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A few weeks back I wrote about Bridge of Spies and I was mentioning the fact that I expected more than an OK+ story about the Cold War from a script written by the  and brothers. This feeling was now enhanced by viewing Hail, Ceasar!. The trailer was so promising – the anti-establishment brothers made a film about the Hollywood.  as the drunken (not even, actually) star in the historic super-production.  as the blonde brainless starlet. The bigger the expectations, the deeper the disappointment, they say. The brothers seem to have ran out almost completely of ideas and spices.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0475290/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0475290/

 

Hollywood loves making fun of itself, but never forgets to mix a dose of nostalgia. This is what made The Artist such a huge success, plus of course the French charm. It’s 2016 however, and nostalgia should not be consumed in overwhelming doses. Yet, the Coen brothers seem almost to crawl in repentance to the big studios they succeeded to teach in the past a few things about digging for gold in the classical fabric of American stories. There is only one scene where the Coen spin and spirit succeed to remind the good old days – that’s the ‘ecumenical’ discussion in preparation of the Christ movie with the participation of Catholic, Easter-Orthodox and Protestant priests plus one rabbi. It looked and sounded like a good joke. The difference is that we used to have ten or more such good jokes in the Coen brothers films, now it was just one. The social content which is also present in many of their films is now reduced to a parody of the black-listing of the 50s combined with an incarnation of Communist hysteria (in a Malibu villa by the ocean of all places) which is maybe the second good joke in the film. Still insufficient.

 

(video source Universal Pictures)

 

In a season that was so deprived of comedies that The Martian got a nomination in the category at the Golden Globes, Hail, Ceasar! is still the funniest show in town, but it’s more by lack of competition. and looked genuinely bored in a film which should have been fun to make. is no comedy actor. The ones lucky to get more interesting parts are the amazing and who left me with the dilemma of guessing which film director he took revenge upon when building his character.

I am waiting for the Coen brothers to return.

 

 

I usually rely on the opinions of exquisite movie critics like Robert Ebert or James Berardinelli and it seldom or almost never happens to be in disagreement with one, not to speak both of them. Luckily I usually read critics opinions after seeing the film and so I did in this case as well, because I may have chosen to skip one of the most intelligent and well written action films I have seen lately. The story is not only well written and the pace of the action kept me on my edge for the whole duration of the film, but it also has logic and is credible, so I dare say that the two great critics got it wrong when they gave the two stars out of four treatment to the film.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1401152/

 

The first sequences of the film introduce the viewers in the American-Has-Trouble-In-European-Big-City genre, with Berlin playing the role usually assumed by Paris. The hero is a biotechnology expert which in the first few minutes of the film loses his suitcase, his wife, and his identity. The losing of the identity is soon to be turned into the kind of situation where not only the hero starts to doubt his own self, but also the viewers start doubting what they have seen, or searching for the hidden signification. Another man has taken his identity, his wife seems to have become part of the plot or maybe she is forced to be one, a lot of people try to kill him, and whoever helps him is in mortal danger and does not survive much time on the screen. All this happens in a frozen Berlin in winter, and is filmed with a blueish filter that creates a metallic light atmosphere that just increases the anxiety. Acting is exact, Liam Neeson will not get another Oscar nomination for this role but he succeeds to make us care for him and so does Diane Kruger in the role of the woman who helps him, to find her life blown-up together with her flat in the action.

 

(video source movieclips)

 

This is the fourth film of director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose first film, a piece of horror name House of Wax I also enjoyed. He proves here that he understands the rules of the genre and can make well-paced and efficient movies. The quality of the film comes however first of all from the quality of the script – Unknown is simply brilliantly written, the terrorism and Cold War sequels intrigue reminding Le Carre’s novels provides a logical explanation which put for me every event in place in a story of lost memory and identity that could belong to the Bourne series. My preferred critics were wrong this time.

 

About Roger Ebert’s extraordinary fight with cancer you can read here.

In her book On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, MD describes five stages of coping with the malady that she observed in the psychology of many people hit by cancer. The stages may last for different periods of time and will replace each other or may exist simultaneously: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. There is one common feeling through all these stages: Hope.

This information is well known by everybody who faced a disease that can be terminal or who had somebody close and dear who had to cope with such a malady.  Playwright Anat Gov not only has the chutzpah to bring to stage the very delicate and emotional subjects of dealing with cancer and the perspective of death, but also does it with artistic tools and from a perspective different from the one taken by the majority of the artists or writers who did it before.

