Archive for August, 2016

It takes time to build mythology. The original Star Trek was a TV show that ran for years and was followed by next and other generations of space-ships, commanders and crews, some of them memorable, other easier to forget. The latest generation on the big screen debuted in 2009 and are now at their third adventure and movie together. The one big achievement of ‘Star Trek Beyond‘ may be the fact that the team is now coming together, the characters have slowly won the hearts and minds of the fans, and if they did not erase the memories of the members of the old crew (mission impossible!) they have become at least compatible with them and have now a life of their own.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt2660888/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt2660888/

 

Screen direction for this 3rd series is trusted in the hands of Taiwanese director  of ‘Fast and Furious’ glory. As one may expect there is a lot of action, speedy editing, special effects which to a large extent are different than the ones in other Star Trek films. As many critics and viewers noticed since the previous installments, Star Trek and Star Wars starts to converge to something that is less specific to the worlds that each of the movie comes from and is closer to the Hollywood big action movies of the 21st century. Do I like this trend? Not really, but I cannot but admire the art direction and set decoration. The cities of the future will be fantastic if they will look like in this film, these are no orthogonal worlds, there are no right angles, but a number of dimensions that largely exceeds the commonly accepted figure of three. It’s a cheap bet that some Academy Awards are around the corner for the technical categories.

(I had some problems with the 3D projection though, especially in the lower-lit scenes. I cannot comment if this was because of the film or of the conditions in the theater we saw the movie).

 

(video source Paramount Pictures)

 

What about the story? Characters development? Some new and original villains we can cheer and feel sorry at the same tine after the final fists fight? None of these happen in too large amounts in this movie, it’s only the cliche that seems to gin ground, although the film enjoys some acceptable acting from , , and . The connection between the new frontiers explored by J.J. Abrams and the good old world that was imagined by Gene Roddenberry is pretty casual. There is some retro-technology as the heroes use an older model of the Federation space-ships to flee a planet the Enterprise crushed on, and there are some memories of the new Spock for his father who does not appear but in photographs (the late Leonard Nimoy).

The difference between my generation of fans and the fans of today (some are our grandchildren) is the almost infinite number of options the younger folks are exposed to. Yes, there is some evolution, coalescence, more consistency in the characters of the latest film in the series. The question is whether this does not come too late.

 

There are a few, very few things one can rely on happening every year, since the 1990s. First there is a Christmas – and yes, also a Passover – taking place each year. Then, there is the Woody Allen film which is usually released late spring, usually in time for the Cannes festival. The film will be loved by some, hated by other, opinions are always divided. What is as sure as Christmas or Passover happening each year is that the Woody Allen film will not get the Academy Award for the best film or for directing. This is true also in 2016.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt4513674/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt4513674/

 

The yearly production of Woody Allen for 2016 is out. It is called ‘Cafe Society’ and the story happens in the LA and NYC of the 30s. Young New Yorker Bobby Dorfman lands in Hollywood where the brother of his very Jewish mother is a big film actors agent with even a bigger mouth and marriage of 25 years which he is on the verge of breaking up. The innocent kid soon meets the girl of his dreams who happens to be not available because … I will stop here to avoid any spoiler, but I would just mention that the whole story is sweet and conventional, full of humor with more or less expected twists, with a nostalgic approach in describing the movie world of the West Coast and the night-clubs scene of New York in the 30s and the Jewish family gathering almost all the stereotypes one expects and loves: the Jewish mother and the unsuccessful father, the womanizing uncle, the Jewish mobster son, and the lefty intellectual son-in-law. Over all this a delicate love story about two people who meet and fall in love, give up to the social conventions and to the accepted criteria of happiness, but deep in their souls cannot be happy, because happiness is what we feel and not what society decides it is. All on superb, nostalgic jazz music in the background taking the front in a couple of key scenes.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

To some extend the  who made this film resembles the heroes of this last film. It’s a less daring endeavor than some of the other films that he made in his 70s, for example Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine. This is his first film in his 80s, and is a little different, more in a minor tone, with characters, background and themes that do not surprise or even try to surprise. A new stage in his career? ‘Cafe Society’ seems rather straight forward, but it actually succeeds in creating genuine emotion. Many good actors dream to appear in Allen’s movies, this time it’s the turn of , and to deliver fine performances. Woody’s voice as a narrator is the only direct personal touch of a film maker that was accused by his detractors so many times to write and direct movies that are too much about himself. With Cafe Society he succeeded not only to make a film about other people’s life stories but also to make us care about them.

