Tales from Tel Aviv, and other matter

Tales from Tel Aviv, and other matter

Filmstruck does a great curatorial job for serious movie lovers. They currently host the Criterion collection but also provide TCM-like intros and supplemental material for other art-house films. They appreciate the way films can be strung together almost as much as I do, and I encourage those with the extra 9 or so monthly bucks to splurge on stuff that’s more nourishing than what can be found Netflix’s increasingly shrinking film selection. (No knock on Netflix, no blasphemy from me, but it’s just no place for Flix anymore.) I don’t know a lot about Israeli film but Filmstruck’s collection of stories set in Tel Aviv gave me a glimpse of a chaotic, troubled, charming city. These are all, be warned, decidedly low-key, low-budget movies by Hollywood standards. Best for the curious tourists of the global mind.


“Alila” (Amos Gitai) is a very Kiarostami movie, based on a novel by Yehoshua Kenaz’s and following the messy lives of a scattered cast of working-class oddballs. Engrossing and illuminating even if no character surfaces as particularly likable. (3) Similarly, “Jellyfish” follows the coincidental connections in the slicy lives of several women in Tel-Aviv. Directed by the wife-and-husband team of Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret, this one is less emotionally detached than “Alila” and I would recommend it as a starting point. (4)


Arik Kaplun’s “Yana’s Friends” is a nice, breezy, romantic comedy against the background of the Gulf War. How many of those have you seen? (3) More campily cheerful is “Cupcakes,” by Eytan Fox. As sweet as the treat in the title. Five gals (+1 gayfriend) “accidentally” enter a “Eurovision” style song contest. If you’re not into people singing into their hairbrush and all that, this is not for you.(4)


Dana Igvy is part of an ensemble in “Cupcakes,” but she is fearless in “Or (My Treasure)” a tough, honest look at the symbiotic relationship between a mother consumed by prostitution and the daughter who continually tries to save her mother only to follow along same patterns. (5) Of all these movies, “Or” will stick with me the longest.



“Life is Strange: Before the Storm”. “Overwatched” a friend play through this game. Basically the same immersive mechanics, but by setting it up as a prequel (we know where the characters will wind-up) and by withdrawing the mystical element of time-travel, I felt some damage was done to the concept (as a purist). I am not, as a rule, fond of prequels. It’s still a powerful examination of teenage friendships. Emotion is the future of gaming. (4)

Christophe Chaboute is a master of bleak, black-and-white Walpurgis nightmares that are a thrill to succumb to. (4)


creep 2

Creepy too is “Creep 2”. Once again, the underrated multi-talented Mark Duplass shows his stretchy range in a very squirmy movie. “Creep 2” asks the important question: who’s creepier, the creep, or the person exploiting the creep?!? More importantly, in the current sexually fraught climate: can a woman out-creep a man? (4)

Ben Koepp

“The Big Sick” (Directed by Michael Showalter) Based on Kumail Nanjiani’s real life courtship. A little fakey, a little self-serving, warm and fuzzy and all, but I kept on thinking: “You’re a grown man. In America. Your big problem is that you can’t tell your parents that you’re dating an American woman?” Two hours on how Kumail stopped catering to his parent’s racism? Highly overrated. “Loving” this ain’t. (3)

Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Paggliaci”! Been sampling several recordings / performances. I suppose soon I’ll jump to do the same with “Cavalleria Rusticana.” Hopefully my Italian improves with each opera I tackle, at least as far as recognizing words goes. (5)


Kill, Hell, Water, Wind, River

Kill, Hell, Water, Wind, River


Taylor Sheridan is one of the most interesting creators out there. He began a remarkable streak with his script for 2015’s “Sicario.” Emily Blunt is our point-of-view in a gripping you-are-there story about the Juarez cartel that is equally beautiful and terrifying to look at. Josh Brolin is the beyond-jaded American link, and Benicio del Toro is the inscrutable guide to this vicarious trip through hell. The director (Denis Villeneuve) really has an eye for grand views, and his lens soaks in the Mexican panorama. This is a movie I will watch again soon (5).


“Hell or High Water” doesn’t have that kind of directorial mastery, but David Mackenzie does a fine job with Sheridan’s script about bank-robbing brothers (Ben Foster and Chris Pine) who make a last stand in an economically devastated Texas, to a soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (4).


Sheridan’s own directorial debut, “Wind River,” is about a frozen reservation in Wyoming. There, a hunter (Jeremy Renner) and an FBI agent (Elizabeth “The Non-Twin” Olsen) team up to investigate the death of a young woman who is found in the snow. This dramatic thriller is as tense as a long walk on weak ice, and as chilling as crashing through: It ends on the note that no one collects statistics on missing Native American women. (4)


Kemco releases tonloads of simple, terrible, old-school RPGs that scratch some atavistic need for grinding like it’s 1993. “Aeon Avenger” is one such game I threw valuable Earth time on. (2)


On the other hand, I was very thrilled to spent casual gaming time on Devolver Digital’s “Reigns” and its feminist-minded sequel “Reigns: Her Majesty.” In these wonderfully simplex games, you must swipe left or right to make yes or no decisions while keeping a balance between pleasing the Church, the Army, the People, and your  Budget! It’s like Tinder for Kingdoms. (5)