 

source http://cameri.co.il/index.php?page_id=2195

 

There is no melodrama in the text of Sof Tov (which could be translated as Good End or even Happy End) written by Anat Gov and the staging of Edna Maze at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv. We are watching a comedy and a musical and if there is anything that is close in genre it is not the psychological journal or reflections on life and death but rather the kitsch medical soap operas that are quite popular on TV. However, the subject and the approach are unexpected. A famous actress enters hospital for chemotherapy for an advanced form of cancer. Statistics are not on her side, the disease was discovered late, she can at best win a few more years of life spent in hospitals and treatments, probably slowing but unable to stop the disease. She seems unable or unwilling to cope with the five stages of the relationship between sick people and fate, and decides to fight back her own way, refusing treatment soon after it started. Does she have the right to do it to herself and her family, has the medical personnel around the right to assist or must they continue the treatment against her own will? The moral and emotional questions asked by the play are smart and difficult if not impossible to answer. The amazing thing is that the low key approach and the comical register work so well in dealing with them on stage.

 

source http://cameri.co.il/index.php?page_id=2195

 

The mix of comedy text, music and dance on such a serious subject succeed to ask the right questions, put in move emotions and entertain most of the time in the version of the play created by Edna Maze. The emphasize is on the strong acting with a wonderful Anat Waxman in the main role, and a supporting cast in which the three actresses playing each one of the other three fellow patients creates wonderful portraits of the ex-rock girl, of the Auschwitz survivor and of the young haredi woman brought together by the destiny of the same malady. Oded Leopold as the doctor was the only actor which I liked less in the performance, he fits the exterior of the role but does not catch and relay the human vibration. Dancing and singing are not the best, the Cameri knows to do much better, and certainly Broadway or West End will do better if they will have the inspiration to take and remake this play. I am pretty sure that they will do it, as the daring and well written text of the play deserves an international career.

 

Monteverdi’s rendition of the story of Orpheus is a milestone in the evolution of opera, one of the first works that definitely crossed the barrier of the oratorio into a fully defined stage representation. It includes remarkable musical moments, arias and recitatives with fine instrumental backing, it has a clear story line and a duration that makes it fit to modern representations. No wonder it has been part of the repertory of big opera houses for many years, as one of the most representative and most popular pieces of the early baroque style.

(video source ladiszka3)

The version that I have recently seen on the Mezzo TV chain was put on stage at the Theatre de la Monnaie – the opera theater in Bruxelles which has a fascinating history of its own. I hope to have the time to write about it separately in a separate piece on the blog. The musical direction belongs to Rene Jacobs and the main role was sung by Simon Keenlydeside.

(video source FILMS7)

It is however the stage direction which is remarkable in this representation. Theatre de la Monnaie has a long tradition of supporting innovative ballet. Maurice Bejart was a ballet master here from 1959 to 1992, and I have seen one remarkable work of the ballet troupe in Tel Aviv a few years ago. This version of the L’orpheo is directed by Trisha Brown, one of the remarkable American choreographer of our times, and the result is as it can be expected a wonderful combination of music and movement, which fills in the recitative and instrumental parts with dance and acrobatics. It’s not an easy task for the performers, as the solo and chorus singers are required to sing and dance to fulfill the vision of a complete performance. Here is one example of the scene where Orpheus tries to cross the gates of the underworld.

(video source votregali)

Luckily I also found on youTube the final scene, with Simon Keenlydeside – the overall concept of music, dance, sets and lights can be well enjoyed in this sequence.

The 78th meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force was hold in the heart of Europe – in the city of Maastricht, the Netherlands.

the IETF at the MECC

The venue of the meeting was The Maastricht Exhibition & Congress Center (MECC) not far from the place where in 1992 the treaty that defined the European Union and the creation of the Euro currency was signed. The location is a little remote from the center of the city, but frankly speaking the 20 to 30 minutes walk at night after dinner from the center to the nearby hotels did us just good, and the free pass that was granted to the IETF participants on buses during the week helped the lazy ones.

one shore of the Maas ...

The name of the city derives from the Maas (Meuse) river that crosses the city. The place is inhabited at least from the times of the Romans.

