JIHADISTS – movie review

JIHADISTS (Salafistes)

Cinema Libre
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lemine Ould M. Salem, François Margolin
Screenwriter: Lemine Ould M. Salem, François Margolin
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/6/19
Opens: January 25, 2019 in New York’s Cinema Village

 

 

“Jihadists” aka the French title “Salafistes,” contains words perhaps more alarming than anything our President has said, even more controversial than Rashida Tlaib’s locker room word describing her plans for taking on the POTUS. In fact the movie was temporarily banned…not in Boston, not in Saudi Arabia, not in North Korea or Iran, but in…France. During its brief 75 minutes’ running time, you will be accosted by words that will make you shudder, encourage you to shelter your small children, and, if you live in New York to dig yourself a bomb shelter, or else using the Number 1 line at 191st Street as though 180 feet of earth can protect you. Sad to say, not even that station will shield you from the ire of people who want nothing more than to kill you merely because you don’t think like them. These terrible folks called by the French Salafistes will frighten you more than Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees ever did, because people like them could be a real problem for you, unlike the creeps that any Stephen King novel could imagine.

After agreeing to cut some of the scenes that went too far over the top—such as images of a police officer killed in France—the French Ministry of Culture lifted the ban giving it a rating of Interdit au moins de 18 ans. Still, the film opened in only two Paris theaters.

In answer to those of the French Culture Ministry who wonder whether this film is an apologia, or defense, of ISIS ideology, truth to tell, many people watching might be swayed to the cause because the people who are interviewed, courtesy of their bedfellows with expensive cameras, appear normal. They don’t have horns coming out of their head and if they have tails, they keep them well hidden. They do not sound like firebrands, nothing like the Hitler who depended on ranting and raving, but instead they explain their positions calmly, as though implying that they would be perfectly willing to debate the opposite side—but as equals. This would be like allowing a debate between those who believe the world is flat and those think otherwise, putting both on the same pedestal.

The assemblage of films has been edited by François Margolin, obviously French, and Lemine Ould M. Salem who is from Mauritania. Margolin is the only talking head that takes us outside of the milieu, sitting calmly with a jacket overlaying an unbuttoned shirt, describing why he chose to do this project, which is to educate the rest of us to what may be ahead especially here in the West. Subject wise, the material has been covered before and may be available on the Internet, courtesy of Isis members who have knocked out professional, Hollywood-style propaganda not unlike what Leni Reifenstahl did with financing from the Nazi Party. Her “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia,” are considering two of the most effective films of their kind.

Specifically “Jihadists” deals with the Sunni Islam extreme sect of Salafis, the spokesmen—all men by the way—lecturing us heathens and infidels without a smile or laugh on their faces. And that’s a good thing because if they came across as entertainers they could influence far more people than they have done to date. We see one guy whose hand is amputated for stealing, and it’s the right hand at that. Presumably only lefties could snatch wallets after that. Two homosexuals are tossed from the roof, the first one seen in slow motion, because their “crime offends God” and makes them “no better than animals.” In one unexplained strip of film, a couple of jihadists drive by in their car gunning down people with automatic weapons, which takes road rage to a somewhat higher peak. (Why they did this is not explained, so we may assume they were having sport as they had with the animals they machine-gunned from an aircraft in the opening scene.)

The countries exhibited include Afghanistan, Syria, Tunisia and Mali, in that last case focusing on sharia law in fabled city of Timbuktu, liberated by the French in 2013. During the rule of jihadists—who want their own state carved largely out of Syria and Iraq—two morals police warn women trying to sell their trinkets and foods to cover their faces completely.

H.G. Wells said that the human condition is a race between education and catastrophe. Without sufficient learning, not so much of facts but the ability to reason, even we in the United States could be electing politicians whose actions could be disastrous. Perhaps even highly educated people watch “Jihadists” and are tempted to say, “Hmmm, these fellas make some good points” but soon enough wake up from the nightmare to realize “How could we have ever thought that?” Imagine what men and women without sufficient reasoning power would think when they hear the arguments spouted by these clownish but highly toxic people! Happily, this fear-inducing picture ends with a final scene of an elderly gentleman smoking his pipe despite criticism from a passing ideologue. He demanded and received the return of what gives him pleasure saying that his health is not anybody else’s business. He got it back and defiantly exhales a huge puff for the camera.

The film is in French, English, Arabic and Bambara with the subtitles in white—those subtitles clashing with scenes involving people with white shirts. A large part of the cinema world still doesn’t get it: foreign language movies need bold print preferably in a strong color like yellow.