 

Occidentalismul este un termen care a fost ales si in parte definit ca antiteza a Orientalismului in interpretarea descrisa de profesorul palestinian-american Edward Said in cartea cu acest nume publicata in 1978. Desi termenul insusi de Orientalism este cunoscut in arta inca din secolul al XIX definind picturile academice (in special franceze) inspirate din contactul cu Orientul si lumea araba, Said il preia si restrange pentru a defini modul de abordare si atitudinea patronizatoare a Vestului (presupus dezvoltat si liberal) fata de societatile si culturile (presupuse inapoiate si stagnante) din Orientul Mijlociu si folosirea acestei ideoogii ca o justificare a politicii imperialiste a Occidentului in zona. In oglinda, Occidentalismul se defineste ca perceptia (de multe ori incarcata de deformari si stereotipuri) a culturii si a modului de viata occidental in societatile orientale, care includ Orientul Mijlociu si lumea musulmana, dar nu sunt reduse doar la acestea. Este vorba deci despre doi termeni care definesc reprezentarea reciproca a unei lumi in ochii celeilalte, cu partile lor de adevar dar si cu elementele subiective negative si lipsite de substanta. Cele doua lumi definite generic si destul de vag sunt Occidentul si Orientul, si conflictul dintre acestea este major si dominant in lumea in care traim. Tocmai de aceea, carti ca cea scrisa de Ian Buruma si Avishai Margalit sunt esentiale, deoarece ele permit intelegerea fenomenelor de la sursa. ‘Occidentalismul’ a aparut in traducerea romaneasca (nu lipsita de unele probleme) a Ancai Barbulescu in colectiai ISTORIE a Editurii Humanitas. Editia romaneasca propune doua subtitluri. Unul este ‘Razboiul impotriva Occidentului’ care pe coperta cartii este scris cu litere de aceleasi dimensiuni cu numele cartii, dar care nu figureaza in editiile originale ale cartii aparute in 2003. Al doilea subtitlu ‘O scurta istorie a urii fata de Vest’ reflecta subtitlul original (‘A Short History of Anti-Westernism‘).

Cateva cuvinte despre cei doi autori. Ian Buruma este nascut in Olanda in 1951, traieste si scrie in Statele Unite. Este un expert in problemele Extremului Orient (China si Japonia in special), scriitor si istoric.  Avishai Margalit s-a nascut la Afula in Palestina mandatara in 1939, traieste la Ierusalim, este istoric si profesor universitar, a predat la Universitatea Ebraica din Ierusalim, la Oxford, Berlin, si la Princeton. Cartea lor scrisa in colaborare reprezinta unul dintre textele de baza ale occidentalismului, si este extrem de salutara si binevenita (chiar si) in acest moment aparitia sa in traducere romaneasca.

Primul din cele sase capitole ale cartii este intitulat ‘Razboiul impotriva Occidentului’. Introducerea pleaca de la un moment mai putin cunoscut si mai putin asteptat al istoriei occidentalismului – conferinta de la Kyoto din iulie 1942 in care cercetatorii si intelectualii japonezi s-au adunat pentru a defini doctrina nationalista si crezul ideologic al natiunii lor aflate in razboi cu puterile aliate. Descrierea va ajunge in continuare si la alte incarnari ale occidentalismului, inclusiv cea mai evidenta si mai virulenta in contemporaneitate – cea asociata cu islamismul extremist – dar prima dintre ideile importante ale cartii este deja evidenta. Occidentalismul nu este o inventie a contemporaneitatii si nu se reduce numai la lumea islamica (sau la o parte din ea):