... and the other

The history of the city includes several interesting episodes. Good chances are that you have read about it during your childhood if you have read Alexandre Dumas’ novels. The death of d’Artagnan – the hero made immortal by Dumas happened during the siege of Maastricht by Louis XIV’s armies. The story is told in Dumas’ novel The Vicomte of Bragelonne.

the city seen from above ...

The city has many beautiful churches and at least two of them are outstanding. I will tell more about them and also bring up some pictures in one of the coming episodes.

... and down in the streets, at day ...

I love wandering on the streets of European cities like Maastricht.

... and at night

They are beautiful at day and at night.

terraces in the Vrijthof square

The week I spent in Maastricht was a pleasant summer week, following a wave of heat which had made the atmosphere challenging they week before (as we were told). The few showers were short and just cleaned the air. We could spent some of the evening dinners on terraces like the one in the Vrijthof square …

the Town Hall in Markt Square

… or the ones in the Markt Square.

a city of statues

Adding beauty to the picturesque streets are the statues that can be found in Maastricht at the crossroads or even on the sides of the streets. Most of them are not big in dimensions, in many cases at human sizes and proportions allowing for an feeling of intimacy and belonging to be established between the statues and the street walker.

Johannes Petrus Minckelers

One of the few that look at visitors from a pedestal is the statue in Markt Square of Johannes Petrus Minckelers, the inventor of the illuminating gas, who holds an eternal flame in his hand reminding all about his invention.

bycicles, bycicles

As in many other places in the Netherlands bicycles are a preferred means of transport. Locals are bicycling to work, to recreation, or to their commuting train stations.

the police orchestra plays for the IETF

The social event is the one moment of recreation that happens on Tuesdays of the IETF meetings allowing for a change of atmosphere and pace for the big heads who build and run the Internet.

rocking the boat at the IETF Social

The social at this meeting was organized on the boats near the river (who are used during the day for the tourist rides on the Maas). We had fanfare music, we had rock music played from the high deck of the boats, we had even tribal drums by the end. Food, wine and especially beer ran free, but beer will be the subject of a dedicated later episode.

If there is time for just one museum visit in Malta or Valletta I recommend it to be in the National Museum of Archeology.

(video source heartofmalta)

Located on the Republic Street, the 5th Avenue of Valletta which divides the city grid into two almost symmetrical halves, the museum is hosted by one of the beautiful palaces built by the architect of the co-cathedral Gerolama Cassan, the Auberge de Provence which was hosting the Provencal knights when coming into Malta. The palace was renovated by the end of the last century and the entrance hall and its beautiful painted ceiling is a great example of the architecture of the palaces of the first period after the foundation of the city.

auberge de Provence - entry hall

The collection of the museum covers several historical periods, however the megalithic finds section is by far the richest and the most extensive, with both a comprehensive and well documented timeline of the ancient history of the island, as well as a richness of objects and artifacts that document each period, plus a few exceptional top findings, among the most exquisite objects of such kind in the world.

Ghar Dalam animal heads

The first populations in the island were the agricultural and shepherds inhabitants who left the artifacts at Ghar Dalam from the period between 5200 and 4500 BC. They were related to the inhabitants of Sicily from the same Neolithic period, and actually objects found on site show that they were navigating or part of a cross-Mediterranean commerce that put them in contact with other civilizations of the same period.

red Skorba figurine

The immediate next period is well characterized by findings at Skorba. The figurines from the Red Skorba period (4400 – 4100 BC) are the first representations of human bodies found here, they are very similar to the Cyclades figurines again indicating a possible commerce and cultural interference, and were probably religious cult object.

fragment from the Hypogeum

One of the most famous Megalithic objectives to visit on the island of Malta is the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum with its monument and underground cemetery. It accommodates a limited number of visitors each day, and the waiting queue was a few weeks even in the out-of-season period when we visited Malta. Luckily the National Museum of Archeology has documentation and a few artifacts brought from that place that we could see and learn about it.

Hagar Quim Altar

The Hagar Quim Altar is another example of a valuable object, brought in this case from a place that we had already visited. The form and dimensions of the altar are very similar to ones in works by Brancusi, and it left me wondering if the Romanian had maybe seen photos of the monuments and made me see in a different perspective some of his stone works.

animal representation

The period of maximal development of the temples civilizations in Malta bring up some of the most representative objects of artistic expression of the stone and bronze ages. Representations of animals – mostly domestic as there were few wild beasts on the small surface of the island are typical for a culture that made of growing animals one of the principal sources of living.

heads

Back to human representation, some of the heads of the Temples period (4000 – 2500 BC) are superb.

standing statues

Many of the human representations were however having cult destination as are the standing statues from Tarxien and other places which presumably are fertility goddesses.

seated statues

A similar group of seated statues drew my attention as a proof that Botero did not really invent anything.

