American Pastoral directed by Ewan McGregor

Review by Karim Malak

Philip Roth’s 1997 timeless novel American Pastoral about a New Jersey small town football and basketball star gets adapted for the screen in this year’s Ewan McGregor film which carries the same name. As both director and lead actor, Ewan McGregor plays Swede Levov: the handsome Jew who goes on to marry the Miss Union County girl, Dawn (played by Jennifer Connelly). It is a seemingly triumphant story of the American melting pot as a Jewish man in 1950′s America rises against the odds, has his cake and eats it. As Swede and Dawn decide to marry, Dawn confronts Swede’s father. Dawn is not one to take no for answers and prevails through all the difficult questions Swede’s father throws at her. She insists were they to have kids their child would be baptized, rather than be in limbo on account of being Jewish, and forces the hand of Swede’s father, Lou Levov, an old and stubborn self-made Jew who owns a leather factory.

Nominated for two awards, best feature at the Hamburg Film Festival and best film at the San Sebastián International Film Festival, American Pastoral is likely to bring together Philip Roth fans and those who appreciate good film in general. American Pastoral departs from Philip Roth’s classic novel style of taking one character and making the viewer see their life through their own eyes as was the case with Indignation, another Philip Roth adaptation that was premiered this year as well that tells the story of the trials and tribulations of a young Jewish atheist at a Catholic seminary who experiences American anti-Jewish attitudes during World War II.

In contrast, American Pastoral, the story is told through Swede’s brother who tells his story during his high-school homecoming and divulges to a friend of Swede that he is actually in town for his brother’s funeral. Told as a flashback American Pastoral thus shows the intersections of the Vietnam War, the black civil rights movement and the everyday racism of the New Jersey police as well as the family politics of a Jewish/Catholic family in which the daughter competes for the love of her father with her mother. Depicting a classic case of the Electra complex, the film increasingly revolves around Swede’s daughter; the American dream it seems of the high school football star who married the high school beauty quickly crumbles.

The movie then plunges into the life of Swede’s stuttering daughter, Merry Levov (Dakota Fanning), who, as the family’s shrink has already stated, lives in the shadow of the local county’s beauty queen mother and the burden to be a perfectionist. In this case, the white picket fence of the family farm is what holds Merry from speaking. As Merry becomes more and more politicized and goes to New York to attend meetings about the Vietnam War she becomes more and more secluded, eventually running away from the house as she joins the political underground as bombings in the US spread while curfews are called in to stop the “rioting” which Merry insists is instead the first wave of the revolution. Swede Levov’s factory which proudly employs “80% Negros” has its windows smashed and its manager, Vicky (played by Uzo Adoba), a black woman in her 40′s, calls to tell him she has never seen anything like this type of violence as police shoot unarmed black protestors. Swede joins her and risks getting shot when he hoists up a sign on the factory windows proclaiming “This factory employs Negros.”

As Merry resurfaces through an alleged comrade, Swede’s life brightens up and he is lured into believing that this mysterious co-activist can lead him to his daughter. After several rendezvous he is disappointed and his wife shows up in the factory naked with leather gloves on, singing and serenading while Vicky yells for him to come quickly. Dawn has had a breakdown and goes to a mental hospital, during which she has a few cathartic episodes where she describes what she sees – her past – “Catholic schools boys as life guards…I should have married them.” She blames Swede, and his non-Catholicism, for their current predicament, implying that they brought into this world an ungodly child. Eventually what brings Dawn back is her decision to do a facelift in Geneva and undergo plastic surgery; she wants to be reborn to bury her past but Swede cannot let go of Merry just yet. As a reborn woman, Dawn is still as beautiful, if not more, as Swede’s father reminds him. She cheats on him with an architect redesigning their home who happens to also be an artist from whom Swede purchases his art to appease his wife.

Merry reappears and Swede learns what she has been through: rape at the hands of her comrades; struggles leaving from Chicago to Boston to New York barely eating and how they ‘used’ her to carry out bombings to protest the Vietnam War. When Swede asks her how many lives she has taken, she replies four. In shock Swede says he can “bring her back;” he is outraged at the those four white deaths, while Merry’s old 16-year-old voice rings in the background, reminding viewers of the previous scenes when she rebutted Swede, asking how many lives in Vietnam were lost while he didn’t care. It is the classic story of the activist underworld that in the name of revolution reproduces the same ills it claims to fight against. As Swede grows old and dies, the movie ends with Swede’s brother and his high school friend at his funeral, only to see Merry reappear by his coffin.

