Fred Levit’s Movie Reviews
By Fred Levit:
I’ve been reading and hearing some passionately negative Critical responses to this year’s most highly anticipated Biopic “JOBS”, but I doubt it will help the film’s success at the Box-Office when typing ‘JOBS’ into Google (as well as other search engines) results in page after page of Job sites from ‘CareerOne’ to ‘SEEK’, and very little in relation to the likes of the late pioneer, ahead of his time, who changed the world three times – introducing us to the personal computer (now on their way out), creating an Operating System with graphics (I use Windows) and the iPod/iPhone/iPad phenomenon (regrettably my artificial life support) – starting a tech-war most notably with the world’s richest man Bill Gates and a spectrum of other companies like IBM, Atari, Intel, etc.
Yes, the MAN and the VISION were a marriage of innovation made in the Garden of Eden (from where Steve Jobs attributed the name ‘Apple’), but unlike many Biopic dramas from 30 years ago and beyond such as the epics “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Gandhi” and “Golda” that had running times of up to 4 hours (or made into TV mini-series) modern audiences don’t have the patience nor the time or attention spans to be taken on long epic journeys, particularly because the onslaught of fast-food action films infiltrating our psyche have numbed our depth perception. With Hollywood studios forever growing greedier, increasingly nearsighted and formulaic, what the studios ultimately produce now are 90 minute cocktails of major events and inspirational moments in a person’s life, forgetting in the process to tell an intimate story about the subject in focus – and thus leaving a lot to be desired.
This is what many felt about the film, and although I enjoyed it (seeing it for free thanks to Alex) and filling me with a new energy and inspiration to go out there and make my dreams come true, it did leave much unanswered and unexplored. I mean that in a positive way, because the film did work on so many other levels. It certainly captured my imagination.
Ashton Kutcher’s performance as Steve Jobs (from his Barefoot Contessa hippie days in College to the adopted Amish look in his twilight years) despite the episodic gap jumping nature of the film’s narrative is really engaging,and following the picture’s opening prologue where Jobs reveals the first iPod prototype, you really believe he is in fact Steve Jobs himself. Not only are the spitting image resemblances uncanny but the conviction and energy of the performance is there too and it doesn’t take long before you begin cheering his achievements, supportive of his failures –some scenes are very intimately suffocating and involving indeed.
You either like it or you hate it. I can understand why you might not, but I really did in spite of its shortcomings. Directed by Joshua Michael Stern who’s made a string of straight to DVD releases and supported by an exceptional all-star cast including James Woods, Matthew Modine, JK Simmons, Dermot Mulroney and Josh Gad, whether it satisfies you or not, there is no doubt in my mind you will walk away from this film both hungry and inspired!
“LEMON TREE” (2008)
Comparing this film to the last is like comparing Apples and Oranges…or in this case, Lemons.
And never has a plot device such as a “Lemon Tree” played a more central role to the narrative of a film and the land it divides – or as occurs later in the film, unites.
Winner of numerous awards from around the Globe, including Best Actress for Hiam Abbass at the Israel Film Academy, “LEMON TREE” tells a simple heart-wrenching love story about a windowed Palestinian woman named Salma Zidane living in peaceful tranquility with her father’s friend among her ancestral Lemon groves on the West Bank/Israeli border, tending and working the land like her family did for generations when suddenly Bulldozers and trucks come crashing through to pave way for the Israeli Defense Minister’s new abode – just meters from Salma’s Lemons.
With little consideration for an Arab woman’s livelihood, privacy and human rights, Defense Minister Israel Navon’s security personnel decide that the Lemon Trees (considering their height and density) may pose as a direct threat to the security of the Israeli populace in and around this new home, potentially used to conceal Palestinian terrorists planning to attack them. Thus, with the Defense Minister under pressure to fulfill his service and the concern he has for the safety of his wife Mira (Rona Lipaz-Michael), knowing all too well how this may affect Salma Zidane (Hiam Abbass) but feeling a sense of duty and responsibility, he makes the decision to have all the Lemon Trees fenced off both from Salma’s house and his own – creating a kind of security buffer zone.
But the tragic circumstances that grip Salma’s world and tear it apart get a lot worse when her own sense of duty and pride possess her to fight the establishment and continue to tend to her grove despite the military and security personnel present at all times of the day. It becomes clear to Navon’s security that a buffer zone is just not enough to maintain the status quo and the Lemon Groves must go! Only his wife Mira sees through the politics and inhumanity, developing a mutual connection with Salma where their spoken languages cannot. Despite the teary emphatic exchanges however, Israel’s defense policies work against their mutual desires and Salma’s world is thrust deeper into dismay when the reality of her predicament takes its toll on her nerves. Against all warning and advice from her peers and neighbors, refusing to accept Israel’s offer for compensation, Salma courageously defies her invaders (with her limited grasp of Hebrew) and against impossible odds with no money to spare, she hires a premium fee lawyer Ziad (Ali Suliman) to represent her in the highest echelons of the Israeli justice system, working with nothing but her humanity and his Hebrew against Israel’s prosecuting elite.
