Film Screening: Scorching indie drama “99 Homes” on Mon., Feb. 22, at 7 PM

99Homes2_WebBest Video Film & Cultural Center’s Oscar-oriented film series continues on Monday, Feb. 22, as BVFCC screens the gripping indie drama “99 Homes,” which stars Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon. A New York Times Critic’s Pick, “99 Homes” takes place during the post-2008 crash foreclosure crisis in Florida. The screening starts at 7 PM and admission is $5.

Garfield plays Dennis Nash, a young construction worker economically devastated by the collapse of the home-building market following the 2008 crash. Along with his mother—played by Laura Dern—and his young son, Nash is evicted from their longtime family home by Rick Carver, a shark of a real estate broker played by Michael Shannon. Directed by Ramin Bahrani (“Chop Shop,” “Man Push Cart”), “99 Homes” becomes a morality play as Nash—desperate to regain his financial footing—is lured into Carver’s orbit.

Writing in The New York Times, A.O. Scott declared, “But if ’99 Homes’ is a scolding look at a society gone astray, it is also a minor masterpiece of suspense, as tightly wound as ‘Sicario,’ Denis Villeneuve’s white-knuckle drug-war thriller, and almost as brutal. Not that there’s much in the way of physical violence: fists are raised now and then, and weapons are sometimes brandished. But the threat of destruction is pervasive, and everything — the hand-held camerawork, the swift editing, the anxious music by Antony Partos and Matteo Zingales — contributes to an overpowering sense of danger.”

“99 Homes” is an exceptional film. But being exceptional—as an Entertainment Weekly article noted—earned it precisely zero Oscar nominations. Come see it for yourself and decide whether the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got it wrong in overlooking this gem.

UPCOMING EVENTS:

• Wednesday, Feb. 17. ACOUSTIC BLUES/FOLK: DITTYMACK

• Thursday, Feb. 18. JAZZ: THE MONK PROJECT BAND

• Friday, Feb. 19. GUITARISTS/SINGER-SONGWRITERS: RANDY COLLINS, IAN ETHAN CASE

• Monday, Feb. 22. OSCAR SERIES FILM SCREENING: “99 HOMES”

• Wednesday, Feb. 24. BLUEGRASS: THE EAST ROCK RAMBLERS

• Friday, Feb. 26. INDIE ROCK: PROCEDURE CLUB

• Monday, Feb. 29. OSCAR SERIES FILM SCREENING: “SICARIO” (Rescheduled due to snow)

• Wednesday, Mar. 2. SINGER-SONGWRITER: BEN ERICKSON, STEPHEN HLADUN

• Thursday, Mar. 3. SINGER-SONGWRITER: JOY IKE

• Friday, Mar. 4. JAZZ: JOVAN ALEXANDRE

• Sunday, Mar. 6. FILM SCREENING & Q&A WITH SCREENWRITER DONALD MARGULIES (Co-presented with The Institute Library): “THE END OF THE TOUR”

• Monday, Mar. 7. OSCAR SERIES FILM SCREENING: “SUFFRAGETTE” (Rescheduled from 2/15 due to snow)

• Thursday, Mar. 10. EXPERIMENTAL: HUMAN FLOURISHING, LIGHT UPON BLIGHT

• Friday, Mar. 11. ACOUSTIC GUITAR: SHAWN PERSINGER IS PRESTER JOHN

• Sunday, Mar. 13 FREE AFTERNOON BLUEGRASS JAM

• Thursday, Mar. 24. ROCK: PARKER’S TANGENT

• Friday, Mar. 25. SINGER-SONGWRITER: DICK NEAL

• Wednesday, Mar. 30. INDIE ROCK/SINGER-SONGWRITER: EUGENE GALLAGHER, WESTERN ESTATES

• Thursday, Mar. 31. SINGER-SONGWRITER: FRANK CRITELLI, JOE FLOOD

• Wednesday, Apr. 6. INDIE ROCK presented by Redscroll Records: HEX INVERTER, DIRT DEVIL, NOTHING ISRAEL

