Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The View From Home 8: New releases on DVD

By John Thomason

For My Father‭
(‬Film Movement‭)
Release date:‭ ‬June‭ ‬1
Standard list price:‭ ‬$22.49

I normally reserve the space for the largest review in this column to wonderful films that are worthy of your time,‭ ‬but occasionally a film so indefensible‭ ‬– so patently contemptible‭ ‬– will arrive on my doorstep that it prompts the need to vent for more than‭ ‬150‭ ‬words.‭ ‬For My Father,‭ ‬the latest installment in the usually reliable Film Movement line,‭ ‬is one such title.

‭“‬There have been so many films,‭ ‬documentary and fiction,‭ ‬about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that,‭ ‬sight unseen,‭ ‬'For My Father' could seem like just another tired vision of this unfortunate problem,‭” ‬says a Film Movement representative in the DVD's liner notes before explaining why the movie is better than all that.‭ ‬On the contrary:‭ ‬If only‭ ‬For My Father represented such a benign,‭ ‬forgettable homogeny with other movies about Middle Eastern strife,‭ ‬it could have been absorbed and digested without much criticism.‭ ‬For My Father is different,‭ ‬all right‭ ‬– but for all the wrong reasons.

Though shot in Israel and filmed in Hebrew,‭ ‬For My Father is as close to the art house as‭ ‬Transformers.‭ ‬The film opens on Tarek‭ (‬Shredi Jabarin‭)‬,‭ ‬a wannabe suicide bomber,‭ ‬being picked up by two terrorist buddies who strap explosives to his chest and discuss protocol‭ ‬– i.e.,‭ ‬don't explode yourself until you're in a crowd of people,‭ ‬etc.‭ ‬Then comes the pep talk right out of a Hollywood action movie:‭ “‬We don't have an air force,‭ ‬Tarek.‭ ‬If we had an air force,‭ ‬we wouldn't have to do this.‭ ‬You're our air force.‭”

Sounds trailer-ready,‭ ‬doesn't it‭? ‬This kind of artificial nonsense also sounds disgustingly maudlin and completely inappropriate,‭ ‬but it speaks to Tarek's indecisiveness.‭ ‬According to the film's‭ (‬il)logic,‭ ‬radical Islamic suicide bombers are just like you and me‭ ‬– they need a little coaxing.‭ ‬It's a big day,‭ ‬after all‭!

This scene is,‭ ‬unfortunately,‭ ‬of a piece with the rest of this ludicrous picture.‭ ‬The unintentional absurdity continues when Tarek's bomb fails,‭ ‬leaving him stranded in Tel‭ ‬Aviv while a local repairman fixes his doomsday switch.‭ ‬All the while,‭ ‬the jihadist thugs are on his case:‭ ‬They've wired a fail-safe cellphone to Tarek's body,‭ ‬threatening to activate his explosives remotely if and when he can't do the job himself.‭ ‬They give him‭ ‬48‭ ‬hours,‭ ‬during which time Tarek realizes that there's some nice people in Israel‭; ‬he works under a kind shopkeeper and forms a friendship with an unorthodox and slightly retarded girl.

That a suicide bomber can,‭ ‬or would,‭ ‬ever have a‭ “‬change of heart‭” ‬and decide to embrace love rather than hate,‭ ‬is a dangerously naïve Hollywood fantasy whose rosy vision is insulting to everyone's intelligence‭ ‬– even suicide bombers themselves.‭ ‬Though Bill Maher lost a job admitting it,‭ ‬anyone who has done the most basic research about Islamic suicide bombers knows that these men are not hesitant,‭ ‬cold-footed cowards who would forego jihad at the slightest resistance.‭ ‬They are dyed-in-the-wool religious fundamentalists who would,‭ ‬in the name of Allah,‭ ‬love nothing more than to sacrifice their earthly bodies while obliterating their enemies so they can properly ascend to heaven and fornicate with‭ ‬72‭ ‬virgins.

For My Father suggests otherwise and,‭ ‬making the whole affair even more offensive,‭ ‬suggests so through a filmic grammar of Hollywood clichés‭ ‬– a pop song-scored lovers‭' ‬bike ride,‭ ‬the sharing of headphones on the beach,‭ ‬Tarek's heroic dispatching of a ridiculous band of Orthodox thugs threatening his new girlfriend for not being dogmatic.‭

The screenplay feels written by a Hollywood hack with no‭ ‬understanding of life in Israel,‭ ‬and we can only blame the translators to a point.‭ ‬This melodramatic pap is so utterly disingenuous that it makes me wonder if the whole thing isn't a joke played on us,‭ ‬the spectators‭ ‬– a kind of Israeli‭ ‬Lady in the Water,‭ ‬subtextually subverting stereotypes by obviously overplaying them to the point of parody.‭ ‬If director Dror Zahavi wants his film to have any credibility at all,‭ ‬I'd suggest he frame it this way.