75 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+

BEIRUT – movie review

BEIRUT

Bleecker Street
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Brad Anderson
Screenwriter:  Tony Gilroy
Cast:  Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Larry Pine, Shea Whigham
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/13/18
Opens: April 11, 2018
Beirut Movie Poster
Jon Hamm is a painfully handsome middle-aged actor who was perfectly cast in “Mad Men.”  He fits in handily as a Madison Avenue executive and was born to smoke and drink while selling expensive advertising to major clients. He should be considered to be the next 007 provided that he can imitate the king’s English.  He is well cast in “Beirut.”  He still drinks and smokes, occasionally raises his voice.  He is a negotiator as he was in the brilliant TV episodes, so adept that even the bad guys in the Middle East insisted that they would talk only to him to arrange an exchange of prisoners.  Tony Gilroy’s story for this new release is as confusing as Brad Anderson’s direction.  From time to time a bomb goes off in Lebanon’s capital, and occasionally there is the rapid fire of AK-47 as bad guys in the usual headgear and mouth coverings do what they do for reasons that are not always clear to Americans—who think that the only reason that people take risks is for money.

As Mason Skiles, Jon Hamm is shown in Beirut in 1982 with flashbacks to his time in Lebanon’s capital ten years earlier.   In 1972 things were looking up for Skiles, then a diplomat.  He enjoys the company of his lovely wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti).  The couple even adopted Karim (Yoav Sadian Rosenberg), a Palestinian refugee who is now a cute kid of 13.  But Karim has a secret: his brother Abu (Hicham Ouraqa) was a bad guy responsible for the murder of Jews during the Munich Olympics. Just as Karim and Skiles are having a nice chat, a deadly terrorist attack during a diplomatic party leaves Nadia dead.  Skiles, now in no mood ever to return to the middle east, takes on a job at home as a labor negotiator but is called back in 1982 because Cal Riley (MarkPellegrino), a good friend, is being held prisioner.  The terrorists want to trade him for Abu Rajal.

It’s no wonder that they want only Skiles.  His adopted son Karim (Idir Chender) is now grown up, a fighter for the Palestinian cause, and feels certain he can trust his stepdad to pull of the trade, but the sinister U.S. diplomats are divided in motives leaving only Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike) to support the negotiations.

What could have been a film to break new ground as did the filmmakers for the superb “Mad Men” series instead create a same ol’ retread of spy stories, which in itself would not be so bad if the story did not plod along with boatloads of banter which do nothing more than confuse the viewer further.  This is a surprise coming from the screenwriter, Gilroy, whose “Argo” in 2012 presented an ingenious ruse to get six people who had escaped from Iranian clutches out of the country by setting up a fake Canadian film company. “Argo” was not confusing, was full of original ideas, and with excitement that flowed organically from the plot.  This one’s a dud.

Rated R.  109 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – D
Acting – B
Technical –  B
Overall – C

FOXTROT – movie review

  • FOXTROT

    Sony Pictures Classics
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B+
    Director:  Samuel Maoz
    Written by: Samuel Maoz
    Cast:  Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonatan Shiray, Shira Haas, Yehuda Almagor, Noam Lugasy, Karin Ugowski
    Screened at: Sony, NYC, 11/2/17
    Opens: December 8, 2017 in NY & LA; March 2, 2018 wider
    Foxtrot Poster #1
    Let no one say that Israeli filmmakers hold back on portraying its citizens, particularly its soldiers, as ordinary, often scared citizens, despite that country’s success  in winning five wars, capturing Eichmann, and rescuing scores of its citizens held as hostages in Uganda’s airport.  Yes, Israelis can be frightened like the rest of us.  Writer-director Samuel Maoz depicts that vulnerability in his only other feature-length movie “Lebanon,” taking place largely in a tank sheltering some mighty scared  Israeli soldiers.  Now with “Foxtrot,” Moaz pushes into surreal territory abundant with metaphors such as the very name of this film.  “Foxtrot” is not only the battle name of a platoon of soldiers in a remote desert area. The foxtrot is also a simple dance that has the couple moving forward, sideways, backwards, and back to the front.  Like Sisyphus trying to roll a huge rock up a hill, first succeeding only to have the boulder fall back, Israel’s political history consists of steps forward, sideways and backwards but always falling back to the place where the dance started.

    There are three divisions to this feature, with one of its most baffling mysteries making sense only in the very end.  In other words, watch the entire film and live with a little frustration for a while.  In the first segment, two army soldiers report to the spacious, expensively furnished and book lined home of Michael Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi), an architect, and his wife Daphna (Sarah Adler). Their son Yonatan (Yonatan Shiray) is reported dead, “felled” in the army euphemism, while stationed in a desolate desert post.  After Daphna faints, Michael paces about, enraged, and shaken, while his brother Avigdor (Yehida Almagor) tries unsuccessfully to comfort him.  Michael is far from appeased by the attention paid to him by the soldiers, whose instructions on the funeral alternate with their advice to drink a glass of water every hour.

