Reinventing Rosalee


The centenarian on a dog sled.

(2018) Documentary (RandomRosalee Glass, Lillian Glass, Joyce Sharman, Daniel Bouchet, Dr. Robert Huizenga, Neda Nahouray, Eric Lintermans, Elke Jensen, Nancy Caballero, Clay Lee, Douglas James, Robert Stradley, Joe Solo, Yuki Solo, Eleanor K. Wirtz, Paul Sweeney, Miamon Miller. Directed by Lillian Glass

Talking to one’s grandparent (or parent) about their life can be an eye-opening experience. We often forget how rich – and how rough – their life can be. All we see is the relationship and the love, often forgetting that there is a person behind that smile.

Rosalee Glass has had a life that has been harder than most. Born in Warsaw in 1917, she grew up in a Jewish family. In 1939, being a Jew in Poland became a very dangerous thing. She was newly married and pregnant when the Nazi blitzkrieg stormed through Poland. Sensing the writing on the wall, her husband left the country to find some shelter elsewhere. Rosalee later followed him, leaving behind her mother, father and two siblings. She would see none of them ever again and in fact later discovered that all of them were killed during the war, murdered by the Third Reich.

Eventually Rosalee and her husband were rounded up – by the Russians. They were sent to a Russian gulag in Siberia. Nursing a newborn baby became impossible when she wasn’t getting enough to eat and her breast milk dried up. Eventually her child starved to death. She would go on to have three more children but only two survived; her daughter Lillian and her son Manny.

The war ended and Rosalee, Manny and her husband Abraham ended up in a displaced person’s camp. Eventually they were allowed to emigrate to the United States and they settled in Miami where Abraham’s tuberculosis, contracted during the war, came back with a vengeance. He ended up losing the sight in one eye which ended his career as a watchmaker. He and Rosalee ended up going into business with a fabric company which became successful.

When Abraham died and after Manny died, Rosalee found herself wondering what to do with herself. She made the conscious decision to continue living and in her 80s and 90s took up dance lessons, piano lessons, Pilates – even learning how to box. She took up a career in acting and appeared in several commercials. She entered a senior beauty pageant and won Miss Congeniality. She spent her 100th birthday in Alaska riding a dog sled.

Her story is truly an inspiring one and maybe even worthy of a documentary but her daughter was the wrong person to make it. Lillian Glass is a best-selling author, a body language expert and has a doctorate in psychology but she has zero objectivity where her mother is concerned and that’s to be expected. That might make for good home movies or a Power Point slide show at a birthday tribute but it makes for less-than-scintillating documentary filmmaking.

As a first-time filmmaker she makes a number of rookie mistakes, relying a little too much on interviews with her mother who is to be fair an engaging subject and one who can keep the attention of the audience. Rosalee has one of those smiles that bring out smiles in everyone around her and that translates to the screen nicely but we don’t get a lot of different perspectives on who Rosalee is. The daughter’s love certainly shines through but we could have used a bit more objectivity.

The movie makes good use of archival footage and home movies but the movie clips that Lillian uses to illustrate various aspects of Rosalee’s life were at times a bit bizarre. There is also a sequence in which a 90-something Rosalee returns to Warsaw to see where she grew up and the music that accompanies that sequence is far too bombastic – a simple, quieter soundtrack would have enhanced the tone much better.

Rosalee is certainly a worthy subject and it’s no wonder her daughter is proud of her mother but she was clearly unable to view the subject matter objectively and that is absolutely deadly for a documentary and something any savvy audience will notice. What saves this documentary is Rosalee herself; her wit, wisdom, fortitude and good cheer are inspiring and most seniors would do well to take her advice if they haven’t already. However, cinephiles should be aware that they might experience frustration when it comes to the filmmaker, more so than the subject.

REASONS TO SEE: There are some valuable life lessons here.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very hagiographic.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some horrific Holocaust images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won more than 40 awards on the Festival circuit.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/5/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: 79/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Big Sonia
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Cold Blood

Listen Up Philip


Elisabeth Moss consoles Jason Schwartman; her choice in projects is suspect too.

Elisabeth Moss consoles Jason Schwartman; her choice in projects is suspect too.

(2014) Dramedy (Tribeca) Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Jonathan Pryce, Krysten Ritter, Josephine de La Baume, Jess Wexler, Eric Bogosian (voice), Dree Hemingway, Keith Poulson, Kate Lyn Sheil, Yusem Bulos, Maite Alina, Daniel London, Samantha Jacober, Lee Wilkof, Joanne Tucker, Steven Boyer, Teddy Bergman, Rachel Oyama, Babs Olusanmokun. Directed by Alex Ross Perry

Being a writer isn’t as easy as sitting before a word processor and typing away. It involves research and introspection. There are those who find some writers insufferable self-centered boors. There are those who also believe that all writers are insufferable self-centered boors. The reason for that is that some writers give the rest of the ink-stained wretch community a bad name.

