Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations


Bullet holes and bibles: a message from God?

(2020) Documentary (Dark StarBill Clinton, Tony Blair, Julianna Margulies (narrator), Fareed Zakairia, Deborah Lipstadt, George F. Will, George Soros, Ben Novak, Viktor Orban, Yair Rosenberg, Brad Orsini, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, Eric Ward, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, Rabbi Elisar Admon, Luciana Berger, Johnathan Weissman, Ken Livingstone, Rachel Riley, Valerie Braham. Directed by Andrew Goldberg

 

Antisemitism is nothing new. It has been around as long as Judaism has been, or very nearly. After the end of World War II, there was a feeling that now that Nazism was gone, so would be antisemitism. That hasn’t proven to be the case; in fact, antisemitic hate crimes have been on the rise over the past few years.

Emmy-winning filmmaker and journalist Andrew Goldberg takes four very different types of antisemitic behavior and tries to explore each one. There is state-sponsored antisemitism, which is going on right now in Hungary where billionaire George Soros has been demonized as a “laughing Jew” trying to overrun Europe (and Hungary in particular) with Muslim refugees. A public smear campaign against Soros in particular and Jews in general is taking place there, which is disturbing to watch; 42% of Hungarians, according to the film, display at least one form of antisemitism.

There is also the sort we see here in America as practiced by the far right, which is an offshoot of neo-Nazism and has led to the tragic mass shootings in synagogues I Pittsburgh and California, as well as numerous defacing of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues with Nazi swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans.

In the UK, the Labour party has been rocked by a move towards what is described as antisemitism; there have been several Jewish politicians, television personalities and journalists who have been subjected to savage antisemitic hate mail. While there is nothing wrong with disagreeing with Israeli policies vis a vis the Palestinians, linking Hitler with Zionism as one former London mayor has done, or insisting that Jewish people are loyal to Israel first and the UK second is actually pretty condescending. Are then Lutherans loyal to Germany first, Presbyterians to Scotland first, Episcopalians to England first? Of course not.

Finally, an intense wave of antisemitism has swept through France, largely through the Muslim community. Radical Muslims there have carried out acts of terror against Jewish businesses, including one Kosher market where four people of the Jewish faith were gunned down before Parisian police killed the shooter.

Goldberg has explored this territory before in his TV doc Antisemitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence which I haven’t seen. This seems to be a deeper dive into the subject, with lots and lots of interviews, from well-known politicians like Clinton and Blair, journalists like Zakaria and Will, academics like Lipstadt, and survivors of hate crimes. I would have liked a little less hagiography in the UK section; disagreeing with Israeli political policies doesn’t make you an anti-Semite and that’s where the left-leaning Labour party’s issues really began, but they went over the line and you see that happening in left-leaning places here like Berkeley as well.

The movie opens up with police communications that occurred during the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, where 11 Jewish worshipers were murdered by a far-right white supremacist. There is an interview with Valerie Braham, a young woman whose husband died in the kosher market in Paris. She breaks down several times recalling that terrible day, and then matter-of-factly states that she feels she has to hide her and her children’s Jewishness when they go out in public. She is terrified and has every right to be.

Things tend to be cyclical and we’re entering an era of global nationalism. It’s easy to blame Trump for some of these things – and his rhetoric certainly bears some responsibility as far as fanning the flames goes – but this is a global phenomenon, not just an American one and the rise of antisemitism can’t really be laid at the feet of just one man. It is, very sadly, part of who we are as Christians. When we learn to accept those who are different as us as no better and no worse than us, maybe on that day Jews and Muslims and gays and dark-skinned minorities won’t have to live in fear. Until that day comes, it seems only prudent to be cautious.