• Friday. Apr. 8. FOLK: HUGH BIRDSALL & DANA TAKAKI

• Thursday, Apr. 14. INDIE ROCK: SPIT-TAKE

• Wednesday, Apr. 20. JAZZ: BADSLAX

• Thursday, Apr. 28. SEPHARDIC MUSIC: THE HERETICS OF CORDOBA

• Saturday, May 7. SOFT ACOUSTIC/ROCK: THE HERNANDEZ BROTHERS

• Tuesday, Aug. 30. BLUEGRASS: STACY PHILLIPS & HIS BLUEGRASS CHARACTERS

• Saturday, Oct. 8. THE NEW ENGLAND UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL

 

Theatrical Reading: Further scenes from Steve Bellwood’s “Cozy Beach” on Wed., Mar. 4, at 8 PM

SONY DSC“A new day in New Haven, and a tragic one for two families whose teenage daughters were brutally murdered last night in the Edgewood Heights…”

Beneath many a mildly fluttering surface, underground currents are spiraling out of control. Only Cozy Beach seems to harbor a solution to all this city’s problems.

Steve Bellwood, prolific New Haven playwright and free-form story-teller, introduces more workshop scenes from his live sidewalk-cracking theatrical drama series on Wed., Mar. 4. The program starts at 8 PM and admission is $5.

Originally inspired by Robert Altman’s interweaving movie meldings in “Short Cuts” and his (relatively late) introduction to the onslaught high literary and dramatic quality of various television series, Bellwood seeks to emulate such in live theatre. As the primary source of his exposure to these series, he found it appropriate to premiere an introductory program-presentation-reading of “Cozy Beach” at Best Video Performance Space back in January.

Set in New Haven and a neighboring shoreline community, involving multiple characters and interwoven stories, this work-in-development will be presented in an adaptive shape of excerpted scenes to introduce primary characters and themes, and hopefully provoke and inspire general discussion and involvement.

Actors Jessica Stern, Norman Allen and Jackie Sidle in a scene from "Cozy Beach," Jan. 29, 2015.

Actors Jessica Stern, Norman Allen and Jackie Sidle in a scene from “Cozy Beach,” Jan. 29, 2015.

Two prep-school senior girls are brutally murdered in a parents’ leafy suburban home, and the double homicide spins off an exploration of sex-drugs-organ trafficking, mercy-killing, PTSD, addiction, success and failure, justice, revenge, gender-identity, cultural identity, corruption and complicity by omission. When the underworld invades the over world….

UPCOMING EVENTS:

• Monday, Feb. 23. FILM SCREENING: “CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS”

• Thursday, Feb. 26. BLUEGRASS: CHURCH SECTS

• Friday, Feb. 27. FUNK/ROCK: HOLIDAY PING

• Monday, Mar. 2. FILM SCREENING: “THE SWIMMER”

• Wednesday, Mar. 4. THEATRICAL READING: “COZY BEACH” by STEVE BELLWOOD

• Thursday, Mar. 5. SINGER-SONGWRITER: THE ANNE MARIE MENTA BAND

• Friday, Mar. 6. JAZZ: NICK DiMARIA WiRED

• Monday, Mar. 9. FILM SCREENING: “GRAN TORINO”

• Monday, Mar. 16. FILM SCREENING: “NOW, VOYAGER”

• Wednesday, Mar. 18. MODERN ROCK SPOKEN WORD SONGSTRESS/INDIE FOLK ROCK: SHADOW & COMPANY

• Thursday, Mar. 19. RAGTIME/BLUES: THE RED HOTS

• Friday, Mar. 20. ALT-COUNTRY: MERCY MEADOWS

• Monday, Mar. 23. FILM SCREENING: “UP IN THE AIR”

• Monday. Mar. 30. FILM SCREENING: “A LATE QUARTET”