Philip Lewis Friedman (Schwartzman) is on the eve of the publication of his second novel. He has a beautiful girlfriend, photographer Ashley Kane (Moss) and a certain amount of acclaim in the literary community. You would think all of this would make him content; a career on the rise and all the things in place for a brilliant future.

The truth is that Philip Lewis Friedman is an utter prick. The only thing that matters to him is the acknowledgement that he is better than most people, that those who didn’t believe in his eventual success were fools beyond measure and traitors not just to him but society at large. At the very least those people were uncouth boobs.

But he meets his idol, best-selling author Ike Zimmerman (Pryce) who had a great run in the 70s and 80s but has written infrequently since then. He does have at least one genuine classic to his name and while he’s notoriously reclusive, he sees something in Philip’s writing that reminds him of himself. And so Philip goes up to Ike’s upstate New York “country retreat” leaving Ashley to hold the bag. A couple of weeks turns into the summer and then Philip takes a job teaching creative writing at a local college, a job arranged by Ike. A summer turns into a year.

Into Philip’s life comes Ike’s estranged daughter Melanie (Ritter) as well as a somewhat scheming faculty member at the same college Philip is working at, Yvette (de La Baume) and Holly Kane (Wexler), a student with a heavy crush on Philip. And yet, he views all his relationships by what they can do for him and his career. He can’t stop thinking about Ashley who is moving on. And the mentorship of Ike is turning into a friendship. Can Philip get his act together and be a well-adjusted writer or is he doomed to be an arsehole the rest of his life?

I know there are some critics who found this movie amazing. I can’t help but wonder if they got a different print than the one I saw. I have rarely seen a movie directed so badly. Generally, I’m pretty forgiving about directors who make poor choices in the name of trying something different but there are so many shots that are mis-framed, poorly focused and look for all the world like a home movie. It’s entirely possible that this was the effect that Perry was going for; if so, it doesn’t enhance the movie at all and ends up being annoying and detrimental to the audience’s focus. Of course, some directors may not want audiences being engrossed by their movie. I just wouldn’t want to see their films.

There is narration provided throughout, some of it droll. Bogosian who doesn’t appear onscreen gives that narration a bit more gravitas than it deserves. Which reminds me about the dialogue; it’s the sort of dialogue that people who distrust academics and intellectuals believe that they actually talk this way. I’ve known plenty of both sorts of people; trust me, nobody talks like this and if they do, academics and intellectuals will be right in line with the others making fun of them.

Some of the best parts of the movie are those that concentrate on Ashley. Moss is a pretty decent actress and you can tell she’s really trying to make it work, but at the end of the day her best efforts go for naught; her character is absent from most of the last third and her absence is keenly felt. Schwartzman is talented and has a delivery that could make droll comedy work, but his talents are utterly wasted here. He succeeds only in making us not want to spend another second with Philip, and yet we do. It’s a train wreck of a character.

Usually with indie films I am a little bit more forgiving and maybe it was because I saw it on the heels of watching the really miserable Inherent Vice but I found myself unable to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt here. So many of the issues were just basic Filmmaking 101 stuff or Screenwriting 101 stuff that I sat through much of the film incredulous that supposed professionals made this. I kept looking for the YouTube logo in the corner.

I wish the very best for Alex Ross Perry, I really do. I hope his next film appeals to me much more than this one did, truly. But I honestly cannot in good conscience recommend that any reader who places any confidence in my opinion go see this. Watching this was an ordeal, and there are plenty of unpleasant ways to spend an hour and a half as it is that life throws at us whether we want to spend them that way or not to purposely plunk down money to go into a movie theater and be checking your watch every ten minutes and wonder when the ordeal is going to end.

REASONS TO GO: Bogosian’s narration is fun. Moss gives a game try.
REASONS TO STAY: Inept direction. Not funny enough to be a comedy and not deep enough to be a drama. Boring in long patches. Pretentious throughout.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of swearing.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Ike Zimmerman character is loosely based on author Philip Roth.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/22/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Robot & Frank
FINAL RATING: 3/19
NEXT: Fur

11-11-11


(

Timothy Gibbs is as bewildered as you are.

Timothy Gibbs is as bewildered as you are.