The Sleeping Lady

The absolute masterpiece of the Maltese Temple period art of The Sleeping Lady, discovered in the Hypogeum. It is interpreted representation of Death, the Eternal Sleep, but can also be viewed as a precursor of the Goya’s Majas and other reclined women portraits in the history of art.

The Venus of Malta

The Venus of Malta discovered at Hagar Quin is another representative piece of work, of an astonishing realism. Well, it may look different than Venus of Milo, or maybe beauty standards changed in the thousands of years in-between.

sarcophagi from Tarxien

The last great period of Megalithic art is the one represented by works from Tarxien, around 2500 BC. After that time the great period of the megalithic temples ends abruptly. The causes are not clear, maybe a natural catastrophe, maybe diseases, maybe over-exploitation of the natural resources. Ancient history of Malta ends here in any case, and so did our visit through the most interesting sections of this beautiful and recommended museum in Valletta.

12 is a remake of the classical 12 Angry Men – Sidney Lumet’s ultimate jury drama. What makes Nikita Mikhalkov, a director who never lacked original ideas or Russian scripts take the court drama located in the US of the 5os just out of the McCarthy period era and transplant it with all its 12 characters, with very similar premises and very predictable (at least up to some point) end into the reality of today’s Russia?

source www.imdb.com

I believe that the intent is explicit and declarative. Russia undergoes now a similar process of transition as the USA in the 50s, and the end is still uncertain. The laws may be already written in the books of laws, the jury system is called in theory to allow for fair trials in which the accused is presumed innocent until l proven guilty, but laws are implemented by humans and humans have limitations and prejudices and they are in a hurry to give a verdict and get back to their lives. As in Lumet’s film, it is more the human beings than the system that ensure that justice is eventually done. The responsibility of every man to stand up and express his doubts despite the overwhelming opinion of the other, the right of the minority in a democratic system to have its say despite the apparent rightfulness of the majority are key elements in the Russian film as well as in the original American one,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBq_Y0kgkMY

(video source ErlandJosephson)

And yet at the same time Mikhalkov’s film is very Russian. The mix of characters represents various sectors of today’s Russian society and the acting is without exception splendid. National tensions and antisemitism are still part of the landscape, and so are the cultural and even the language sequels of the Communist period. The jurors, all men (why?) address each other inertially with the denomination ‘comrades’. Each has the opportunity to tell his story, and the stories describe the background of their personalities, and the motivation of their decision to eventually absolve the innocent. it is however the surprise ending that adds a new dimension to the film. The Chechen youngster wrongly accused of killing his Russian stepfather is acquitted. However, his acquittal may mean just a suspension of a death penalty in the hands of the mafia who are the real responsible of the murder. It takes a rather melodramatic ending to solve this problem, and this interesting addition to the original American story is both unconvincing as story flow  but quite eyes-opening. Although the court drama is for almost the whole duration of the film confined inside the walls of the same room it tells a lot about the Russian realities at large.

deserted train station in Medina

Somebody should write once a history of the railroads in the British Empire. All were ambitious projects, designed as a replica of the network that was built as the infrastructure of the industrial revolution in the British islands. The stations were built as a carbon copy of the old country stations, the locomotives and wagons were destined to run on four continents, all driven by the coal extracted in the pits of Wales and Scotland. Yet reality was stronger than the imperial designs, and as in Palestine, or even worse, the train in Malta never became an economic reality. Due to short distances within the island and long delivery distances for equipment, parts, and especially for coal the train service was interrupted in Malta by 1935. It is only the old, abandoned trains stations like the one in the city of Medina that stay witness of the history of railroad transport in the heart of the Mediterranean. Demolitions are not a Maltese skill, did I say it already?

on the roads

So the tourists and the locals are left with the roads network. They are driving on the correct side of the road, so my only day of car rental was the usual challenge which I overcame heroically. No real highways on the island, and the state of the road was fair, some place between Israel and Romania. Road signs are poor, no signs with road numbers, you never know when you exit a village or city and enter the next one, but distances are small, so you cannot really get lost.

