like their real-life counterparts. They impersonate the Israelis and Palestinians who participated in negotiating the accords. While that fictionalizing approach gives the documentary certain energy, it also adds a modicum of confusion. What works more effectively is the way the film uses voiceovers and diary excerpts from the actual players involved in the peace negotiations.

What ultimately emerges is that both Israelis and Palestinians must live with the fact that the Accords have come to represent a missed opportunity. We see newsreel footage of upsetting moments like when Rabin was shouted down for his attempts to make peace. There is also the intense rally in which Benjamin Netanyahu did not stop demonstrators from screaming, “Death to Rabin.” We see footage of the peace rally in which Rabin was assassinated. Minutes before his death, he publicly sang a song for peace with his friend and lieutenant Shimon Peres.

Twenty-five years later, many of the surviving figures of the negotiations are close friends. The filmmakers successfully show the political contrast between Rabin and Netanyahu, who became Israel’s prime minister in 1996 by the slimmest of margins. There’s a profound lesson to be learned here in this important and depressing film.

Loushy and Sivan begin in 1992, during the violent intifada that threatened to topple Rabin’s government. Two Israeli academics, Ron Pundak and Yair Hirschfeld who are committed to the cause of peace but unaffiliated with the state were dispatched to Oslo, Norway, by then Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beili, for secret negotiations with members of the PLO, including Arafat confidante Abu Ala (Ahmed Ali Mohammed Qurei). We hear their own words spoken, read from their diaries and see them in action. We are behind the scenes of history, and it is fascinating. The most severe disagreements focus on the land – who gets to live where – and the status of Jerusalem. This is not an easy conversation.

Soon, word leaks out about the clandestine meetings, and so Rabin has no choice but to send official government representatives. Chief Israeli negotiator Uri Savir meets with Abu Ala and a new member of the Palestinian team, Nabil Shaath. We hear their diaries are read. Some of the surviving participants appear in recently filmed talking-head interviews, including Shimon Peres, himself (though he died in 2016, so this was his last interview). There was a notable lack of women in the but Palestinian activist and legislator Hanan Ashrawi still makes her presence felt (even if she was not a fan of the eventual accords, feeling that they gave too much away to Israel). The film is an excellent and powerful close examination of a painful process that led to the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords. and subsequent Oslo II in 1995. Sadly and unfortunately the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 derailed everything.

The most effective part of “The Oslo Diaries” is how it reveals the forces aligned against the peace process, particularly on the Israeli side, where Benjamin Netanyahu openly waited for more violence to erupt so he could swoop in as savior and take over. Whether or not he actively wished for Rabin’s death or just didn’t see how his followers’ chants for that death created the vitriolic climate that led to it, Netanyahu was very much opposed to any land concessions to the Palestinians, and when he became Prime Minister, in 1996, with 50.4% of the vote, the peace process effectively died, as well.

A title card at the end of the movie informs the viewer that 16,000 people – Jews and Palestinians – have died since 1996, and the situation in the region today is far from good. The film shines a light on the choices of both sides, and is clearly in favor of Israel. The film leaves the viewer frustrated, but maybe it will give that same viewer hope that such a process can begin again.

“THE SIGN FOR LOVE”— Gay, Deaf and Israeli

“The Sign for Love”

Gay, Deaf and Israeli

Amos Lassen

From the time that Elad was small, he has felt guilty for being deaf, and has tried extra hard to be like everyone else. He became even more alienated after the tragic death of his mother and the breakdown of his family. He later started a family of his own, becoming a father through a shared parenting arrangement with his friend Yaeli, who is also deaf. They have many deaf friends. “The Sign For Love” is Elad’s first-person account of the life he created for himself and it is his attempt to show viewers his version of family and parenthood.

In this documentary, co-director and subject Elad Cohen explores the meaning and experience of family. Growing up deaf and gay in a family of hearing people, Cohen never felt at home and always felt alone. That feeling of estrangement was exacerbated during his adolescence by the sudden death of his mother and the subsequent rift with his father as the family scattered in different directions. Cohen’s creates a sense of family with a small group of friends, including his best friend, Yaeli, a deaf woman. While he wants a child and a life partner, he fears that he won’t find the right man in the small deaf community in Israel. Sharing the desire with Yaeli to be parents, the new “couple” decides to have a child in a shared parenting arrangement.

Clips from Cohen’s childhood, footage of family members and friends and his day-to-day life Make up the film. As new parents, they soon realize the naïveté in their expectations about bringing up a baby together. Their journey shows the challenges of parenting, the bias against deaf individuals and the intricacies of human relationships. Ultimately their newborn helps Cohen become a more complete person and allows him to mend his relationship with his own father.