REASONS TO SEE: Chilling footage of police taking down a white supremacist in Paris, as well as the police band chatter from the Tree of Life massacre. Very intelligent throughout.
REASONS TO AVOID: A bit scattershot and lacks context from time to time.
FAMILY VALUES: There is adult material, some of it fairly disturbing.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lipstadt is the woman upon whose experiences Denial was based on. She was played by Rachel Weisz in the film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews, Metacritic: 46/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Antisemitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
A Private War

Night School (2018)


Kevin Hart is THIS tall…

(2018) Comedy (UniversalKevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, Taran Killam, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Al Madrigal, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Keith David, Anne Winters, Fat Joe, Ben Schwartz, Yvonne Orji, Bresha Webb, Jeff Rose, Donna Biscoe, Owen Harn, Zach Osterman, Janet Metzger, Tim Ware, Miriam Kulick, Curtis Washington, Maria Legarda. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

 

Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish are two of the funniest and most successful comics alive. You would think that a movie starring the both of them would be funny, no?

No. Hart stars as Teddy, a high school dropout who manages to literally burn his last place of employment to the ground. Desperate to find a job, he just needs a GED in order to win his girlfriend (Echikunwoke) and get a high-paying job at a merchant bank that his friend (Schwartz) has secured him.

Getting that GED won’t be easy. He has to return to his alma mater, whose principal (Killam) is now the nerd that Hart bullied back in the day and the teacher (Haddish) is a no-nonsense sort who isn’t falling one iota for Teddy’s streetwise hustler charm, particularly since it’s obvious that Teddy isn’t planning on putting much – if any – effort into the task.

San Francisco Chronicle reviewer Mick LaSalle (who was far more generous than his review than I am) gets the movie’s main problem down quite well; Hart is an aspirational comedian, one who makes his living off playing characters who want to better themselves but sabotage themselves at every turn. Haddish is more of an anarchic comic, one who excels by causing chaos and then resolving it. The two styles don’t really mix well, and the victim here is Haddish whose style is suborned to Hart’s, which turns out to be a colossal waste of her talents.

That doesn’t mean that the movie is without laughs – with the kind of talent in this cast top to bottom it would be impossible not to at least chuckle from time to time. Sadly, though the movie starts out as a ponderous monolithic bore basing most of its comedy on fart, butt and poop jokes, or at least humor on that level. Hart is much better than that. However, I will admit that if you stick with the movie, it does get better as it goes along…just not enough for me to really recommend it.

REASONS TO SEE: Gets better as it goes along.
REASONS TO AVOID: Predictable and unfunny. Not enough chemistry between Hart and Haddish.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of profanity, crude and sexual humor throughout, some drug references and a bit of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although hart has written several of his comedy specials, this is his first feature film writing credit.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft,  Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 27% positive reviews: Metacritic: 43/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING:  Summer School
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT:
The Predator

Buster’s Mal Heart


Fear the beard.

(2016) Drama (Well Go USA) Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, Kate Lyn Sheil, Sukha Belle Potter, Toby Huss, Lin Shaye, Mark Kelly, Bruce Bundy, Teresa Yenque, Jared Larson, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Nicholas Pryor, RJ Burns, Gabriel Clark, Lily Gladstone, Chris Toma, Shi Ne Nielson, Ricky Hartung, Tom Cordingley, Dr. Franklin Ruehl, Kate Berlant (voice), Jenny Leonhardt. Directed by Sarah Adina Smith

Florida-film-festival-2017

For most of us, there comes a time in our lives when we strongly suspect that there’s something terribly wrong with the system. I’m not talking about capitalism, communism or anything like that; I mean there’s something terribly wrong with the system of life. There’s a glitch in God’s software, in other words. A patch is sorely needed.

Jonah (Malek) is a concierge at a budget hotel in a Montana resort area. He works the graveyard shift, and although his title is fancy his job is not. He works the front desk and does all sorts of odd jobs around the hotel; throwing linens into an industrial laundry machine, putting dishes through a washer, fishing out slices of pizza from the hotel’s indoor swimming pool and vacuuming carpets endlessly. When he’s not doing these things, he’s bored almost to tears; religious programming plays on the TV set endlessly and on the hotel’s handball court he tosses a rubber ball in a desultory way at the wall.