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

Loving, written and directed by Jeff Nichols

Loving
Review written Kamhai Beard, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

Before I get started with my review, let me tell you something. Love is the key to everything. If any of you have seen this film, you know the main idea of the story already. But if you haven’t, let me bring you up to speed. This is a sad yet romantic film. When I watched this movie, it changed my perspective or at least my way of thinking about love. After watching it, I thought about the life I live today and I realize that without the Lovings, the world would be a much different place.

This movie is about the true story of an interracial couple who fell in love. In the beginning of the movie, we see Mr. Loving (Joel Edgerton) building a new home for himself and his wife. Little did they know that the police were going to soon find out about their marriage and shortly after, they would end up in jail. Back in 1967, in the state of Virginia, interracial marriages were illegal. But love has no color so Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving decide to fight for what they believed in. When the police find out, they try to stop them. As you watch this movie, it makes you think about love, not differences. Now get this – after watching this movie some of the actors from the film came on stage and told us more about the movie. I learned that when Peggy, the Loving’s daughter first meet Joel Edgerton (who plays her dad in the film), she called him daddy and began to cry.

The filming crew truly captures the reality of the times in so many ways. I recommend this film for ages 10 through 18 and older. Children under 10 would not have learned about this subject yet, but when you’re 10 you already start learning about the racism in their country in social studies. I give this movie 5 out of 5 stars because it was better than my expectations. It has a good storyline and a good setting and, most importantly, the titles really catches the meaning of the film. This film is in theaters now so be sure to check it out.

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

Indignation, directed by James Schamus

Review written by Karim Malak.

In the movie Indignation, an adaptation of Philip Roth’s work, the viewer gets a taste of how a Jewish atheist student, Marcus (Logan Lerman) struggles to attend weekly sermons at a prestigious boarding school. Despite doing all he can to avoid being a Jew, Marcus plays a richly written role of a young school boy who is moved by philosophy, music and the arts. Yet despite such qualifications he is reduced by his school master – Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) to sheer inferiority, showing American Anti-Jewish attitudes which are written out of history. With classic anti-Jewish tropes emerging in the film, the movie centers around young ‘Marcie’s’ life where he falls in love with the beautiful Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon). As both explore their bodies together, word gets round and Olivia is shamed. While Marcus is taken aback by Olivia performing fellatio on him, he tells his roommates who begin to shun him and shame him. Word gets round fast.

Dean Caudwell uses the opportunity to remind Marcus of Olivia’s past attempted suicide and that she was in an asylum. This is interesting in bringing together how WWII-era ideas about the mental ward were used not only to police women’s bodies – making their sexuality seem like a disease that needed to be controlled – but that it was an ungodly disease that spread first to non-Christians such as Jewish Marcie, who for all his proclamations of being an atheist is not allowed to be one. In fact, Marcus refuses to join the Jewish Fraternity, something that seems to be beyond the head of the fraternity to understand. Yet when Marcus gets sick while arguing with Dean Caudwell, and faints because of his appendix, he wakes up in the hospital only to find the Jewish Fraternity taking care of him. For someone who tries to escape his religion so much, it cannot escape him.

In true renaissance fashion, Marcus embraces his studies and attempts to rise above the discrimination and loneliness by immersing himself in his studies. This idea whereby Marcus constantly removes his Jewish markers that would make him stand out becomes futile. In a heated discussion with Dean Caudwell, he tells him that his father is a butcher, that is what he listed in his paperwork after all; but Dean Caudwell reminds him his father is a kosher butcher. Marcus replies that he begs to differ, his father is not only a kosher butcher. This serves as an apt motif in the movie, why is it that Jews are made to identify as only Jews and at precise moments?

Marcus goes against instinct and upon learning that most students skip weekly sermons by hiring someone to hand in their attendance card, agrees to hire someone. Yet oddly enough his fixer is caught despite all other students having never been caught before. Dean Caudwell clearly does not want Marcus to stay at the school despite being a scholarship student. Upon getting caught red-handed, Marcus is kicked out and is forced to join the army in Vietnam because of the draft. The movie ends where it began: with Marcus running in Army uniform and dying in Vietnam. Marcus’s experience is precisely about the power to have his Jewish identity dictated to him despite all his efforts to hide it; in fact it is not only about having his identity dictated to him by those who want him to remove it, but it is about when his identity is dictated for him. If everybody gets away with forging their attendance during weekly sermons, it is the fact that Marcus was an agitating Jewish student that meant that they policed who handed in their attendance cards rather than leave the box where attendance cards are deposited unattended. It is at this moment, while the war in Vietnam is being fought, that Marcus was rendered a Jew despite all his attempts, ultimately resulting in his death.

