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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lebanon: Claustrophobic Israeli Film About War


By Steven Rosen
(From Cincinnati CityBeat, 9-24-10)

LEBANON
Grade: B+

Today’s war movies — like today’s wars — are a long way from The Longest Day. The Hurt Locker, Restrepo (a documentary) and now the Israeli Lebanon are claustrophobic and involved with the almost existential day-to-day survival of their soldiers, mired in tight quarters in Mideast wars where the impossibility of decisive victory seems a foregone conclusion.

Lebanon, from director Samuel Maoz and based on his own experiences during Israel’s 1982 incursion into Lebanon, ups the ante. Virtually all the action occurs either within the tight confines of an Israeli tank alone in a hostile town, or as seen from the gun sight of it. The four young soldiers are grimy, sweaty, nervous, scared, sometimes profane, sometimes philosophical, sometimes heroic and sometimes not. In this, they seem very human — which is the film’s main draw after one tires of the limited setting.

The four are Shmuel the gunner, commander Assi, ammunition loader Herzl and driver Yigal. Comparisons to Das Boot are inevitable, but the spaces here are tighter (and the action is less dynamic). Because they are played by actors working from Maoz’s script, the characters are more dramatically satisfying to watch than the real American soldiers in Restrepo, whose macho-obsessed lack of introspection wore this viewer out.

Israel is clearly haunted by that war — there’s a tough, embittered melancholy to this as well as 2008’s animated Waltz With Bashir that’s overall much more mature and weary than American movies about Iraq and Afghanistan, which still are full of posturing. But, sadly, it looks like there will be all too many opportunities for our current war films to improve.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Film Review | The Social Network


Anti-Social
by Thomas Delapa


With a friend like Mark Zuckerberg, you obviously don’t need enemies.

In The Social Network, writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher flip through the dirty back pages in the life of the whiz-kid billionaire Facebook founder, and it all makes for a good and juicy read, but a slick one.

Those in need of a heavy volume of dramatic irony will find it in this breezy chronicle, which shows how one lonely, brilliant misfit can make a million virtual friends and several fortunes while deleting all his real friends in his rise to the top of the Internet heap. Call it Revenge of the 'Net Nerds when Harvard undergrad Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) has the idea of a “cool” way for his fellow students to connect and form friendships online–not to mention get girls.

But along with his vision of a brave new virtual world, Zuckerberg’s own profile includes a marked like for smart-ass sarcasm, double-dealing and outright betrayal, judging by this biopic based on Ben Mezrich’s 2009 book The Accidental Billionaires. Did Zuckerberg copy his idea from two rich Harvard frat boys and then cheat his best friend Eduardo Saverin out his rightful stake in the company?

In zippy jigsaw flashbacks, Fincher and Sorkin paste together the genesis of the now-holy Facebook, but they also make the connection between Zuckerberg and the revolutionary zeitgeist mindset that places the impersonal virtual world head and shoulders over the real one. Starting with Eisenberg, Fincher’s young faces turn in impressive performances, including Justin Timberlake as Napster co-founder Sean Parker, who slithers in as Zuckerberg’s Silicon Valley Mephistopheles.

As well as The Social Network works with its wit and drive, it also leaves you unsatisfied on a deeper level, not unlike Fincher’s Fight Club and his other punchy contemporary dramas. He and Sorkin are so busy turning the Facebook/Zuckerberg pages, they don’t seem to much care about what’s going on between the lines.

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Originally published in The Perpetual Post, 10/7/10

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Review of The Tenth Inning


Hits, Runs and Errors
by Thomas Delapa



The Tenth Inning
of director Ken Burns’ winning PBS Baseball series felt less like a fall classic than a classic forties film noir: A foul sense of doom and gloom was ever lurking on-deck, despite the two decades of on-field drama and brilliant heroics. The lurking gloom, of course, was steroids, Major League Baseball’s crippling scandal that made the Black Sox cheaters look like bush leaguers.

Fans of the game must have been crying in their beers during Burns’ painful blow-by-blow on the rise and fall of such tarnished diamond stars as Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire and Roger Clemens. Taking up his chronicle in the early 1990s, Burns returns with his documentary instincts intact, though not the same behind-the-scenes team that made the first nine episodes so much of a hit. Lamentably gone is the seasoned narration by John Chancellor; Keith David is only average off the bench. Burns’ lineup of sportswriter commentaries was also a bit out of left field, with too much playing time given to lesser-knowns at the expense of veterans. The largely generic background music is a weak out.

In the last two decades, professional baseball has been it’s own worst enemy. A renaissance in the grand new era of urban ballparks was followed by the near-suicidal players’ strike in 1994. All-star stories like Cal Ripken’s Iron Man endurance record, the superhuman hitting feats of Ichiro Suziki and the New York Yankees’ deep-pockets resurgence are left on base while Burns ploddingly shadows baseball’s surly dark knight, Barry Bonds, in his unholy quest for all those once-sacred home run records.

An unsung refrain in this ode/dirge doubleheader is “greed, greed, greed.” Most fans, however loyal to their teams and the sport itself, blame the players in our era of multi-million free-agent contracts for banjo-hitting utility infielders. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, indeed.

As to the ugly Steroid Era (which may still be playing at ballpark near you), muted whistle-blowers like Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci have their turn at bat, sending blistering line drives in the direction of the players, the owners and MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who all happily played Three Blind Mice during the travesty. Ironically, however the baseball world cheered the 1998 McGuire/Sammy Sosa home-run race as welcome relief from the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, ultimately baseball was far worse at cleaning up its own dirty laundry. On the subject of the ever-woeful Chicago Cubs after the infamous 2003 Steven Bartman foul ball, Verducci hits this winner: “They’ve had a bad century. It’s time to rally.”

But in Boston, long-suffering Red Sox fans finally rejoiced in 2004, burying the Curse of the Bambino as their team won its first World Series in 86 years. In this bright highlight, Burns swings for the fences and gets there, wrapping up Boston’s amazing, history-making comeback against the hated Yankees, a series that miraculously turned on the few inches between Dave Roberts’ hand, a glove and a stolen second base. Like a home run disappearing in the night sky, the lyrical play-by-play comments from historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and columnist Mike Barnicle lift The Tenth Inning from mere sport reportage to a poignant sweet spot deep in every true fan’s heart.

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Originally published in The Perpetual Post, 10/1/10