    In the second segment Maoz’s cinematographer  Giora Bejach captures the loneliness of a desert post which shows a toilet in worse shape than the one in Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting,” where four young soldiers stop cars with traveling Arabs, vetting their ID’s with a screen that instructs “clear,” and manipulating the post that indicates the inspection stop.  They raise the post to a lone camel traveling without a rider but with dignity, an animal that will assume a significant role in the third segment.  To kill time, Yonatan tells his buddies stories about his childhood, stories that he has committed to paper in the form of cartoons.  Being barely out of their teens, he and his buddies concentrate on his memories of a Playboy-style magazine featuring a blonde in a Marilyn Monroe pose but with X’s on the nipples.  In the movie’s highlight, Yonatan turns up the music of the old records on hand, solo dancing the fastest foxtrot you can imagine to entertain the three men—none of whom appears to be older than twenty-three.

    The final act finds the lad’s mother and father reminiscing but facing each other with the hostility one might expect of couple whose honeymoons are long past.  Even in their home the metaphoric foxtrot takes shape, the arguments morphing into laughter as they share a joint.  One step back, one to the side, forward as though nothing had changed.

    This film, which is Israel’s candidate for awards consideration as best foreign movie, is essential viewing for cinephiles, though once-a-month film-goers and “tired businessmen” might be too baffled to enjoy the artistry on display.  We are fortunate that whatever censorship boards to which filmmakers must present for approval interpret their role quite liberally, cutting scenes that perhaps might endanger military security but giving a free hand to cinema that is critical of Israel.

    In Hebrew with English subtitles.

    Unrated.  113 minutes.  ©Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online

IN THE LAND OF POMEGRANATES – movie review

IN THE LAND OF POMEGRANATES

First Run Features
Director:  Hava Kohav Beller
Screenwriter: Hava Kohav Beller
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/20/17
Opens:  January 5, 2018

First Run Features: In the Land of Pomegranates

Our President states that if anyone can negotiate peace in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians, it’s his son-in-law, but then, that was before he provoked days of rage in the Arab community by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  The conflict between the two peoples has been going on at least since 1948, since Palestinians recognize all of  Israel, the West Bank and Gaza as Arab land.

With the thought of stimulating discussion between young people in the two communities, a number of youths are invited to Germany to discuss their opinions with one another.  They are deliberately housed together, enjoying the sights and sounds of the Central European country when they are not trading viewpoints in a large room.  What’s called “Vacation from War” is thankfully just half of the 123-minute film.  The rest, easily the more arresting sights, involves an array of individuals throughout the West Bank and Israel proper.

First, though, as for the discussions.  There is no stated objective, but we might surmise that one aim is to show that all the individuals are human beings, none of whom possessing horns on his or her head.  They do that.  Another might be to project into the future that some of these youths might become high level members of government, using their knowledge to negotiate peace.  That’s a long shot.  What actually occurred is that the Palestinians and the Israelis acted like today’s Republicans and Democrats, remaining united with their own separate tribes, sticking together just as all Republicans in our own Congress voted the same on the disastrous tax bill and all the Democrats likewise stuck with one another.

As I see the conference, the two tribes did not get together, not even at the pace of an aging, sclerotic snail.  Quite the contrary, they dug in, provoking anger rather than kumbaya at every moment.  The Arabs declared that no Jews should remain in either Israel proper or the West Bank, though when asked whether they would support the existence in some way of a Jewish populace, they averted the issue.  For their part, the Jewish contingent brought up the Holocaust, maintaining that some place simply had to become a refuge for the oft-humiliated Jews, whether from the Holocaust or the pogroms of various countries and empires.  What’s the point of “Vacation from War” when one side believes that it is treated so badly by the Israeli government that their suffering is worse than what was experienced by the Jews of the Holocaust.  Have these people ever seen films about the camps?

Aside from the discussions’ being needlessly provocative, insipid and wholly without originality, the film is saved by events occurring on the outside over a wide area.  The most heartwarming sense involve a Gazan woman whose young child, Mohammed, has a serious heart defect and is given permission to cross the Erez frontier into Israel for surgery.  There, a Jewish doctor performs the delicate, complex operation to restore the flow of blood and end the suffering and anticipated early death of the cute lad.  “We don’t see people as residents of different areas,” states the heroic doctor.  (In a similar vein, Israeli hospitals are treating Syrian refugees who cross the Golan Heights for treatment.)

On a sadder note, 85-year-old director Hava Kohav Beller, whose film spans decades and who worked on it for years—even showing the heart-operated recipient four years after surgery—observes the tense battles erupting now and then via intifadas.  The Arabs throw stones, the Jews return the fire with rubber bullets.  We realize a dichotomy in the titles of the film, as “pomegranates” are a Middle-East-grown fruit associated with rebirth but is also the Hebrew word for grenade.  Summing up, in a future film, lose the pointless discussions and show more depth about both the fighting and incidents of heroism.

Unrated.  123 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story –  B
Acting –  B-
Technical – B
Overall – B