‘Ceea ce am numit noi “occidentalism” este portretul dezumanizant pe care i-l fac Vestului adversarii lui. In cartea de fata intentionam sa analizam acest set de prejudecati si sa-i urmarim radacinile culturale. Este limpede deja ca nu se poate explica pur si simplu ca o problema specifica islamismului. In lumea musulmana s-au petrecut multe lucruri dureros de gresite, dar occidentalismul nu se poate reduce la statutul de boala a Orientului Mijlociu, asa cum nu se putea reduce, acum mai bine de cincizeci de ani, la statutul de boala specific japoneza.’ (pag. 14)

Autorii se delimiteaza net de disputele politice ale zilei din perioada in care a fost scrisa cartea:

‘Scopul cartii de fata nu este nici acumularea de munitii pentru un “razboi impotriva terorismului” la nivel global, nici demonizarea inamicilor actuali ai Occidentului. Ne propunem mai degraba sa intelegem care sunt motivatiile occidentalismului si sa aratam ca autorii atentatelor sinucigase si razboinicii religiosi din ziua de azi nu sufera de vreo psihologie unica ci sunt animati de idei care au facut istorie. … A intelege nu inseamna a scuza, asa cum a ierta nu inseamna a uita, dar daca nu-i intelegem pe cei care urasc Occidentul nu avem nici o speranta de a-i opri sa distruga omenirea.’ (pag. 21)

 

sursa http://www.elefant.ro/carti/istorie/studii-istorice/occidentalismul-razboiul-impotriva-occidentului-o-scurta-istorie-a-urii-fata-de-vest-320601.html

sursa http://www.elefant.ro/carti/istorie/studii-istorice/occidentalismul-razboiul-impotriva-occidentului-o-scurta-istorie-a-urii-fata-de-vest-320601.html

 

A doua sectiune a cartii se numeste ‘Orasul occidental’. Incercand sa raspunda intrebarii de multe ori puse ‘de ce ne urasc?’ autorii identifica in marile metropole ale lumii (asa cum sunt percepute si prezentate de occidentalisti) simboluri ale coruptiei, desfranarii si ambitiilor neinfranate ale civilizatiei occidentale. Foarte interesanta este legatura cu istoria oraselor si locul lor in mitologiile ancestrale. Turnul Babel este cel mai cunoscut, desi nu primul oras care simbolizeaza ambitiile umane si pedeapsa divina. Asta nu a impiedicat civilizatiile orientale sa construiasca orasele lor, in care indeletniciri precum comertul sau chiar si prostitutia erau tolerate. Occidentalistii japonezi ai perioadei imperiale au abordat in mod similar metropolele occidentale:

Ei detestau aceasta civilizatie metropolitana noua fiindca o considerau superficiala, materialista, mediocra, lipsita de radacini si nejaponeza – altfel spus, cu totul diferita de cultura profunda si spirituala pe care doreau s-o sprijine. … Era la mijloc si o doza de amnezie istorica, fiindca orasele japoneze fusesera centre comerciale cu mult inainte sa se impuna Harold Lloyd si Deanna Durbin.’ (pag. 41)

Antagonismul fata de metropole se extinde in diferitele incarnari ale occidentalismului, de la reactiunea romantica generata de impotrivirea fata de ideile napoleoniene, pana la campaniile politice ucigase impotriva oraselor corupte de ideile burgheze imaginate de mintile bolnave ale lui Mao in China si Pol Poth in Cambogia. Pana in contemporaneitate unde noua denumire a anti-metropolitanismului este anti-globalizarea:

‘Pentru tinerii din astfel de pustietati culturale care nu stiu cu ce sa-si umple timpul, globalizarea, in calitatea ei de cea mai apropiata manifestare a metropolei occidentale, poate fi o sursa de seductie infinita si de umilinta continua. Pentru cei mai educati, globalizarea a devenit un sinonim al imperialismului.’ (Pag. 48)

Asocierea evreilor cu comertul practicat in marile orase face ca anti-globalizarea occidentalista sa capete nuante antisemite.