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

The Fifth Wave, reviewed by Movies According to Des

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

The Good Dinosaur, reviewed by Movies According to Des

Hello everyone and welcome to my podcast,
I reviewed the animated film, The Good Dinosaur.

Synopsis: Arlo is lost from his home and finds a best friend. Can they find their way home together?

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Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

Café Society, written and directed by Woody Allen

Café Society reviewed by Mike Fishman

Another year, another Woody Allen film. Apparently having few interests other than directing films and playing clarinet, Mr. Allen has continued churning out his signature comedies at a regular pace, marking this as his 47th feature film since 1966’s What’s Up, Tiger Lilly? (though perhaps it’s more accurate to reference 1969’s Take the Money and Run as his first film of wholly original material) and his 17th since 2000 ushered in Small Time Crooks. Whether he has in him another great film like 2013’s Blue Jasmine remains to be seen but there is no doubt that his latest offering, Café Society, belongs firmly in the category of the majority of his late period oeuvre: often clever, generally interesting, but occasionally feeling rushed or unpolished. And so for every witty line we get in Café Society (“When a Jew cooks something, it’s always overcooked, because they want to kill all the germs”) there is dialogue too on-the-nose or just pretentious proclamations that might have generated laughs in his early comedies but here are delivered with too little irony. A running voiceover narration by Mr. Allen is unnecessary and at times oddly recounts what just transpired on-screen or tells us what we already know. It’s almost as if Allen adapted the screenplay from a work of fiction and just couldn’t bear to toss out the narration because he’s in love with the sound of the words. And with Allen not appearing in the film, the nagging question might well be asked, who is this narrator anyway?

But the wondrous elements of Allen’s best work are here in this tale of an uncertain young man from the Bronx (Jesse Eisenberg) trying his luck in Hollywood with the help of his agent uncle (Steve Carell) but falling in love with his uncle’s mistress (Kristen Stewart): the period music, the energetic editing, the evocative photography by the legendary Vittorio Storaro, here working digitally but softening the images to a golden glow (for more on that see: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/behind-screen/cinematographer-vittorio-storaro-filming-cafe-911441). And the setting of 1930’s Hollywood with its cars and gangsters, furs and handshake deals, should prove catnip to fans of classic Hollywood.

The love triangle, too, is more involving than we’ve seen from Allen in some time, with all three characters portrayed at various points having to respond to a sudden revelation of the other’s complicating involvement. Kristen Stewart as Vonnie, the love interest, has come a long way since the ancient history of the Twilight films and the unintended absurdities of Snow White and the Huntsman, and Café Society gives her more to work with than last year’s Equals, though that moody sci-fi was certainly a more ambitious film. Blake Lively, on the other hand, is given a pitifully small role in which she not surprisingly shines and it’s unfortunate Allen did not make more use of her. Jesse Eisenberg as Bobby, now appearing in his second film with the director, does excellent work as the expected Woody Allen surrogate (as usual for Allen a curiously not very likable main character) and calls to mind Tony Roberts, the always-great supporting actor in several of Allen’s earlier comedies. Steve Carell as Uncle Phil, the third wheel in the love triangle, is reined in here and like so many great comedians who have dabbled in dramatic roles (Albert Brooks, Jerry Lewis, Don Rickles, Garry Shandling, Robin Williams to name a few), the more restrained, the better, the more power the funny man (not being funny) exudes.

The film ends on a refreshingly uncertain note with Vonnie and Bobby (did they really need to have rhyming names?) pining for each other while still committed to their marriages. Perhaps predictably, Bobby pines more than Vonnie, who seems perfectly fine with her marriage to the much older and wealthy Phil. As uncertainty exudes from Eisenberg’s puppy dog eyes, clearly not quite sure how much in love he still is with his wife, we might wonder if Allen is subconsciously (or otherwise) presenting his own view of women as more complacent creatures when it comes to marriages of convenience. In any case and despite its shortcomings, the film’s great period detail should transport viewers to an earlier time and help fill the gaps between the weak moments of the film and keep minds from wandering too far before the end.

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

Reflections of Maya Rose, written and directed by Alexandra Wedenig

Logline: A series of strange occurrences disrupt the life of young and eager, LA based actress Maya Rose. Her world is finally turned upside down when one day she finds herself waking up in an unknown place in a life that isn’t hers.

Short Synopsis: Reality takes a turn for young and eager actress Maya Rose when she auditions for the role of Ava in a screenplay titled “The reflection and the mirror”. It tells the story of Ava and Scott, two lovers trying to transcend time and space by means of a mirror. Maya is thrilled. The enigmatic character of Ava mesmerizes her. The bizarre audition sets off a series of strange occurrences that lure curious Maya onto a path deep into the life of Ava and a world that holds nothing familiar to her. Maya finds herself waking up in a house where doors and windows are locked and won’t open. She can feel the eerie presence of someone else in the house, a woman, a female shadow. Paranoia and desperation soon drive her to the edge of sanity and Maya loses herself between the worlds of captivation and the realm of dreams.