central bus station in Valletta

The principal mean of transportation used by locals and tourists as well are the buses. They are quite inexpensive, no ticket exceeds too much one Euro, most are less. The central bus station in Valletta connects to any point on the main island, and being situated just out of the city gates is the starting point for exploring the city.

the yellow bus

Much can be written about the buses in Malta. The common thing is that they are all yellow – the yellow of the cabs in NYC or Bucharest. Under the paint you can find any model the British bus industry produces in the last half of century, from smoky and noisy Leyland buses similar to the ones once manufactured in Israel and exported to Romania among other in the 60s, to the modern air-conditioned ones. You buy tickets from the driver and better have change with you, or not too big notes fit to the value of the tickets.

in the bus - the full experience

Do not be in a hurry and do not rely to get to the minute to your destination. Buses, as life in general go at slow pace in Malta. Sometimes a 20 kilometers trip can take one hour, in some cases the bus has problems with changing gears, or climbing hills, and the timetable on the station panels is just for orientation, provided that you understand it. All these happened to us, but eventually we always made it at the destination, and the good-humored indifference of the drivers did not allow us to get too angry. Bus traveling is certainly one part of the Malta experience not to be missed.

waiting on the dock of the bay

source www.imdb.com

The source of this film is a book of Sebastien Japrisot – a thriller author and script-writer who also directed a a few films by himself. After having seen the film directed by Jean Becker in 1983 I start to wonder whether it would not have been better in this case if Japrisot brought to screen his own novel.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmlD08WlO2U

(video source etik42)

The whole film turns around Isabelle Adjani, By the time she made L’ete meurtrier Adjani was already at her 20th film or such and Truffault’s L’Histoire d’Adele H., or Polanski’s Le locataire were already behind her. Yet, she has in this film the freshness of a debutante and a sex-appeal that equals few films I have seen (Tornatore’s Malena with Monica Belucci comes to my mind). Adjani plays here the role of the victim and of the avenger, her beauty, changes of mood, suffering and mistakes make and destroy everything in the story and in the film itself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3z-VEavOs8I

(video source etik42)

Seen through the perspective of almost three decades the story of the young girl seeking revenge for the rape of her mother may seem conventional and melodramatic. It is however very much into the style and approach not only of the classic French cinema but also of the literature – the characters seem to descend to us from the world of an Emile Zola, with their predestination of giving up to passion and with the tendency of making fatal, destinies breaking mistakes for the seek of love.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ii-vtINLE7Y

(video source etik42)

If there is anything or anybody to blame for this film not really aging well despite Adjani’s fabulous performance (seconded by Alan Souchon, an actor who seems to have all but disappeared after having made this film, and I have a hard time understanding why) I think it’s the direction and the director. Similar material has created masterpieces if I am to think about films like La mariee etait en noir – Jean Becker seems to have lacked the daring of taking a ‘classical’ story and using lesser conventional cinematographic means in order to make the story more credible. And yet, the film is worth seeing, even just for the pleasure of seeing Isabelle Adjani at her best.

If there is anything as royal blood in cinema it flows through Isabella Rossellini’s veins. Her mother was the most talented and beautiful Hollywood actress of the 40s and 50s, her father one of the most famous Italian directors of all times. She made a career in acting, modeling and more recently directing. This documentary broadcast by the European culture channel ARTE opens the door to her life, to her career, to her personality.

source http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000618/

Co-directed by Rossellini herself and Gero von Boehm the film lacks completely the morgue of many other biographical films, and rather chooses to invite the viewers into her private world. She speaks about the relationship with her parents, we are introduced to her children, she talks about the men in her life and especially about David Lynch, about modeling, acting and directing, about being young and getting older, and even about the sexual life of the insects which has become her interest and her subject of documentary-making recently.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EraHiteiCII

(video by machiikyoko)

We do do learn interesting things about her cinema experiences, but her fans may be surprised to her that acting is not really her passion, or her first choice, but rather a given because of her upraising. Although she is a fabulous actor (I have seen her on stage as well in an off-Broadway play a few years ago) she prefers focusing on directing recently. Most important of all is however for her to share with us her feelings about growing mature. With the years of youth and glamor behind her she is now happy to live a quite and happy life and share her feelings and interests in documentaries, while acting occasionally in things that interest her. It is that feeling of somebody sharing the happiness behind her luminous eyes that stays with us after having seen this film.

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