‘Evreii sunt asociati de atata vreme, atat in societatile islamice cat si in cele crestine, cu comertul si finantele, incat sunt inclusi aproape invariabil in atitudinea ostila fata de capitalism.’ (pag. 45)

 

Tipologiei negustorului occidentalismul ii opune modelul eroilor de sorginte romantica, si acest antagonism este tema principala a celui de-al treilea capitol care are titlul ‘Eroi si negustori’. Originea acestei polarizari este din nou detectata in romantismul german, forma precoce (si europeana!) a occidentalismului. Evolutia devine periculoasa in conditiile in care eroii adopta cultul sacrificiului si al mortii ca raspuns cultului vietii si al satisfactiilor pamantesti atribuite societatii ‘corupte’ occidentale. Islamismul extremist a adoptat acest cult al mortii desi el nu era o traditie cu vechime, ci mai degraba apartine curentelor mai recente in Islam, echivalente cu puritanismul protestant din cadrul Reformei in crestinism.

‘… ideea ca teroristii independenti ar ajunge in rai ca martiri ucigand civili neinarmati este o inventie moderna, care i-ar fi scandalizat pe musulmani pe vremuri, fie ei sunniti sau siiti, si care ii scandalizeaza si azi pe multi musulmani. Islamismul nu este un cult al mortii. Totusi, limbajul lui Bin Laden are radacini in trecut, care se trag din cultele sectante razvratite ale lumii musulmane.’  (pag. 85-86)

 

sursa https://ianburuma.com/

Ian Buruma – sursa https://ianburuma.com/

 

‘Atacul impotriva Occidentului este printre altele un atac impotriva gandirii Occidentului’ (pag. 91) – este fraza care deschide capitolul al patrulea, care ia ca exemplu istoric al germenilor si dezvoltarii gandirii occidentaliste evolutia culturii ruse. Sunt detectate doua surse ale atitudinii specifice a culturii ruse (aflata de altfel intr-o aproape permanenta lupta interna de-a lungul istoriei intre curentele de gandire pro-occidentale si occidentaliste): misticismul si moralitatea. Ele sunt opuse rationalitatii promovate de gandirea occidentala perceputa ca aroganta in pretentia sa de a explica in mod determinist lumea si de a construi sisteme sociale bazate pe ideea progresului tehnic si fortei gandirii umane. In conceptia unui scriitor si ganditor ca Dostoievski, cel mai simplu mujic rus este superior unui intelectual pentru ca are frica lui Dumnezeu si poate recurge la ajutorul puterii divine. Conceptia de ‘suflet rus’ este ridicata la rang ‘eroic’ pentru ca include credinta si sacrificiul pentru colectivitate.

Legatura esentiala si toxica intre occidentalism si fanatismul religios este analizata in capitolul intitulat ‘Mania lui Dumnezeu’.

‘… este importanta distinctia dintre occidentalismul religios si cel secular. Occidentalismul religios tinde sa se exprime mai des decat formele sale seculare in termeni maniheisti, ca razboi sfant impotriva ideii de rau absolut.’ (pag. 118)

‘Din punctul de vedere al occidentalismului religios, lupta cu Vestul nu este doar o infruntare politica, ci o drama cosmica, foarte asemanatoare cu drama maniheismului.’ (pag. 124)

Radacinile conceptiilor occidentalist religioase se gasesc in textele fundamentale ale religiilor, inclusiv Biblia, in care pacatul idolatriei este considerat unul dintre cele mai grave. Occidentalistii demonizeaza modul de viata al Occidentului prezentandu-l sub forma unei Gomore contemporane in care idolii care trebuie aruncati de pe socluri sunt valorile fundamentale ale democratiei, egalitatii, libertatilor individuale. Islamul este in contemporaneitate religia care adopta atitudinea cea mai critica fata de aceste valori, caci in structura sa nu exista nici separarea religiei de puterea politica, si nici dreptul credinciosului de a pune intrebari. In interpretarea extrema a Islamului se combina fundamentalismul (intoarcerea la principiile de baza) si radicalismul (intoarcerea la radacinile istorice). Este motivul pentru care ‘reforma’ in Islam a dus pana acum cel putin la o regresie istorica si ideologica, spre deosebire de reforma din crestinism. Este si sursa atitudinii fata de femei, una dintre diferentele esentiale intre conceptiile occidentale si atitudinea occidentalismului religios islamic:

‘Pentru credinciosi, Islamul este singurul izvor si pastrator al moralitatii colective traditionale. Iar moralitatea sexuala se refera in mare parte la femei si la controlarea comportamentului femeiesc. Motivul este ca onoarea barbatului depinde de purtarile femeilor din familia lui. Problema femeilor nu este marginala; ea se situeaza in centrul occidentalismului islamic.’ (pag. 148)

Insasi notiunea de moralitate are alt inteles in conceptia islamica decat in cea occidentala.