Reflections of Maya Rose, a feature length film, is completed and after a successful festival career it is now available on VOD.

Related links:
http://www.reflectionsofmayarose.com
https://www.facebook.com/ReflectionsOfMayaRose
https://vimeo.com/ondemand/reflectionsofmayarose
http://www.aw-films.com/
http://www.almasgrey.com/

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Eggs and Soldiers, written and directed by Imelda O’Reilly

Eggs and Soldiers: Christian, a single Irish father, forgets to buy the tree on Christmas Eve. Ned the older son’s humanity is challenged as he risks everything to have his younger brother Marco experience a real Irish Christmas. The script for Eggs and Soldiers has been short listed for Sundance Institute | YouTube New Voices Lab. The film will premier in August at FLICKERS: Rhode Island International Film Festival.

IndependentFilmNow sat down with writer/director Imelda O’Reilly to discuss her short film Eggs and Soldiers. The following are excepts of that interview.

Mike Fishman for IndependentFilmNow: Where did the story first come from about an Irish man living with his two sons from different mothers in New York City? Can you tell us about Christian’s backstory and his inner conflict as a man who has the potential for violence while at the same time we see him complain to a friend that his youngest son’s mother was hitting her son?

O’Reilly: The inspiration for Eggs and Soldiers came from wanting to capture a silent explosion in the life of a teenage boy when finds himself in a moment of crisis where he has to make a difficult decision. Another inspiring image I had was of a teenage boy who couldn’t afford a tree on Christmas Eve. The third was stories I remember hearing as a child growing up in Ireland about people drinking too much at Christmas time causing family feuds to break out. The character of Christian is full of contradictions. I wanted to create a character that despite his flaws he still made the right moral decision when it came to being a father for his children. Christian has a violent rage that alternates with him playing the victim of his given circumstances and in rare moments he tries to be a loving father despite his failures. Yet his character also has this dark sense of humor. I also wanted to play around with the notion of an unreliable narrator, so when we hear Christian speak in the pub to his friend Mick the audience are unsure as to trust what he is saying about his younger son Marco’s mother. Christian is deeply wounded from his past and like a hungry wolf he searches the night for companionship or friends who will listen to his sob story. It is clear that Christian came from a broken home, and his deepest struggle is not to repeat the past and repeat the sins of his own father.

IndependentFilmNow: Color is obviously important to you. The palette of the film is muted favoring brown and grey until Ned, the older son, trades the gift he was going to give his girlfriend for a Christmas tree and things start to lift emotionally for Ned and we see Christmas lights, the tree seller sporting a red Santa cap, and even a red blanket draped over Christian, Ned’s father, asleep on a sofa at home. Can you tell us about your use of color and how that informs the viewer, on a conscious or subconscious level, about the emotional state of the characters?

Imelda O’Reilly: I wanted a gritty aesthetic for my film; Christian, the Dad, is scraping by a living ducking and diving social services, employment and also his apartment crisis. I wanted muted colors to show how their world is bleak, but also through the dialogue some humor is added intentionally which helps them pull through. The slow introduction of color as you artfully mention comes when Ned’s character manages to get a tree for the family toward the end of the film. By having the characters dress in muted colors helps give the film a visceral dimension to the characters making them more three dimensional as opposed to one dimensional. I am referencing the cinema of moral discontent and also the melodramatic tropes of realism. The internal world of the characters is communicated through the use of the camera as narrator.

IndependentFilmNow: Tell us about your choice of lenses and hand-held camera versus a mounted camera to give different scenes their urgency or a more observational feel.

O’Reilly: In filming Eggs & Soldiers I wanted to be able to create two different visual styles for the film that would correspond to the two contrasting worlds that Ned, the main character, is caught between. I have a long working relationship with my cinematographer Joe Foley so we discussed at length the world of the characters. The film depicts Ned with an easy and amiable relationship with his younger brother Marco and also in a more contentious relationship with his father Christian. In order to have the audience have a better understanding of how Ned is feeling we used longer lenses with a more stable camera to portray the stability and ease with which Ned and Marco relate to each other.