Mary and Max‭
Release date:‭ ‬June‭ ‬15
SLP:‭ ‬$18.99

This claymation feature by Australian writer-director Adam Elliot has been a favorite at dozens of film festivals since its‭ ‬2009‭ ‬Sundance premiere,‭ ‬and it's easy to see why.‭ ‬Toni Collette voices Mary Daisy Dinkle,‭ ‬a lonely and peculiar girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne in the late‭ '‬70s who,‭ ‬through a random search through a phone book,‭ ‬writes a letter to Philip Seymour Hoffman's Max Horovitz,‭ ‬an overweight,‭ ‬anxiety-addled New Yorker with Asperger's syndrome‭ (‬has there ever been a character more tailored to Hoffman's outcast onscreen persona‭?)‬.‭ ‬Thus a pen-pal relationship is formed,‭ ‬and it's as unconventional as the movie's style.‭ ‬The film's episodic script follows one letter with another,‭ ‬punctuated every now and then with Barry Humphries‭' ‬gravitas-laden fairy tale narration‭; ‬there is very little verbal communication between characters.‭ ‬An adult animated film all the way,‭ ‬Mary and Max explores some awfully dark terrain,‭ ‬from alcoholism and depression to obesity,‭ ‬suicide,‭ ‬electroshock therapy and oodles of death.‭ ‬But the bizarre,‭ ‬surrealist sense of humor and hilarious visual whimsy‭ ‬– recalling‭ ‬The Ricky Gervais Show‭ ‬– keep even the most morbid elements in comedic check.‭ ‬Ultimately,‭ ‬Mary and Max is a fine picture about friendship,‭ ‬forgiveness and overcoming fear and anxiety.

Cinema Pride Collectio
n‭ (‬Fox‭)
Release date:‭ ‬June‭ ‬8
SLP:‭ ‬$44.99

Gays and lesbians have come a long way in the modern media,‭ ‬emerging from decades of showbiz demonization,‭ ‬caricature and insensitivity to claim their own radio and TV stations,‭ ‬film festivals and niche movie theaters.‭ ‬So it was surprising to learn that Fox's new Cinema Pride collection is the very first LGBT box set released by a major motion picture studio.‭ ‬The long wait for such a collection is most likely due to Fox's dragging‭ ‬its feet until it could tie the DVDs in with Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.‭ ‬It's smart marketing,‭ ‬and at least we have this set now.‭ ‬The‭ ‬10-disc collection includes mostly worthy titles:‭ ‬La Cage Aux Folles and its lesser remake‭ ‬The Birdcage,‭ ‬Stephen Frears‭' ‬wonderful‭ ‬My Beautiful Laundrette,‭ ‬The Children's Hour,‭ ‬The Adventures of Priscilla,‭ ‬Queen of the Desert,‭ ‬Bent,‭ ‬Boys Don't Cry,‭ ‬Kissing Jessica Stein and a couple of throwaway titles that probably shouldn't be included in any collection,‭ ‬LGBT or otherwise:‭ ‬The Object of My Affection and‭ ‬Imagine Me‭ & ‬You.

‭ (‬MPI‭)
Release date:‭ ‬June‭ ‬15
SLP:‭ ‬$16.49

American Movie director Chris Smith made this exhaustive interview film in the stylistic vein of Errol Morris‭' ‬The Fog of War.‭ ‬His subject is Michael Ruppert,‭ ‬a police officer turned investigate journalist whose radical theories,‭ ‬published in his‭ ‬From the Wilderness newsletter,‭ ‬led to his marginalization from the mainstream media and,‭ ‬he says with pride,‭ ‬made him a personal enemy of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.‭ ‬But this eloquent,‭ ‬erudite conspiracist,‭ ‬doom prophet and‭ ‬major buzzkill foretold many catastrophes‭ ‬– mainly surrounding the‭ ‬2008‭ ‬financial collapse and its ripple effects‭ ‬–and he has profound observations about our overreliance on oil,‭ ‬the eventual demise of what he calls our‭ “‬fiat currency‭” ‬of printed money,‭ ‬our diminishing resources and our political structure,‭ ‬which he considers as antiquated as the Jurassic period.‭ ‬It's too bad Ruppert goes well beyond rational thought and into crackpot forecasting about shifting paradigms and our inevitable extinction as a human race‭ (‬he deploys the word‭ “‬perish‭”‬ with newscaster gravitas‭) ‬if we don't abandon our cars,‭ ‬grow our own food,‭ ‬pee on our soil,‭ ‬etc.‭ ‬It's a fascinating,‭ ‬endlessly watchable movie nonetheless,‭ ‬and Smith,‭ ‬to his credit,‭ ‬challenges Ruppert from time to time rather than let him bloviate.

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