 

Avishai Margalit - sursa https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avishai_Margalit

Avishai Margalit – sursa https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avishai_Margalit

 

Capitolul al saselea si ultimul al cartii se ocupa cu ‘Germenii revolutiei’. Pentru cititorul israelian va fi interesant sa citeasca analiza critica a lucrarii fundamentale a lui Theodor Herzl ‘Altneuland’ – roman utopic in care acesta traseaza viziunea sionista asupra transformarii Palestinei in camin national evreiesc, cu respectarea tuturor drepturilor minoritatii arabe, bucurandu-se de progresul tehnologic si de binefacerile ingineriei sociale. Realitatea istorica a fost cum stim bine foarte diferita, sionismul fiind perceput si prezentat de propaganda anti-sionista ca o avangarda a gandirii occidentale intr-o zona a lumii controlata (cel putin pentru ultimul mileniu) de musulmani.

‘Herzl nu avea cum sa prevada toate acestea, insa germenii tragediei se regasesc deja in textul lui, plin de intentii bune, foarte idealist si, in multe privinte reprezentativ pentru lucrurile detestate de occidentalisti.’ (pag. 160)

Cum pot fi aparate Occidentul si valorile sale impotriva urii? Raspunsul autorilor se bazeaza pe doua elemente fundamentale:

‘Desi fundamentalistii crestini vorbesc despre o cruciada, Occidentul nu se afla in razboi cu Islamul. … Intr-adevar, asistam la o ciocnire la scara mondiala, dar liniile de demarcatie nu coincid cu granitele nationale, etnice sau religioase. In unele privinte este acelasi razboi al ideilor pe care l-au purtat generatiile anterioare impotriva diverselor versiuni de fascism si socialism de stat. … In anii 40 taberele razboiului erau doar statele. Acum, una din tabere este o miscare revolutionara risipita, globala, cu o organizare incerta si in mare parte subterana.’ (pag. 169-170)
 
Cealalta capcana intelectuala care trebuie evitata este paralizia vinovatiei coloniale. … A da vina pe imperialismul american, capitalismul global, sau pe expansionismul israelian pentru barbaria dictatorilor nonoccidentali sau pentru salbaticia sinucigasa a revolutiilor religioase nu inseamna doar a intelege gresit problema; asta chiar inseamna o forma orientalista de condescendenta, de parca numai occidentalii ar fi suficient de maturi incat sa raspunda moral pentru propriile lor fapte.’ (pag. 170)
 
 

Textul scris de Ian Buruma si Avishai Margalit este fundamental in opinia mea in descrierea originilor marii schisme ideologice si politice care imparte lumea de astazi in doua tabere in conflict. Radacinile acestor diferente sunt analizate si prezentate in toata compexitatea lor istorica, si intr-o forma articulata, logica si usor de urmarit la lectura. Marele conflict contemporan nu este asa cum simplificat il prezinta unii ca un conflict intre Islam si ‘iudeo-crestinism’ (termen care imi displace din multiple motive, si care este evitat si de Buruma si Margalit) ci o continuare sub forme diferite a conflctului istoric intre democratie si totalitarism care a inceput la sfarsitul secolului al 18-lea, odata cu Revolutiile americana si franceza. O posibila solutie se poate baza numai pe intelegerea corecta a radacinilor conflictului si a partilor antagoniste, si in apararea fara ezitare a valorilor fundamentale ale civilizatiei occidentale, cu mijloacele si metodele aflate la indemana democratiilor.

