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Unraveling the complexity of Steve Bannon

Unraveling the complexity of Steve Bannon

Posted on 14 April 2019 by admin

Photo: Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Steve Bannon in “The Brink,” a Magnolia Pictures release

By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky

Steve Bannon is a lefty. It’s true. Steve Bannon, media executive, strategist and former White House chief strategist, is indeed a lefty, just not in the vein in which you are thinking. How ironic is it that someone who is so identifiable with right-wing politics is actually left-handed? The universe does indeed have a sense of humor.A new documentary film, “The Brink,” provides a glimpse into Bannon’s character and his moral and philosophical outlook. Directed by Alison Klayman, the film begins with a short dialogue, by Bannon and an aide, discussing “Torchbearer,” a 2016 documentary he produced, wrote and directed. One of the locations visited in his film was Auschwitz, which he deemed “the most haunting place I’ve ever been in.” There is some banter about “good people in Germany…. detached themselves….” And then the thread is dropped. But to me, it sounded suspiciously like President Donald Trump’s statement about the “good people on both sides” in Charlottesville.Bannon, who was an integral part of Trump’s team, left his position as White House chief strategist less than a week after the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017, and reinvented himself as leader of a global populist movement. “The Brink” takes us through this, and continues into the 2018 midterm elections.
The film also contains discussions about Leni Riefenstahl. the German filmmaker who produced Nazi propaganda films. Also in the documentary is the term “globalist” which some believe is a dog-whistle anti-Semitic term. How you feel about the man probably depends on your party affiliation, so go see it and draw your own conclusions.

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Film Review: ‘On The Basis of Sex’

Film Review: ‘On The Basis of Sex’

Posted on 02 January 2019 by admin

Photo: Jonathan Wenk / Focus Features
Felicity Jones stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Mimi Leder’s “On the Basis of Sex,” a Focus Features release.

By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky

“On the Basis of Sex” opens with a sea of men, all dressed in interchangeable gray suits, with briefcases swinging at their sides, ascending the steps of Harvard Law School for the first time. Our eye goes to a refreshing splash of teal, and you know Ruth Bader Ginsburg has arrived (pun intended). She smiles. And so did I. The year was 1956, and there are but nine women law students among 500 men and a question is put to them: “How do you justify taking the place of a competent man?”
Thus begins the story of this diminutive woman who stands head and shoulders above everyone else as she takes on the establishment and (spoiler alert) wins big-time. For women. For men. For equality.
“On the Basis of Sex,” directed by Mimi Leder (“The Leftovers”), was written by Daniel Stiepleman, who grew up calling Ruth Bader Ginsburg “Aunt Ruth.” At his Uncle Marty’s funeral (Ginsburg’s husband), he heard about the case which they fought together in court, and Stiepleman knew that this story would be his first professional screenplay.
A legal drama that is fairly classic in structure, “On the Basis of Sex” mirrors her personal struggle for equality with the fight for all men and women to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. The film covers the groundbreaking case heard before the U.S. Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, which overturned a century of gender discrimination.
Intertwined between courtroom scenes, we visit Ruth’s family life — her relationship with husband Marty and children surrounded by the strains of opera and Puccini posters on the wall. Marty Ginsburg, played by a dreamy Armie Hammer, is a supportive husband — attentive and smart — who also loves to cook. Together they make quite a formidable team. Superheroes indeed. Felicity Jones plays Ginsburg (rightly) with a hint of gravitas, but what she exhibits in demeanor contrasts with her lack of any trace of a Brooklyn accent.
One lesson learned here is that words matter, which is why I might have suggested a different title for the film. Although her husband plays a large role, Ginsburg is clearly the focus. In some foreign markets, it bears the title “Exceptional Woman,” which puts the spotlight squarely on her. Where it belongs.
There are no fireworks in this film, just solid storytelling framed by a legal courtroom drama. And to quote The Chambers Brothers’ ageless tune “Time Has Come Today” ­— which is featured in the film along with a bevy of her favorite operatic music.
We pay homage to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who unequivocally proves that one person can make a difference.

