August 31, 2010
Sex, lies and social networking: A season of new films
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According to Gibney, the major themes that emerge from the documentary include “the intersection between sex and state, scandal, and the blood sport of contemporary politics.”
As for what he would like audiences to come away with after watching his film: “I would like them to embrace the contradictions of everyday life. There is no doubt that Spitzer was a hypocrite. But are we better off without him in office? How do we judge our public officials? By what they do in private or what they do on the job? For centuries we have struggled with the issue of infidelity. By watching Spitzer’s fall, we explore those issues vicariously.”
A moviemaker that many view as another Jewish “bad boy” is Woody Allen. His latest effort, “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” is a whimsical tale, set in England, about a group of people whose illusory quests for love and success lead them astray.
The story centers on two couples. Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) is an aging man seeking his lost youth. He divorces his wife, Helena (Gemma Jones), and takes up with a sexy young call girl (Lucy Punch). Meanwhile, Helena starts going to a psychic who predicts that she will meet a handsome stranger. The divorced couple’s daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), is married to Roy (Josh Brolin), a novelist whose promising first book has been followed by a series of rejections. The strain between the two prompts Sally to fall for her boss (Antonio Banderas), who is more interested in Sally’s friend, while Roy becomes involved with Dia (Freida Pinto) and ultimately causes her to cancel her plans to marry another man. In his hunger for another hit novel, Roy commits an act of desperation that is destined to backfire.
You can see this one as of Sept. 22.
A few days earlier, on Sept. 17, the documentary “Catfish,” which examines the vicissitudes of social networking on the Internet, will be released.
Nev Schulman, a young New York photographer, is given to posting his pictures on the Web. One day, an 8-year-old girl named Abby contacts him, asking permission to make a painting of one of his photos. Soon, Nev begins a Facebook relationship with the girl and her family. He also speaks by phone to Abby; her mother, Angela; and her older sister, Megan, who looked particularly appealing in pictures she posted online. Megan and Nev begin an erotic, long-distance electronic relationship, as the proceedings are filmed by Nev’s brother, Ariel, and Ariel’s filmmaking partner, Henry Joost.
When the three men decide to pay a surprise visit to the family in Michigan, some questions are answered, while others arise, and it becomes clear that everything is not as it first appears.
The most moving, most involving moments of this unusual film are supplied by Angela, and her revelations, as secrets slowly emerge.
Although this project may not appeal to everyone, it has earned raves from several critics, and it seems to be the kind of fare that will be especially engaging to audiences who also like reality TV. The documentary is certainly an education in the pitfalls of relationships that are established without truly personal encounters.
And, speaking of education, an important value in Jewish culture, Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” promises to provoke and inform as it aims to tell the truth about today’s public school system.
According to the press material, Guggenheim — of “An Inconvenient Truth” fame — who has three children, found the test scores of his neighborhood school in Venice so bad that, against his principles, he sent his children to a private school.
Through his research for this film, Guggenheim learned that there are successful reforms being implemented, even in disadvantaged areas, yet, despite the reforms, many schools are still failing. In addition, there aren’t enough places in the good schools for the number of students who apply, so several schools use a lottery system for their admission process. The director followed five families from diverse backgrounds who were participating in lotteries.
Guggenheim also took on some of what appeared to be public education’s inconvenient truths by delving into issues surrounding the power of teachers’ unions and of educational bureaucracies as he sought to reveal hidden forces that he believes stand in the way of real reform.
“Waiting for Superman” arrives Sept. 24.
There are three small gems with decidedly Jewish themes that also warrant some mention here.
In the Mexican movie “Nora’s Will,” the woman of the title (Silvia Mariscal) has finally committed suicide after numerous unsuccessful attempts over the course of her life. Before swallowing three bottles of pills, she has arranged to maneuver events so that her ex-husband, José (Fernando Luján), who lives across the street, will be responsible for burying her corpse. She has also stored food in the refrigerator for the upcoming Passover seder.
Filmmaker Mariana Chenillo injects a form of black comedy into this story of family, love, celebrations, losses and life’s poignancies. José encounters numerous stumbling blocks in his attempts to have Nora buried. According to the family rabbi, she will have to be interred before 3 p.m. that day or her burial will have to wait five days, until the main part of the holiday has passed
Then, because she is a suicide, it becomes all but impossible to find a Jewish cemetery that will bury her.
When José finally locates a willing rabbi and cemetery, he gets in touch with the love he has always had for Nora. The film ends with the whole family gathered at the Passover table, enjoying the meal that Nora had planned.
Look for “Nora’s Will” on Oct. 8.
The cinematographer on “An Inconvenient Truth,” Bob Richman, makes his directorial debut with the documentary “Ahead of Time,” about the life of 98-year-old Ruth Gruber — she turns 99 on Sept. 30 — who, at age 20, became the world’s youngest Ph.D. Brooklyn-born Gruber was a journalist and the first reporter to enter the Soviet Arctic. She also led 1,000 refugees fleeing the Holocaust from Naples to New York. Gruber covered the Nuremberg trials and took photographs of refugees onboard the ship Exodus that would be widely distributed. Opening date is Sept. 24.
Finally, “The Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story” is an uplifting movie that traces the careers of Major League Baseball players who were Jewish and who broke down barriers, obliterating stereotypes in the process. These include Andy Cohen, who played second base and was hired by the New York Giants to encourage attendance by Jewish fans; the famous Hank Greenberg, a powerhouse at bat; the mysterious catcher Moe Berg, who became a spy during World War II; and the legendary Sandy Koufax, arguably the best left-handed pitcher baseball has ever seen, among several other past and present notables.
Because baseball is considered the national pastime and a uniquely American sport, the prominence of Jewish players signaled a quintessential form of assimilation. The film sets the lives of these players against the historical events through which they lived.
The film is narrated by Dustin Hoffman, directed by Peter Miller and written by retired New York Times columnist Ira Berkow, a Pulitzer Prize recipient. “The Jews and Baseball” begins its Los Angeles run Nov. 19.
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