• Friday, April 3. AVANT-GARDE: ZERO DOLLAR

• Thursday, Apr. 9. 150th ANNIVERSARY OF APPOMATTOX/FOLK MUSIC: SHELDON CAMPBELL

• Friday, Apr. 10. ROCK: PARKER’S TANGENT

• Friday, April 17. WPKN BENEFIT

• Friday, May 1. FILM FEST: “A DARK ROOM”

• Wednesday, Aug. 26. BLUEGRASS: STACY PHILLIPS & HIS BLUEGRASS CHARACTERS

Rob Harmon’s recommendations 11/19/13

ROB HARMON’S PICKS 11/19/13

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksBARBARA (dir. Christian Petzold, 2012)

The impressive new German political thriller BARBARA depicts life in the former German Democratic Republic (or East Germany), but, whereas most films paint a picture of the Soviet Bloc countries in terms of black-and-white, director Christian Petzold wisely chooses to focus on the bleak and dehumanizing ephemera of everyday life—such as busted wall sockets and a strictly-monitored bathing schedule—and the pure dug-in determination of its inhabitants to survive. This is a landscape—seemingly sparse and quiet—populated by survivors, spiritually wounded and maimed though they may be; where the West is such a capricious wonderland far, far away that two hushed women can stare transfixedly at the pages of a garish, smuggled-in jewelry catalogue; and where even villains—especially villains—have human sides: this society may be air-tight but it is far from airless, permitting some room to breathe.

The story takes place in 1980, a year in which much of the GDR was transfixed upon the Olympic Summer Games in Moscow. Dr. Barbara Wolff (veteran actress Nina Hoss) arrives in the provinces to take up a post at a small pediatric hospital. As it turns out this humble position is a far cry from the fast-track career in medicine that she was once charting in Berlin: Barbara has been officially “relocated” due to the fact that she has requested an exit visa from the GDR, a fall from grace which most in this society of few secrets instantly recognizes and pounces upon. She is sullen and remote, spurning the companionship of her colleagues, particularly the sincere and love-sick Dr. André Reiser (Ronald Zehrfeld), which right away earns her the reputation of a cold, big city snob to go on top of her apparent political crimes. Yet it soon becomes clear that Barbara has a secret connection to the West and one which she aims to exploit, this in spite of the watchful eyes of her neighbors and the local Stasi agent’s (Rainer Bock) withering attention, resulting in humiliating searches of her flat and her person at seemingly any time, day or night.

Though Barbara is increasingly drawn into the provincial life of the hospital around her and better learns to see the world from André’s humanistic viewpoint she still retains her ultimate desire to escape to the West… doesn’t she?

Barbara tells the story of the GDR in an intimate, restrained fashion, focusing on the life of the title character and her relationships with those around her, especially the lovelorn André and a hard-luck young patient named Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer) for whom she forms a strong and  endearing maternal attachment. The performances in the film are understated and powerful, with particular praise going to the gutsy Hoss in the title role. The cinematography, editing, and production design are all first-rate and refreshingly side-step the typical clichés of depicting life under a totalitarian regime in broad strokes and severe gestures, focusing instead on the human-scale sadness of a society divided against itself.

Petzold, who previously gained attention for his drama YELLA (2007) (also starring Hoss), won the Silver Bear as Best Director for Barbara at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, heralding perhaps a breakthrough for him, as well as his willowy star, Hoss. Barbara succeeds as a meditation on the life-draining paranoia and amnesia inherent to life under such cruel circumstances, but also ultimately reveals the strength which can unexpectedly come in dark times.

For an alternate but equally-moving take on this same subject matter be sure to see (if you have not already) the widely-heralded 2006 GDR-set drama/thriller THE LIVES OF OTHERS.