‘Nu ne putem permite sa ne baricadam in propriile noastre societati, ca metoda de aparare impotriva celor care s-au baricadat in ale lor. Atunci am deveni cu totii occidentalisti si nu am mai avea ce sa aparam. ‘ (pag. 172)

The second film that I have seen in the Czech film festival at our local cinematheque was a first long feature film by director , actually a co-production between the German and Czech studios, mostly spoken in German, as the lead character, herr Schmitke is German. The use of the language is justified by the story which has as one of its themes the encounter between the Eastern and Western worlds at the fall of the Iron Curtain.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/

 

Herr Schmitke is an engineer, a smart one, but a little bit overcome by the technology, or the society around or both. He invented or had a great contribution in the invention of the wind turbines that populate the hills of Europe, but now he is suddenly retrograded to the position of maintaining and fixing the old models, and on the first assignment is sent across the border in the Czech Republic, together with a young colleague. There is more than one border to cross – there are borders in language, in age, in attitude to work, but the most obvious one is the change of landscape. We are in the Czech mountains, the forest surrounds everything, spirits are haunting it, people disappear.

 

(video source DARLING BERLIN)

 

The premises are quite good and the film succeeds to maintain interest for about half of its duration. The low-key style of acting of Peter Kurth actually helps, I liked it. The problem is that after setting the stage for a mountain mystery, or a forest horror movie (anybody remembers The Blair Witch Project?), or maybe even better – a political metaphor about the abyss yet to be filled between the Western and Eastern sectors of the not-so-unified Europe, the story becomes completely confused, the action divides into 3 or 4 threads, none makes too much sense, none provides any answer to the questions that the viewer may have about the fate of the characters (or even of the wind turbine). It’s like several endings were put filmed, and the director could not decide which one to leave, so he left them all. The non-German characters are presented in a stereotypical and negative manner – if this was supposed to be some political comment, it was quite gross to my taste.

Schmitke starts well, but confuses and even bores towards the end.

There is a magic about the number ‘seven’ in cinema among other places. Some say it started with Snow White, other will mention Kurosawa. Fact is that many successful films used this magic and succeeded, some of them succeeded great. So when we get this number in the title, when we see on the poster a cast that would make any blockbuster in Hollywood, and when we know that the script and directing belongs to the exquisite drama writer whose appearances as a film maker are scarce but special, and whose previous film In Bruges was smart and funny, the expectations for Seven Psychopaths run high.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1931533/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1931533/

 

What we get is a ‘film in film’ formula of a special kind. A scriptwriter in Hollywood seeks inspiration for his next film in stories about psychopaths. He starts collecting them, and the stories start happening around him. His best friend is building a revenue stream from kidnapping dogs and returning them to their owners for happy dog reunion awards. Murders and horrors multiply in the script and around, and the border between real and fiction is never clear. The formula is not completely new, Hollywood loves stories about Hollywood, and screen heroes have more than once crossed the line of separation between screens and viewing halls (Woody Allen, Charlie Kaufman, etc.). The tone here is crazy, with reverence to the older and newer horror movies, but also to Tarantino.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

The execution is less fun that it could be. is a smart script writer, but as a director he seems to be too much in love with his own script. Something is missing, maybe the cynical look or the extremes that make Tarantino’s violence on screen entertainment. Out of the good cast I especially liked the performance of , while , , and deliver as expected. Overall ‘Seven Psychopats’ makes true only part of the promises of number 7.

 

War Dogs‘ is the second movie ‘inspired by a true story’ that I have seen in the last 24 hours, and is actually the one that I liked better (the other one being ‘The Infiltrator’). Its film-making style (director ) and its comic thriller approach fit well the month of August. If I am to chose one easier entertainment with no super-heroes or space-ships, and yet a film that raises serious issues this summer, I will recommend it (but of course, I did not see them all).

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt2005151/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt2005151/

 

I am not sure if ‘War Dogs’ will make it to too many Jewish film festivals, but the two lead characters are Jewish or better say one nice Jewish kid (acted by ) and a one Jewish trouble-maker kid (acted by ) who meet about one year after high-school. The bad guy is already in weapons trade and he easily convinces the good guy to become an associate. It’s the Bush-Cheney period, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan need arms, and the government seems to have privatized at least part of the guns and ammo supply chain and opened it to free competition. A golden business opportunity for many, including the couple of young entrepreneurs who start small, win bigger and bigger contracts, break more and more moral rules, laws and trade restrictions, move into bigger offices and houses, and ask themselves less and less questions about what is right and what is wrong to do in such business.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

The film is fun to watch. There is no great characters development, the characters are from the start to the end what they seem to be when they show up for the first time, but they are enjoyable, and at least does here his best role on screen to date. also shows up in a small but key supporting role. Story telling has pace and humor, although I could have given up the off-screen story telling which tries to provide the personal and somehow moralizing perspective of the good guy. It seems to be a returning fashion in the American cinema which I frankly dislike. It usually hides lack of skills in setting the contest and telling the story, but it was not the case here.