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The Captain depicts a startling transformation

The Captain depicts a startling transformation

Posted on 24 August 2018 by admin

Photo: Courtesy Sundance Selects
Max Hubacher as Willi Herold in The Captain

 

Nothing can prepare you for the opening scenes of The Captain.
It’s 1945, just two weeks before the end of World War II, and a young German soldier — a deserter named Willi Herold (a marvelous Max Hubacher) — is being pursued by military police across a bleak landscape. Hiding in the root of a tree, he somehow manages to narrowly escape their hunt. Starving and cold, he continues his quest only to encounter an abandoned car.
Miraculously, in the back seat, he finds a suitcase containing an officer’s uniform, a basket of apples and hope. Discarding his ragged uniform (and his humanity as well), he quickly changes into the officer’s coat festooned with medals, dons the military cap and is chillingly transformed into The Captain.
Shot in high-contrast black-and-white by cinematographer Florian Ballhaus and stunningly directed by Robert Schwentke, The Captain had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017. Not surprisingly, it won the Jury Award for Best Photography at the San Sebastian Film Festival 2017. After working in Hollywood for many years (RED, Flightplan and The Time Traveler’s Wife), Schwentke returned to his native Germany to tell the true story of Herold, nicknamed the “Executioner of the Emsland,” who rallies a ragtag group of deserters and becomes a merciless beast. Even the music is haunting: a blend of horns and mechanical, industrial sounds that add mightily to the heightened tension.
The film focuses on the captain and his followers; a barbarous group who are happy to be Herold’s acolytes and not in prison. As they arrive at a camp designated for deserters, he claims to be in charge of “special tasks” and is to write a report on the situation at the front, at the behest of Hitler. Continuing the charade with more gusto, his spiral of violence continues. Losing his moral compass and any sense of humanity, Herold incites a brutal massacre of the encamped deserters and thieves, which is followed by a macabre celebration. This is the only time that Jews are mentioned in The Captain are as part of a vaudeville-type performance to commemorate the extermination of German deserters/prisoners.
The Captain is a remarkable film; it’s just not for everybody. It’s difficult to watch a film in which there is no hero, no one to root for. If you go to the cinema for escapism (not the Willi Herold kind) or solely to be entertained, perhaps this film is not for you. But if you don’t mind historical context — in this case war with all its brutal trappings — you’ll be rewarded with a two-hour example of what honest filmmaking should be.
Schwentke’s only misstep is the coda added to the closing credits. In full Nazi regalia, Herold and his team drive around a contemporary German town and “harass” folks who are unaware. Don’t let this deter you. The Captain makes such a profound sociopolitical statement, it’s easy to ignore the last misplaced moments.

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Blaze: country singer and his Jewish wife

Blaze: country singer and his Jewish wife

Posted on 24 August 2018 by admin

Photo: Courtesy Sundance Selects
Ben Dickey as Blaze Foley and Alia Shakwat as his wife Sybil in Blaze

By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky

Blaze is a bittersweet tale based on the memoir Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley by Sybil Rosen. Directed by Ethan Hawke, Blaze is a biopic of the musician who was little known in his lifetime, but left a large imprint on the Texas outlaw country music scene.
The film is skillfully woven together by Hawke, taking us on a journey from the time Blaze (Ben Dickey) meets Sybil, the love of his life, through sometime after his death. And in between, you’ll hear the music he composed along with the sounds of music legend Townes Van Zandt.
So, you may ask, why is this mentioned in the Texas Jewish Post? Good question. Blaze Foley’s wife was Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat), a nice Jewish girl from Virginia. They meet, fall in love and eventually marry. There is a truly memorable scene when the two lovebirds meet her parents. The moment is punctuated by Blaze’s hilarious rendition of If I Were a Rich Man. It’s also interesting to note that Sybil’s mother is played by the real Sybil.
Sybil Rosen went on with her life after Blaze and wrote several books, including Speed of Light about an 11-year-old girl Audrey and her Aunt Pesel, who was a Holocaust survivor.
If you love country music and a well-told story, Blaze is the film for you. Try and catch one of the screenings with filmmaker Ethan Hawke and star Ben Dickey. They are charming and informative and you’ll be able to ask questions that they’ll cheerfully answer. Then you might find yourself “googling” Blaze Foley to listen to some music you never knew existed and now can’t live without.