Rob Harmon’s Recommendations 07/30/13

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksPIETÁ (dir. Kim Ki-duk, 2012)

If ever there were a person trapped in a Buddhist-hell of continuous earthly suffering it is Lee Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin), the central character of PIETÁ. As the hired muscle for a seedy loan shark he patrols the grimy, downtrodden machine shops of Seoul, tracking down those who have reneged on their debts and collecting his own twisted form of compensation, crippling his victims so that his boss can collect the insurance money stemming from their “accidents.” What’s worse, Kang-do almost seems to enjoy what he does and as, the film progresses, the urban landscape around him becomes as cluttered with his hobbling victims as the space around Jacob Marley is by ghosts. Day-in, day-out, Kang-do shambles through this chilling vacuum-of-an-existence, seemingly knowing no other way to live.

Into this void one day is injected an older woman named Jang Mi-sun (Jo Min-su), who mysteriously follows Kang-do around on his daily routines before approaching him and telling him that she is the mother who had abandoned him years before. Kang-do scoffs at this and proceeds to subject her to every manner of humiliation possible, trying to get her out of his way, until finally convincing himself that she must, after all, be his mother. Kang-do begins to soften and change but, unfortunately, karma is closing in on him fast and a startling revelation about Mi-sun’s character will ultimately seal his fate.

The unrelentingly stark atmosphere of Pietà is daunting and bleak, with Kang-do resembling what might have been the result if one of the abandoned children-from-hell of either Luis Buñuel’s LOS OLVIDADOS or Hector Babenco’s PIXOTE had been allowed to reach full maturity in an ancient Greek tragedy. Indeed, Kim strips bare and refuses to sentimentalize the machinations of capitalism, showing how the wealthy prey upon the lowest classes, portraying a world where every human body has a price, no matter how cheap. The first half of the film, with the naked light of Kim’s camera firmly fixed on the scorched-earth of Lee’s empty existence, can be extremely hard to watch at times. But—having said that—the film pays handsome dividends to those adventurous enough to see it through to its end. The conclusion is particularly rich, with both main characters – karmic-ally speaking, left with no place to go – moving inexorably toward painful redemption, at last allowing some light to filter into this purgatory.

Special mention should made of the performances by the two leads: Jo Min-su is heartbreaking in an incredibly difficult role while Lee Jung-jin—his face a mask of pain and suffering early on—manages to bring life even to this monstrous character.

Critic André Bazin once famously summarized the filmmaking philosophy of Erich von Stroheim thus: “Take a close look at the world, keep on doing so, and in the end it will lay bare for you all its cruelty and its ugliness.”  Kim Ki-duk’s Pietà proves that such a withering stare will ultimately reveal beauty, as well.

Though Pietà was winner of the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film festival (surprisingly, the first Korean film to do so) Kim Ki-duk has long been established as one of the poets laureate of the new Korean cinema, his films with their stark and erotic imagery, sparse dialogue and quiet, hermetically-sealed environments, and focus on allegorical situations and Buddhist transformation making him a fixture on the stage of world cinema.  Many of his uniquely searing, uncompromising parables, from THE ISLE (2000) and SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER… AND SPRING (2003) to 3-IRON (2004) and THE BOW (2005), are available in our Korean section.

Interestingly, two other films made by prominent Korean directors in recent years have similarly dealt with the theme of motherhood (or grandmother-hood, as it happens) in an unflinching and thought-provoking way: Bong Joon-ho’s aptly titled MOTHER (2009) and Lee Chang-dong’s POETRY (2010).

(The Other) Hank’s Recommendations 04/23/13

Hank_Hoffman_Picks_Image_sketch_WebBest Video’s other Hank—Hank Hoffman—here with this week’s recommendation. Hank Paper will return with a new recommendation next week.

Film Movement is a distributor of critically acclaimed independent and foreign films—we have dozens of their titles avilable to rent at Best Video. Their selections are, in a sense, curated, chosen for the quality of the storytelling, the persuasiveness of the acting, the commitment to personal vision.