It’s the final titles before the credits, the one that usually relate the characters on screen with the reality of the ‘true story’ and show the real faces of the ‘heroes’ that we have seen acted on screen, that made me click. So these guys, who sold lethal weapons that caused death in the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan, who tricked the government and the individuals fighting for what they believe is a just cause got a few years in jail (one of them) and a suspended sentence (the other one) and they are now selling their story in books and movies? Something is broken in our justice systems if the ‘war dogs’ selling illegal weapons to the conflict areas are not punished. This film is not a masterpiece, but at least it causes to some of us to ask the right questions.

I could not avoid borrowing the qualifications used by a Web site from Toronto when writing about this film. It’s ‘boring and watchable’. An unusual combination indeed. And yet, this is exactly how I feel about ‘The Infiltrator’ directed by – a talented director who succeeded much better IMO with The Lincoln Lawyer.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1355631/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1355631/

 

I must also confess from the start that I am not a fan of the ‘true crime’ genre. Reality has the disadvantage of being in many cases confusing, and bringing it to screen demands a level of processing that elevates it above what we – as spectators – live in our daily lives. After all we do not pay the price of the ticket to live inside the cinema theaters the same lives as we do in the fresh air outside. Script writers and directors approaching the genre face the dilemma of either sticking to the truth of the story (and risk to be drown in the details) or of ‘dramatizing’ the reality to make it better fit to screen (and risk losing credibility). Succeeding is not only an exercise in balance but also requires the art of finding the artistic truth that makes the film valuable and attractive for viewers beyond the documentary news.

The element that makes ‘The Infiltrator’ different is the building of the relationship between anti-drug cop Robert Mazur () and the drug dealers and the bankers that financed the business in the crime organization that he infiltrated in the 80s playing the role of a money launderer. There is tension in the building of the undercover team and the way they gain the trust of the lethally criminals they deal with, but the difference is really the fact that Mazur not only starts living as the character he poses as, but also seems to develop feelings of real sympathy (if not friendship) towards his enemies-in-law.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

The result is to some extent convincing, but it takes a long way to get to it, almost the totality of the two hours film. The rest of the time is spent into telling a cops vs. drug dealers story that is not too original and not too different from so many other stories we have already seen on screen. The inflation of real life characters brought too screen because they were around in the real story, but not really living a screen life of their own makes much of the introduction part, and much of what happens next confusing.  is OK in his role, but an actor with more charisma could have made the character more interesting. The best acting in the film came from , an actor I have seen in many supporting roles, and I am glad to see that he gets near more consistent roles towards a lead role in the future that he certainly deserves.

The Infiltrator is not the big crime film ‘inspired by a true story’ that I am waiting for.

I liked director ‘s Drive. I read it as a love story disguised in a violent action movie, an uneasy combination that worked perfectly, to a large extent thanks to the presence in the lead role of Ryan Gosling, one of my preferred actors. From the same director comes now The Neon Demon a film that confirms the fame of Refn as a director who does not hesitate to create violence on screen in a manner that would almost make Tarantino blush, but yet has always another different message that provides substance to his movies.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1974419/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1974419/

 

‘The Neon Demon’ begins as the innocent-girl-in-LA genre, with Jesse () landing in California and finding pretty soon herself engaged on a stellar modeling path. All is due to her looks, she has the charisma and innocence that makes the room light and warm up when she steps in. Her beauty is her strength, but may also become soon her main liability as she becomes a threat to the other beautiful women around and they may fight back by all means. And ‘by all means’ indeed means ‘all means’ – we are in the beauty industry, and the demons can be as dark and scary as in a haunted mansion.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