2011) Horror (Rocket) Timothy Gibbs, Michael Landes, Wendy Glenn, Benjamin Cook, Lolo Herrero, Salome Jimenez, Brendan Price, Denis Rafter, Angela Rosal, Lluis Soler, Jose Bertolero, Oscar Velsecchi, Jose Antonio Marin, Luis Alba, Jesus Cuenca, Titus Ferrer, Alejandro Gil, Jason Abell, Emilie Autumn, Patrizia Medrano. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

They say that the secret to the universe is written in numbers. I call it mathematic mysticism – a belief that the universe is controlled in a supernatural way by math and numbers. While I can get behind science and mathematics as the language of creation, it’s a bit of a leap of faith to think that numbers control our destiny.

Joseph Crone (Gibbs) would probably like a word with whomever or whatever is controlling his destiny. A bestselling author of thrillers, he is bitter and alone after his wife and son died in a fire while he was away. Since then he has had frequent nightmares about their deaths and has been unable to write a single word despite pressure from his agent to follow up on his last book which sold more than 5 million copies.

He is also attending grief therapy class along with comely widow Sadie (Glenn). There is a bit of a connection between them and he begins to open up, telling her he’s been seeing the number 11 a lot lately, particularly in groups of two i.e. nightmares taking place precisely at 11:11pm, a car crash taking place at 11:11am, that sort of thing. Then, he gets word from his estranged brother Samuel (Landes) that their father (Rafter) is dying.

Joseph flies back to Barcelona to be with his family. Samuel is confined to a wheelchair after an auto accident and he and dad are cared for by Ana (Rosal), the housekeeper who’s been keeping a diary and who makes creepy pronouncements. Samuel has become pastor of his father’s church during his illness and despite Samuel’s best efforts attendance is dwindling. Joseph has long since lost his faith, figuring any God who could let his family die in a fire was someone he largely had no interest in getting to know.

Demonic apparitions begin to show at 11:11pm and increasingly inexplicable and largely scary events begin to lead Joseph to the conclusion that yes, there are more things under the sun than can be explained by men and as he does further research begins to come under the sneaky suspicion that something bad is going to happen to Samuel on November 11, 2011. But can someone who has no faith stop something that requires faith to believe in it?

Bousman, who has directed several films in the Saw series, goes the demonic route here and surprisingly for him keeps the blood and gore to a bare minimum. Bousman does an adequate job of creating an environment that is spooky to the max but then populates it with few genuine scares. Mostly one just gets a creepy feeling, like watching a snake swallow a rat. Now if the rat were to suddenly leap out of the snake’s flesh with bared fangs and red glowing eyes…

But I digress. Part of the problem is that Gibbs is playing Joseph as emotionally cut off and almost zombie-like. Now, grief can cause one to shut off one’s feelings and I get that – however, for the purposes of a movie, the hero needs to at least show something other than numbness. He also needs to vary the tones of his dialogue so that he doesn’t sound like a robot. Gibbs is a handsome fellow, sort of a cross between Dermot Mulroney and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, but handsome alone can’t carry a film.

Bousman is actually a very entertaining speaker and does some of the best commentaries in the DVD business and he spends a good deal of time lamenting about budget constraints that take the initial climactic battle from 1,111 demons to five guys in rubber masks. You get what you pay for in that sense.

I think Bousman was successful enough at creating a scary atmosphere that the film succeeds overall if just barely. However, this isn’t the kind of movie that will scare you out of your seat. It might just give you the willies so chicken-hearted horror film fans, take note.

WHY RENT THIS: Atmospheric and creepy.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks real scares. Acting is less than convincing. Been-there-done-that demons.

FAMILY VALUES: It’s a horror film so, like, some horrible things happen. There’s also a bit of violence, some disturbing images and a few thematic concerns.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bousman states on the commentary track that he believes the house they filmed in Barcelona in was actually haunted and goes on to recount some unexplainable activity that occurred while shooting took place.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.2M on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Number 23

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Day 4 of Six Days of Darkness 2013!!

Footnote (Hearat Shulayim)


Footnote

Like father like son?

(2011) Dramedy (Sony Classics) Shlomo Bar Aba, Lior Ashkenazi, Alisa Rosen, Alma Zak, Daniel Markowich, Micah Lewensohn, Yuval Scharf, Nevo Kimchi, Albert Iluz, Idit Teperson, Shmuel Shiloh, Michal Koresh, Daria Robichek, Dana Glozman, Jackey Levi. Directed by Joseph Cedar

 

Fathers and sons are often the most competitive of men. Sons spend their entire lives trying not just to live up to their fathers but to exceed them. Fathers are often wary of their sons attempts to do just that and can come to resent the success of their sons, particularly when it overshadows their own.