KAREN CRIES ON THE BUS hails from Colombia, directed by Gabriel Rojas Vera. But unlike so many films from or about contemporary Colombia, it is not a shoot-em-up about narco-traffickers or guerrillas. Rather, it tells the story of Karen, a Colombian woman who leaves her unfulfilling marriage of ten years to the distant and emotionally abusive—albeit financially successful—Mario. With no jobs, no apparent friends,  little money and the disapproval of her mother, she makes her way out into Bogotá, renting a room in a rundown flophouse.

Karen is played by Angela Carrizosa with a naturalness that is wholly believable. Her growth into self-sufficiency is spurred in part by her tentative friendship with Patricia,  an outgoing beautician who also has a room at the boardinghouse. Feminism is a subtext, of course, but Rojas Vera doesn’t overplay that theme.

The strengths of Karen Cries on the Bus are the strengths of the Film Movement offerings overall: telling human scale stories in such a way as to richly accommodate grander visions. Check out the Film Movement titles in our New Foreign and various country sections. Almost every one is a gem.

View the trailer for Karen Cries on the Bus:

May Day special event: singer Bill Collins and screening of “Salt of the Earth” Wed., May 1, at 8 PM

BillCollins

(Note: this post has been updated on April 25 to reflect the following change: In order to accommodate any possible attendees who might also be participating in the march in New Haven for immigrant rights, labor rights and peace, we have moved back the starting time to 8 PM from the originally scheduled 7:30 PM.)

In recognition of May Day, the Best Video Performance Space will host a performance by New Haven-based singer and guitarist Bill Collins followed by a screening of the legendary blacklisted film “Salt of the Earth” on Wednesday, May 1. The program begins at 8 PM and admission is $5.

As singer, songwriter and guitarist, for the last 35 years, Bill Collins has played everything from Hardcore Punk to Children’s music: Irish, Rockabilly, Ska, Folk, Blues, Metal, Reggae, Country, Rap, and nearly every kind of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Since 2005, he has expanded his musical calling to perform music that supports progressive political causes, especially the Labor Union Movement. Collins will play a short rabble-rousing set at 7:30, prior to the showing of the film.

Collins was a 2010 recipient of an Arts Council of Greater New Haven Arts Award. The Arts Awards “honor the artistic excellence and outstanding achievements of visual, performing and literary artists, arts organizations, architects, arts educators, advocates and administrators whose contributions enable the arts to thrive in the region.” In honoring Collins, the Arts Council wrote:

Bill Collins is an established guitarist and singer-songwriter whose music is steeped in diverse musical traditions, from punk rock to country, folk, blues, and rockabilly. For 25 years, Bill Collins’ performances of original and traditional songs have lent a powerful voice to the struggles of the working class and the passions of social activists. From his work with groundbreaking punk-rock artists of the 1980s to his forays into rockabilly and explorations of Irish song, Bill Collins’ music has delivered a message. When he married a labor organizer, Collins’ found another source of inspiration, and, with a renewed dedication to political activism, he found a new movement to support and a new message to deliver. Through his rousing and inherently participatory music, Bill Collins continues to lead a spirited rally cry, providing a sturdy voice for the interests of the working class, and always choosing passion and possibility over profit and probability.

Salt_Of_The_Earth“Salt of the Earth,” completed in 1954, tells the story of a strike by mine workers in the American Southwest. But it is so much more than that. The only true American Neorealist film in the tradition of the Italian directors Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, it is also remarkable for its ahead-of-its-time feminist viewpoint and its incisive depiction of anti-Latino discrimination. “Salt of the Earth” was chosen in 1992 to be included on the National Film Registry maintained by the Library of Congress of “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films.”