This film is a one woman show, completely driven by Hiam Abbass’ timelessly grounded performance and magnificent eyes that evoke so much emotion, understanding and humanity – which is hard to describe. Her beauty is undeniable, but her ability to cancel all the stereotypes and create a familiar character we can all identify with is the true strength of the film. What ensues is an overpowering love story set against a tragic backdrop of political and geographical injustice in a land forever in dispute and dampened by blood.
Without a second thought, one of the most effective Israeli films to date and an absolute must watch.
Israel is a multi-faceted nation of more than just multi-cultural color and flavor, for it is divided politically, religiously, sub-religiously, demographically and geographically – the list goes on. Thus, in wrapping up my coverage of the Israeli Film Festival (with so much to offer though finishing a fortnight ago) it didn’t feel right not to include a few documentaries I was fortunate to see, and I picked these 2 because they were the most emotional and thought provoking of the lot – of the themes they explored. And although they shared stories of people in wandering misery, sheer poverty and a search for identity, they also captured (in essence) the extreme life contrasts between Arabs living inside and outside of Israel’s secure and seemingly impenetrable borders – where families are torn apart because of the sacrifices they must make to survive in and around a nation and its people forever dealing with problems history has thrown upon it. Of the many dimensions of Israeli life and the issues it contends with on a daily basis, here are two windows into the trials and tribulations of Arab life we rarely hear about.
“GOOD GARBAGE” (2012)
Watching this document in all its honesty and overwhelming realism, I felt both challenged and infuriated that a world has turned its back on these select group of people at the center of this account of humans degraded to the point of digging in piles of rubbish (riddled with human waste) to find a scrap of metal to sell or an unfinished drink or snack to nourish their starved and weather beaten lives.
“GOOD GARBAGE” follows a handful of determined Palestinian refugees as they scurry through the Garbage Truck’s newly dumped trash at the Dump serving the local Israeli Settlement, and nestled near-by a Palestinian village – providing these destitute people the additional means of survival. An old man, the soul provider to a family whose young son serves time, plunges his worn and torn limbs through the rubbish to find the rare commodities like Tyre rubber and Tin metal to sell prospecting dealers in exchange for petty cash.
A little boy, whose mother awaits his long hard hours out in the blistering sun, is beaten about and pushed aside – an easy target for theft, often coming home empty handed and angering his hungry mother who taunts his weaknesses, breaking his spirit (no longer innocent). Then there is the ‘company’ that attempts to deal with the violent fights that break out among the prospectors, offering them an equal share and distribution of proceeds – a proposition that doesn’t take long to buckle under the sheer weight of desperation.
What ever the story, what ever the circumstances, you can not help but feel in one way or another negligent of a dominant reality that overshadows much of Africa and the Middle-East, and one where Israel is not the monster, but a piece in a very large and complex puzzle.
A real eye-opener and one not to be ignored.
“THE LESSON” (2012)
On the other side of the border, in Israel, a story so completely the opposite of “GOOD GARBAGE” yet equally as tragic and thought provoking, “THE LESSON” follows an elderly woman’s epic journey from the dunes of Egypt to the safety and freedom of Israel. One might think that a Driving Instructor’s 200th lesson with an intelligent elderly woman is a strange McGuffin to carry a 50 year old tale, but what begins as an innocent conversation and exploration of a woman’s obsessive urge to return to driving school seems to parallel her never ending and never dying hope to right the wrongs of her past – as if the steering wheel is a hypothetical extension of the mileage growing between her and the problems she refuses to accept as reality.
Your curiosity grows with that of the Driving Instructor’s eager persistence to find out more about this mysterious woman as she opens up the wounds of her past and pieces together her story, driving through the streets of Jerusalem completely engrossed in one another’s company – the one place she can be heard and listened to.
Out of her cold, spent and fortified façade, the internal flame beaten out of her, she reveals her past life as a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a deserter, a proud Arab and a land-owner whose influence over her own children died out with the memories of a time her family was a whole, in a country where she feels equally a captive and a refugee – perpetually in identity limbo.
It is a documentary that poignantly explores a woman’s search for meaning and redemption – and one that is a very insightful point of view from the Arab experience. Cutting between her conversations with a caring Driving Instructor and the exhausted exchanges with her open-minded daughter (on the verge of marrying a Jewish man), “THE LESSON” remains distant and observant throughout, letting us see a woman’s internal labyrinth from her eyes and leaving it for us to judge.