Eliezer Shkolnik (Bar Aba) is a Talmudic scholar at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is well-known for his meticulous nature and his eye for detail. He spent decades examining various versions of the Talmud in order to explain their changes, coming to a radical solution. However, just before he was to publish his results, a rival academic stumbled onto the same conclusions – not by doing the same methodical research but by finding a note in a copy of a European Talmud from the 16th century that led him to the same place. The rival published first and all of Eliezer’s work went for naught.

His son Uriel (Ashkenazi) has also entered the family business, so to speak. Rather than being a plodder, like his father, Uriel is more of a modern academic, publishing best-selling books and being invited to join prestigious societies and boards, honors denied his father. At one such ceremony, the father watches his son’s big moment with a dour expression, his humiliation furthered by his son’s tribute to him that ends up being a pointed reminder of his failures.

So it is surprising when Eliezer gets a call from the Israeli Minister of Education congratulating him on the receipt of the Israel Prize, the highest honor in the Jewish academic world. This is a validation on Eliezer’s entire career and this belated recognition transforms the dour old man.

Except that it isn’t real. A hasty convening of the board of judges for the prize reveals to Uriel the truth – the wrong Professor Shkolnik got the call. It was not the meticulous old man whose greatest achievement to that point was to have been a footnote in a respected work on Talmudic research by Israel’s most beloved scholar who was to be honored, it was his superstar, best-selling son who was in reality the face of Israeli academia.

But what to do? Taking the prize away from his dad would be the ultimate slap in the face and as a son Uriel couldn’t bear to be the object of his father’s humiliation but to allow his father to receive an undeserved award would be not only an invalidation of the prestigious award itself but also a violation of the very Talmudic scripture that he had spent his life researching.

The heart of the movie is not the Talmud itself, although it figures in peripherally. No, the rivalry between father and son is what Cedar is interested in examining in this Oscar nominated (for Best Foreign Language Film) work. While father and son are cordial, the tension between them is palpable. Uriel considers his father a dinosaur, a man who has spent a lifetime researching the equivalent of finding the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin. Eliezer sees his son as the embodiment of everything that has corrupted academics; desiring of fame, laziness in research and hasty in conclusion. His son is a rock star in academics, which the father agrees with and not in a good way.

Cedar enlisted two fine actors for the roles of father and son; although the physical resemblance is barely superficial at best, the two create a relationship that is highly believable. Bar Aba spends most of the movie with a disapproving glower, which any son will tell you is an expression they are used to from their fathers. Ashkenazi is a shaggy bear of a man, far more sociable and articulate than his father, able to take esoteric ideas and make them accessible, a gift that his father neither possesses nor wants. Uriel’s classes are well-attended and as a professor he is encouraging. Eliezer’s classes rarely have more than a handful of students and as a professor he is hyper-critical and demeaning. On the surface, the father seems to be a bitter curmudgeon, the son a nicer, sweeter man.

The genius of this film is that we get beneath the surface. We discover that Grossman (Lewensohn), the chairman of the Israel Prize committee, has a bitter rivalry with Eliezer and has been holding his career back at every turn. We also see that as the film goes on and Eliezer finally feels the vindication he has been seeking for so long that his son becomes bitter for reasons I won’t detail here as to not spoil the film.

The humor here is very low-key and well-choreographed, such as a meeting that takes place in a conference room far too small for the number of people inside it, with jockeying for position whenever someone needs to move. That scene, like most of the others in the movie, carries an innate quirkiness that one associates with academics to begin with; it is almost Wes Anderson-like in scope, with clever graphics and clever dialogue.

However keep in mind that like the subject itself, often the movie can get a little dry. Like Eliezer, the audience needs to have an eye (and ear) for detail and a bit of patience. Still, this is a film that has a fresh viewpoint on a subject as old as mankind itself (and I’m not talking about the Talmud) and gives some insight into the relationship between fathers and sons that perhaps most fathers and sons – not to mention wives and daughters – could benefit from.

REASONS TO GO: The highly competitive nature of the father-son dynamic is highlighted. Low-key hilarity.

REASONS TO STAY: Kind of dry in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief nudity and a bit of smoking. There are a few harsh words but mostly the thematic element might be a little bit over the head of most kids..

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bar Aba is actually a stage comedian; this is his first film in 20 years.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/28/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 82/100. The film has been embraced by critics.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Royal Tenenbaums

ACADEMIC LOVERS: Nearly every character in the film is involved with academic research in some way and the movie shows the lifestyle of a university academic from the houses full of books to the recesses of the university libraries to the social life of professors and students at the school.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Headhunters