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The need and the knead combine in twisting tale

The need and the knead combine in twisting tale

Posted on 12 July 2018 by admin

Photos: Strand Releasing
Tim Kalkhof in The Cakemaker (2017)

 

By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky

The Cakemaker is a little like a savory soufflé — delicate and delectable, but very fragile.
One ingredient — secrecy — threatens to deflate the finely honed confection.
The funny thing about reviews is that they often reveal too much about a film. If you read enough reviews, you’ll be familiar with the entire story — so, why bother seeing it at all? But this film is different. How different? Even the filmmakers chose to put one of the early plot tangents into the trailer. Spoiler alert: Don’t read past this paragraph if you’d like to be completely surprised by the initial premise of The Cakemaker. But even if you view the trailer, there are plenty more delectable and surprising moments to come.
Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) is a skilled pastry chef who runs a shop in Berlin. It’s here that he meets Oren (Roy Miller), an Israeli engineer who travels frequently to Berlin for work.
Despite the impediments in their way (Oren is married), they embark on an intense and intimate affair. Their relationship ends abruptly when Thomas discovers that Oren has been tragically killed in a traffic accident in Israel.
Seeking to assuage his grief, Thomas travels to Jerusalem in search of answers. The truth is, I’m not sure that even Thomas knows why he journeys to Israel; to become part of his partner’s life even after his death? Is he just curious? Oren’s wife, Anat (the always wonderful Sarah Adler), owns a small kosher café, and Thomas begins frequenting the shop. One day, he impulsively inquires about a job, and before you can say “mandelbrot,” Thomas is washing dishes. As the oven heats up, so does a romance between Anat and Thomas. But as Thomas becomes more intimately involved in Oren’s family, the secret become harder to suppress.
Just like the delicious pastries prepared by The Cakemaker, writer and director Ofir Raul Graizer, in his first feature-length film, is like a master chef, knowing just how to blend the right ingredients in perfect measure. Graizer took a smidge of religion, a pinch of German/Jewish relations, a dose of bisexuality and a dollop of mourning and produced a beautiful human drama — devoid of preaching and judgments. There are no labels here, just an extraordinary love story about two lonely people and their need to connect.
The outstanding soundtrack by Dominique Charpentier adds to the tender drama. Perhaps my only criticism was the epilogue. So when the film is over, you might have to find a little café, order some strudel and discuss.
I had the opportunity to speak with Grazier by email. Here is an excerpted conversation with the talented writer/director.
Susan Kandell Wilkofsky: I am so pleased to “talk” with you today. Ready?
Graizer: Thank you for this interview. I am so happy the film opens in Dallas. I’ve never been there but maybe one day I will. Shoot.
SKW: I read that this story was inspired by real-life events. Can you elaborate on that?
ORG: The narrative is derived from a story of a friend of mine. a man who led a double life and died. To create the woman and the secret lover (the other side of the triangle), I took things from my own life. Religious father, secular mother, Jerusalem and Berlin: two of my favorite cities, growing up as gay in a macho patriarch society and my great love for cooking and baking. I put my life into the story. I know these streets, these alleys, these kitchens. I lived in them.
SKW: The film takes place in two locales that you are familiar with — Israel and Berlin. Were you also familiar with baking? Are you a baker?
ORG: I bake, but I am not a professional baker. I even teach cooking in a culinary school, but only as a side hobby. Food is something very personal and basic for me, something of the everyday, of home, not of fancy waiters or special uniforms.
SKW: I also read that the film will be remade in the U.S. How much input will you have on that film? Are you directing?
ORG: I won’t direct it, but I am involved in the writing of the first version. I don’t know where it will go from there.
SKW: What’s next for you, Ofir? Whatever it is, if it’s half as good as The Cakemaker, it’ll be wonderful.
ORG: I’m now working on different scripts in the hope that one of them will be produced soon… One story is about a clerk who develops an obsession for a painting; the other of a man who returns to his homeland after 10 years of absence to bury his father. I hope one of these will be made in the near future.
I look forward to the U.S. remake — with perhaps Matt Damon in the title role. He resembles Tim Kalkhof, but might have to gain a few pounds for the job. Perhaps he should start eating some Black Forest cake.

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