“Salt of the Earth” was made under conditions of extreme political repression: director Herbert Biberman, screenwriter Michael Wilson, producer Paul Jarrico and actor Will Geer were all targets of the anti-communist blacklist. The screenplay was based on a 1951 strike against the Empire Zinc Company in New Mexico led by the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. The Mine, Mell and Smelter Workers—which had been expelled from the CIO for refusing to purge alleged Communists from union leadership—helped bankroll the production; there was an attempt to burn down their local affiliate’s union hall during the filming. The production was targeted by the Red-baiting press and anticommunist vigilantes attacked union families—many participants in the strike on which the film was based acted in the production—and members of the film crew. The film had to be processed and edited in secrecy because the blacklist forbade Hollywood labs from doing the work. After its opening night in New York City, showings of the film were extremely rare because theater owners feared bad publicity, possible visits by the FBI and the potential that they might themselves be blacklisted.

Notwithstanding the foregrounding of the film’s social message(s), “Salt of the Earth” stands as a gripping human drama. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote in 1954, “Against the hard and gritty background of a mine workers’ strike in a New Mexican town—a background bristling with resentment against the working and living conditions imposed by the operators of the mine—a rugged and starkly poignant story of a Mexican-American miner and his wife is told in “Salt of the Earth.”

Crowther wrote:

“Salt of the Earth” is, in substance, simply a strong pro-labor film with a particularly sympathetic interest in the Mexican-Americans with whom it deals. True, it frankly implies that the mine operators have taken advantage of the Mexican-born or descended laborers, have forced a “speed up” in their mining techniques and given them less respectable homes than provided the so-called “Anglo” laborers. It slaps at brutal police tactics in dealing with strikers and it gets in some rough, sarcastic digs at the attitude of “the bosses” and the working of the Taft-Hartley Law.

But the real dramatic crux of the picture is the stern and bitter conflict within the membership of the union. It is the issue of whether the women shall have equality of expression and of strike participation with the men. And it is along this line of contention that Michael Wilson’s tautly muscled script develops considerable personal drama, raw emotion and power.

Under Mr. Biberman’s direction, an unusual company made up largely of actual miners and their families, plays the drama exceedingly well. [Actress Rosaura] Revueltas, one of the few professional players, is lean and dynamic in the key role of the wife who compels her miner husband to accept the fact of equality, and Juan Chacon, a non-professional, plays the husband forcefully. Will Geer as a shrewd, hard-bitten sheriff, Clinton Jencks as a union organizer and a youngster named Frank Talevera as the son of the principals are excellent, too.

The trailer for “Salt of the Earth”:

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Thursday, May 2. INDIE ROCK—THE SAWTELLES

• Sunday, May 5. FILM SCREENING & DISCUSSION: “ALL ME: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF WINFRED REMBERT”

• Wednesday, May 8. INDIE ROCK: POOLS ARE NICE, BUCK McGRANE

• Thursday, May 9. BEST VIDEO MANAGER RICHARD BROWN’S 60TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION: MUSICAL SPECIAL GUESTS—THE FURORS, THE STREAMS, HAPPY ENDING and more

• Wednesday, May 15. JAZZ: THE NICK Di MARIA QUARTET

• Thursday, May 16. ROCK—ROPE

• Thursday, May 23. ROCKABILLY: BIG FAT COMBO

• Wednesday, June 12. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ANNA AYRES-BROWN

• Thursday, June 13. INDIE ROCK: THE MOUNTAIN MOVERS

• Wednesday, June 19. CABARET: RICH MORAN

• Thursday, June 20. INDIE POP: THE FURORS, AL HOWARD

• Wednesday, June 26. INDIE ROCK: THE JELLYSHIRTS

• Thursday, June 27. SINGER-SONGWRITERS: FRANK CRITELLI, MARK MIRANDO

Hank’s Recommendations 04/16/13

hank_paperDJANGO JANGLES SPURS AND NERVES

DJANGO UNCHAINED — An escaped slave (Jamie Foxx) bonds with an intellectual German white bounty hunter posing as an itinerant dentist (Christoph Waltz) in order to rescue the slave’s wife from the plantation he escaped from.