Much of the rest of the film is in almost pure horror genre. Some will love it, some will hate it, some will exit the screening theater at some point. My impressions are pretty mixed. I am not intimidated by explicit horror or sex on screen, I have seen worse horror in some Korean movies for example, and these actually fall within the logic (or un-logic) of the story. The film is visually striking, with plenty of beautiful video art elements, too many actually, and this is one of the aspects that I did not like. There are so many beautiful filmed scenes and they are so long that at some point the whole experience smells of narcissism. Same about the usage of electronic music.  is an excellent Jesse, beautiful and vulnerable, threatened and threatening. She is actually one almost sure bet for the list of the stars of tomorrow, with no less than 54 roles on record, three for each of the 18 years of her age (her first one was ‘Lucy 2 years’ in I Am Sam!). makes a short appearance, but his fans should not go to this film just to see him. The last 15 minutes of the film put in context all that we have seen until then, but I have seen better endings.

‘The Neon Demon’ is not a film all will like, and it’s not easy viewing even for those who will like it. It’s worth being seen despite its problems. For dully warned audiences only.

 

Sometimes melodrama works. Then the reviewer in me faces a dilemma. I know that you need to buy into the story in order to feel anything in a melodrama, but who does not buy into it if they are parents, faced the teen crises of their kids, were too busy to dedicate to them the time they deserve (which is approximately all the time in the world)? Did I actually name all the parents population in the world with a few rare exceptions? Of course, only very few of us if any practice the profession of paid killer in the service of the CIA, as does in 3 Days to Kill, a combination of a ‘absent father – daughter’ relation with a co-written thriller.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2172934/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2172934/

 

I belong to the category of fans who are quite disappointed about the downturn of the career of Kevin Costner (both as actor and director). It’s due in my opinion to some big projects that were less successful than planned at the end of the 90s, followed by a lack of great roles. ’3 Days to Kill’ is not the film that will put his acting career back on the stellar path, it’s a lead role but written in a manner where accurate execution and a touch of humor and sensibility are all that is needed. Which Costner delivers.

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

There is nothing special and nothing wrong in this film directed by . The professional level of execution of the story telling, good acting with a cast which aside Costner also includes another semi-comeback by , a touch of humor which makes the violence on screen palatable, the background of Paris which always looks well – all these are actually the setting for the family melodrama which simply works. The cast also includes good performances by (in the role of the teenage daughter, she actually has an impressive acting record although she was just around 18 when the film was made) and .

We can ask for more, of course, but for this summer day it was the good entertainment I needed.

 

This may be the first Czech film that I see in 40 years. The occasion is the Czech film festival hold in my city (and several other Cinematheques) in Israel. The good news are that the Czech cinema seems to be alive and doing quite well, an observation which I hope will be confirmed by the other two films that I plan to see in the coming weeks.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt3650290/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt3650290/

 

 ’The Snake Brothers’ directed by has an atmosphere and an intrigue which is quite typical for much of the cinema issued in the last 25 years in the former communist countries. It tells the story of two brothers and their friends in a small city in the Czech republic trying to meet ends in a world that changed the rules without adapting the economic infrastructure but especially without replacing the old set of rigid moral patterns with something that can provide a goal in life. It is however much more than another story of survival in the Wild East of the New Europe. The two brothers – one hard working and with some entrepreneurial spirit, the other smelling pure trouble in all he does and hurting everybody around in order to feed his drugs addiction – represent a modern incarnation of the Cain and Abel couple, at least apparently. As the very well written story develops we understand the things are not necessarily what they seem to be. Then end is one of the bests I have recently seen in movies, and makes you think about the fate of the characters long after the film is over, and gives a new sense (almost ad literam) to the old ‘deus ex machina’ expression. Accomplishment is often based on somebody else’s tragedy – but can this really be a source of happiness? You will find yourself asking this question after screening is over.

 

(video source Offside Men)

 

There is much more to be said about the quality of this film. Director is surprisingly at his first long feature independent film on big screens. His previous work was all TV-related, but maybe some of the accuracy in reading the psychology of the characters reflects this experience. He is strongly supported by a team of superb actors including the (real) brothers and who bring to life the small Czech city landscape. ‘The Snake Brothers’ is a (good) film about the troubled times part of Europe goes through, but is also much more than that.