At home, he plays with his daughter Roxy (Potter) and is affectionate with his wife Marty (Sheil) but is less friendly with her parents, particularly the venomous Pauline (Shaye) who is hypercritical of everything he does. It is, after all, her house they live in, Jonah pulling in a paltry sum from the hotel. He and Marty dream of one day owning their own parcel of land where they can bring up their daughter the way they want to. He has chronic insomnia, unable to sleep during the day.

One night a strange drifter (Qualls) comes into the hotel, looking for a room for the night. He has no identification and refuses to pay with anything but cash. Corporate policy requires ID and a credit card but Jonah lets him stay anyway. The two strike up a conversation and the drifter has some fairly interesting viewpoints. He is apparently a computer software engineer, trying to insure that Y2K won’t bring the world’s economy to a grinding halt. He also talks about an event called The Inversion, when life on Earth will be irrevocably changed and only a leap into the sphincter-like opening of a wormhole will save those who believe in the Inversion from annihilation. In Jonah’s sleep-deprived state, the ramblings of the drifter make a whole lot of sense; there is, after all, a bug in the system.

Buster (Malek) is the name locals use for a bearded mountain man who survives the harsh Montana winters by breaking into expensive vacation homes and living off the food stored therein. He makes incoherent calls to radio talk shows, babbling about an event called The Inversion. He is harmless, really; he meticulously cleans the homes he squats in and leaves them as he found them except for two quirky things; he turns the photographs hanging on the walls of the homes he stays in upside down and once in awhile, he takes a dump in a cooking pot and leaves it on the dining room table. He is clearly not operating with a full deck.

He is essentially harmless but the local Deputy Winston (Huss) has vowed to capture Buster despite the fact that he has never harmed a fly. However, when an elderly couple surprise Buster inside their home, he takes them hostage, treating them politely and even cooking them dinner but then locking them in a closet and refusing to speak to them. Things change rapidly after that.

A man (Malek) floats in a rowboat in the middle of a vast body of water There may or may not be another man with him; we can’t be sure. The man has a long and unkempt beard and hair. He gets his sustenance by fishing and from time to time rages at the heavens. He is tired of this life and of the pain and suffering and only wants to die.

These three – Jonah, Buster and the Man in the Boat – could all be the same man. Then again, they may not be although it is very likely that Jonah and Buster are indeed the same guy. If so, what happened to change Jonah from a rational, loving father and husband to a wild and unstable mountain man?

Second-time director Smith who also wrote the movie has come up with an interesting and somewhat cerebral quasi-science fiction outing that doesn’t always state its case clearly. Much of what is happening onscreen defies explanation and the audience is left to come up with their own answers which is a highly dangerous endeavor these days; most audiences would much rather have the answers handed to them.

Malek, the Emmy-winning star of Mr. Robot, takes on his first feature lead role and shows that he is not only capable of handling it but of shining while doing it. He reminds me strongly of a young John Malkovich both physically and in his performance. While the movie bounces around from time to time, Malek truly holds it together. He is never anything less than mesmerizing.

The movie is long on ideas but a bit short on developing them. There is a kind of vagueness although some things seem pretty clear; it’s just you need to connect the dots somewhat and that can be a bit tiring for those not used to it. The sense of things being not quite right is prevalent throughout the movie; it leads you to mistrust what you’re seeing onscreen and maybe that’s not a bad thing. Smith clearly takes the old saw of “the road not taken” literally to heart and we are left to wonder if the high road was necessarily the right one in this case. The grief of Buster doesn’t necessarily come to the forefront but it’s there and although we may not realize it at the time, we are watching the actions of a man in unimaginable pain. Whether or not that man is still sane – or even still human – is up to you to decide.

REASONS TO GO: You are definitely going to need your brain in full gear for this one. Malek is a natural lead actor.
REASONS TO STAY: This may be a bit too confusing for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There are adult thematic elements, some violence and some foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Malek was already cast while the film was still in development before breaking out in Mr. Robot.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/21/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews. Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Ghost in the Shell