This film is the first to deal unstintingly with the cruelties and indignities of slavery since Steven Spielberg’s AMISTAD, but dare I say the treatment here is different. The style of director Quentin Tarantino’s film derives in part (especially the climactic part) from the testosterone blood-splattering showdown mannerisms of the “spaghetti western” made famous by one of Tarantino’s pulp mentors, Sergio Leone (FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, A FEW DOLLARS MORE, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY).

In other words, Tarantino’s film addresses seriously and with a feeling of authenticity the violence of slavery of the anti-bellum South in yet an often non-serious, humorous, albeit stylistically violent way. Some critics and viewers have found this pulp treatment of such a serious subject jarring, even offensive (as they did his pulp treatment of the Holocaust in his prior Academy Award nominated film, THE INGLORIOUS BASTERDS). Spike Lee went out of his way to harshly criticize both Tarantino and his film, tongue-lashing his white colleague’s inappropriately self-taken treatment of an illimitably serious subject that was none of his business in the first place. Others have applauded Tarantino’s daring in offering historically telling details through a stylistically entertaining genre that brings the subject home to a popular mass audience.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s just Tarantino being Tarantino, ever on a quest to top himself both thematically and visually, putting his archival film and filmmaking knowledge in the service of his audacity. Interestingly, Mrs. Video shied away from seeing this violent movie but wound up really liking it; just as many women have come up to me at the store to tell me how much they liked The Inglorious Basterds.

The film does offer historical information made vividly fresh in a good, well-produced story laden with surprises and many Oscar-nominated (and winning) performances. Unmentioned in all the Academy Awards hullabaloo are particularly impressive performances by Leonardo DiCaprio as the glibly menacing wealthy plantation owner and Samuel Jackson as the owner’s servile but deviously self-serving black task master. The film does go on too long (as many films do these days), ending not where the dramatic arc demands but continuing on through a long, blood-splattering coda in order, I suspect, to have the Jamie Foxx character prevail as the hero instead of his white Kemo Sabe dentist bounty hunter. But all carping aside, the film is one to reckon with: to contemplate and even argue about.

Spike Lee admitted he never actually saw the film. You should.

“What Would You Do?” film screening of “Walk on Water” on Mon., Apr. 22, at 7 PM

Walk_on_Water_DVDThe “What Would You Do: Ethical Dilemmas in Great Films” film series is a collaborative effort of Temple Beth Sholom and Best Video. Best Video owner Hank Paper and Temple Beth Sholom Rabbi Benjamin Scolnic will take turns introducing films and leading the post-film discussions.

The admission cost per film is $5 and reservations are ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL. Most of the previous screenings have been sold out. Seats are still available for this upcoming show.

On Monday, Apr. 22, at 7 PM, we present the 2004 Israeli  film “Walk on Water.” The film will be introduced and the discussion led by Rabbi Scolnic. This is the final film in this highly successful first film series at Best Video.

New York Times reviewer Dana Stevens wrote in 2004:

The director Eytan Fox had an unexpected international success in 2002 with “Yossi and Jagger,” a gay love story set against the unlikely backdrop of the Israel Defense Forces. With “Walk on Water,” his third feature-length film, Mr. Fox takes on the even more controversial subject of Israeli nationalism in the aftermath of the Holocaust. In fact, there isn’t much that “Walk on Water” doesn’t take on, from global terrorism and Israeli-Palestinian relations to homophobia in the Mossad, the Israeli security service.

View the trailer for “Walk on Water”:

Hank’s Recommendations 04/09/13

hank_paperTHE OTHER SON — A Jewish family in Jerusalem and a Palestinian one in the West Bank discover their teenage sons have been switched at birth. The revelation leaves torment and shock in its wake, and then a reassessment of values, identity and filial loyalty as all are forced to adapt to the new “family” situation. The switched Jewish son, who was about to be inducted into the Israeli Defense Force until his Arab derivation becomes known, says to his Rabbi, “I’ll have to swap my kipa for a suicide bomb. Am I still Jewish?” Answers the Rabbi: “Great challenges are for great men. God loves men as a father loves his son.”