I choreographed with the cinematographer longer panning shots of Ned as he moves along the street or Marco within the apartment to indicate the mostly pleasant and congenial world that they have created together. In contrast to that we used a handheld camera and wider lenses to show the less stable environment that is created when the father Christian is in the scene. At the beginning of the film when the three of them are riding in the car and then unpacking all the Christmas presents the camera is always moving following Christian’s sometimes erratic actions. This was done to illustrate the unease and instability that Christian’s personality is creating for his sons. They are not brought into their apartment and cared for, instead they are dropped off on the street corner and left-holding bags full of unwrapped presents and headed into an apartment with an empty refrigerator.

Later in the film I discussed with the cinematographer the choice of using a handheld camera during the confrontation scene between Christian and Ned. We used a shutter effect that was set to 45 degrees in order to give the scene a more jarring, disturbing feel. This ‘Private Ryan‘ effect and the handheld camera help the audience feel more of Ned’s shock and terror at his father’s anger and violent outburst.

IndependentFilmNow: How long was the shot and how did you get the locations?

O’Reilly: The shoot was seven days. It was difficult enough to find the locations. However I decided to focus my locations around Inwood in Manhattan. Christian’s character is a super in a church but as he mentions briefly in the film he is being kicked out because the pastor is moving his daughter into his apartment. Again Christian’s character tends to play the victim. There is a Church on 181st on Bennet Avenue, which was a perfect location. At the time Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance had their offices there so I had to transform the space to look like an apartment where a family lived. I got a vanload of furniture through a connection that worked at Saturday Night Live, which was amazing. They gave us curtains, pictures and all the necessary pieces to build the set. Thank goodness for the New York community when it comes to indie filmmaking. The Christmas tree location was kindly given to us for free and they were very cordial in helping us make our film.

IndependentFilmNow: The film is set on Christmas Eve and unfolds over a few hours of time. How did you decide on the time frame and Christmas Eve?

O’Reilly: I wanted to use one central action to reveal character what Aristotle calls a “simple plot.” In Jaws the one central action is killing the shark and through this one central action the characters within the film are revealed. I wanted to depict a nuanced slice of life within a non-traditional family and this structure seemed to fit well for the film. I choose Christmas Eve because that is a time in Ireland when tension is high; there are a lot of expectations and usually a time when agro within the home or family feuds tend to break out. It seemed a good day to set the story of my film.

For more information visit: http://www.imeldaoreilly.com

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Camden Love/Hate, directed by Daniel Meirom and Ron Lipsky

Camden Love/Hate
The Untold Story of Camden and Its Youth

SYNOPSIS: Camden Love/Hate follows six teenagers from Camden, New Jersey as they document the story of their city from the glory days of the postwar boom to today’s violent and fraught reality. The teenagers learned film-making skills at a last chance high school, CCYD, and use their newfound skills to express complex feelings about one of the most dangerous cities in America. From a white minority left behind in the 60′s to rampant drug tourism, to active community leaders, we see both the beauty of Camden as well as the parts that feel abandoned. Through the lens, the students become aware of a history they never knew and a future that looks at turns hopeful and bleak.

CONTACT US at: CamdenLoveHatefilm@Gmail.com

WHO WE ARE

Camden Center for Youth Development
An independent, last chance High School providing an alternative academic environment for
students challenged by public education.

Students/Filmmakers
Shanell Nesmith, Tamysha Jackkson, Shamiera Andersen, Kimel Hadden, Anthony Williams & Ja’far Mohammad were all students at Camden Center for Youth Development when they took an active part in creating the film. This involved taking cameras into the community, shooting interviewing with the most interesting people they encountered and exploring the history of Camden.

Directors
Daniel Meirom
An Israeli-American filmmaker. At 18 he won a prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival for his first short film. Some of his creative projects include Nowhere Else, a one-hour drama about Israelis in New York City, Xchess a reality web series that promotes chess and its scope as a game. Meirom also directed Green, TV series about teenagers in Jerusalem.

Ron Lipsky
Spent much of his adult life in Israel, but who was born in Camden and has seen the city degrade before his very eyes. His grandfather was a rabbi in the city in the late 40′s, and Ron grew up viewing the city from the safe haven of Cherry Hill, or across the river from Philadelphia.

Visit the website: CamdenLoveHate.com

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Alice Through the Looking Glass, directed by James Bobin and produced by Tim Burton

Based on the book by Lewis Carroll, Disney brings us Alice Through the Looking Glass directed by James Bobin and produced by Tim Burton. The story follows Alice who returns to the whimsical world of Wonderland and travels back in time to save the Mad Hatter. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Clayton P. comments, “Disney’s Alice Through The Looking Glass is a magical fantasy adventure film in the great Tim Burton tradition. It is also a refreshing, feminist take on the classic Lewis Carroll story.” See his full review below.

Alice Through The Looking Glass
Review by Clayton Pickard, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

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