Indeed planted like a bomb in their midst, the revelation offers a weird and dire situation—the distraught men in the family wanting to forget or ignore; the wives wanting to understand and, tentatively, hopefully, embrace—until you realize, in fact, it can potentially be a totally acceptable and indeed normal situation.

This film is a retelling of the patriarchal story of Isaac and Ishmael—the two sons of Abraham who, because of filial contention, were separated by God to go their own way and found the two separate but semitic Jewish and Arab peoples. As with that tale, it is also a gripping and realistically rendered metaphor for reconciliation: the family’s’ other son is also their very own.

Says one son to the “other”: “You have my life, don’t mess it up.”

Watch the trailer for “The Other Son”:

Hank’s recommendations 03/12/13

hank_paperHITCHCOCK — Murder is so much fun in Hitchcock!

The only suspense in this thoroughly delightful, well-written and acted, film is how the aging Hitchcock, fresh off his success in NORTH BY NORTHWEST in 1959, seeks to prove he still has what it takes to be, well, Hitchcock. The vehicle he chooses to confirm his continued worth and, in fact, be fresh and current and different, is adapted from a then-current gruesome horror novel about the serial killer Ed Gein. The bestseller is called PSYCHO, displaying graphic subject matter that cause both his agent and longtime studio to avert their eyes from supporting it, forcing the Hitchcocks to mortgage their beloved Hollywood home in order to finance the film themselves. Talk about a scarily suspenseful adventure!

This movie has all the elements that make, not a perfect “Hitchcock film,” but a perfect film about Hitchcock and the making of Psycho: the advisory phantom of Ed Gein himself, backstabbing studio politics, Hitchcock’s eccentrically brilliant directorial craft, the famous shower scene, his trademark Hitchcock TV show, his infatuation with his blonde leading ladies, his less than earnest battle with corpulence, and, above all, his longstanding marriage to Alma Revel who was his confidante, advisor, editor and supporter in every film—right through Psycho—since their early days making British silent films together. The question of whether Hitchcock’s might finally acknowledge her irreplaceable role is another fine element of suspense.

The two actors—Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren—are expectantly excellent, especially Hopkins. One would think no one could convincingly portray the unique, inimitable Hitchcock, but you soon forget you’re watching anyone but the famous director himself.

All the dry wit and acerbic perceptions, the sense of fun and surprise you associate with Hitchcock are in this well-written movie.

The last three lines are the perfect capstone:

“You know, Alma, I will never be able to find a Hitchcock blonde as beautiful as you.”

“I’ve waited thirty years to hear you say that.”

“And that, my dear, is why they call me…the Master of Suspense.”

THE FLAT — A 98 year old grandmother dies in Tel Aviv. Her daughter, in her 70s, and her own older children and grandchildren go to clean out the apartment.

Among the old German furniture and bric-a-brac are discovered a huge and surprising cache of letters, photo albums and mementos harkening back to a pre-war Berlin where the grandmother and her traffic judge husband led a privileged life. Among the aging relics is a prominent Nazi newspaper from the late 30s whose banner headline announces the couple’s trip abroad to Palestine in the company of a high Nazi official.

The mother claims she never knew anything about that. Her parents never talked about their past life nor did she ever ask any questions. She herself lives only for the here and now. Her own apartment in Tel Aviv is neat as a pin: no clutter, everything in its place, not a thing that’s reminiscent of the past.

But the son evinces surprise and curiosity. The video he happens to be recording of the apartment cleaning becomes the movie we are watching as he decides to pursue that curiosity. What he discovers as he travels across Israel and to Germany to uncover his grandparents’ hitherto unrevealed life defies belief, leading to personal confrontations that will dispel complacency, reveal hard truths and alter lives on both continents.

This profound and haunting family mystery raises unfathomable questions and goes to places you couldn’t expect. It will have its intended effect if you don’t first read the spoilers on the back of the DVD cover.