The third season of “Broadchurch” makes up for a meandering second season that threatened to damage the show’s initial impact. Still, this is one of the best acted, most dramatically wrenching small town stories ever told. Olivia Colman and David Tennant is one of those buddy cop pairings for the ages. I’ll watch Tennant in anything, though, he was really the actor who sold on me on the “Doctor Who” concept. (4)


“Seven Deadly Sins” is just shonen done right; great animation, great story, lovable characters, and a gigantic woman with the accompanying gigantic breasts. (5)

“The Tales of Hoffmann”.  English version of Jacques Offenbach’s opera based on a trio of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s romantic, fantasmagoric tales about Olympia, Giulietta, and Antonia. The relative low-budget of any Powell/ Pressburger product may turn off the less amenable to opera and / or faded prints ( I saw the un-restored version) but one can only imagine what Powell and Pressburger could have done with MGM money. (5)


This lead me to re-reading a handful of Hoffmann’s tales (I don’t see any readily available, comprehensive, scholarly English translation of his complete works, which is a shame.) Loved “The Violin of Cremone,” which gives its subject matter to the “Antonia” segment in the Offenbach opera (and the above movie). Hoffmann is a real visionary of dark fantasy, (he invented “The Sandman,” darn it, and ballets like “Coppelia” and “The Nutcracker” keep him alive; Tchaikovsky based his perennial Christmas ballet on Alexandre Dumas’ adaptation of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Neil Gaiman and Cirque du Soleil both owe a lot to Hoffman. (5)


voltaCirque du Soleil: Volta” (soundtrack). More (auto-) tuned in to the times than some of the previous CdS’s shows I’ve seen/ heard. By which I mean, it all sounds like Imagine Dragons. “Ants Dancing” (4)



wmc“2nd Chance” (Women’s Murder Club #2, James Patterson. Well, Andrew Gross, really) Entertaining enough. This time, the four ladies investigate what appears to be a hate-crime at a mostly-black Church. But is the mass shooter up to something else? (3)





“The Mystery of the Yellow Room” (Gaston Leroux). There is more to Leroux than “The Phantom of the Opera,” such as the Joseph Rouletabille detective series. Rouletabille is an 18 year old reporter with a pool ball shaped head and a Peter Parker-ish glee, who here solves one of the earliest, and best, locked room mysteries. (5)






Spirou and Fantasio are funnier than Tin Tin so there. In “The Heirs,” from 1954, Fantasio tries to fulfill the demands of a rich relative’s will by inventing a rotocopter, winning the Grand Prix, and capturing the famed Marsupilami in the South American country of Palombia. Marsupilami, with his spotted fur and his prehensile tail would, of course, become a fan favorite. In “The Marsupilami Thieves,” which picks up right after, the Marsupilami is stolen from a zoo and displayed on a circus, so Spirou and Fantasio must go behind the scenes to rescue the critter. (4)

Cubitus“Cubitus” (Dupa) A punning Belgian puppy that loses a lot of his surreal, aphoristic charm when translated to English, which he was in the ’80s, as “Wowser.” (4)







fito63Fito Paez, “Del 63”. The politically-tinged debut from the Argentine rock legend. “Del 63,” “Rumba del Piano,” “Cuervos en Casa.” (5)

raw“Raw” (Julia Ducornau). It’s a spoiler to say what kind of movie this is, but fine: the best recent coming of age, sister-bonding, body horror thriller. It’s Ducornau’s directorial debut, but she’s as assured and thematically fearless as the title threatens.  (5)










The Mysterious Howl of the Spider-Man

The Mysterious Howl of the Spider-Man


Here we have a series of web-slinging classics that offered no trigger warnings for those of us who suffer from arachnophobia. Unless, of course, the title counts as a warning.

“Spider-Man” (Sam Raimi, 2002) One of the first truly successful harbingers of the Superhero Era that we’re improbably still going through. (Technically, the second, after Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.”) Raimi loves slapstick even when it ruins a mood, but his visual wit compensates for a heavy-handed David Koepp script that rewards-and-punishes comic book fans by putting them again through every trite beat of the Stan Lee / Steve Ditko origin story with little variation. MVPs: J. K. Simmons as cigar-chomping J. Jonah Jameson, and Willem Dafoe as the rictus-faced Green Goblin. Of course, the all-time winners of the “Best Upside-Down-in-the-Rain Kiss” are Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst.

spider kiss

The CGI in “Spider-Man 2,” from 2004, has not aged gracefully, but that doesn’t matter because all of the best moments are human. The flick does rely on call backs to the instantly iconic scenes of the original (upside-down kisses! Spidey as volunteer firefighter!) But it matches / improves the first with a goofy, innocent energy that is kept throughout. The fights with the well-armed Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) are fun and effective. Michael Chabon somehow contributed to script, most likely in some extraneous lines about T.S. Eliot being more complex than advanced physics. (At the time they were 5 and 5, now I feel like they’re 4 and 4)


“Spider-Man 3” is unquestionable the lesser of the original trilogy. Still enjoyable, but its separate threads take too long to weave themselves together. The non-Neil-Gaiman Sandman story-line could have been excised to the movie’s improvement. Mary Jane’s Broadway career shouldn’t be more emotionally interesting than the Green Goblin’s revenge. (3)

howl“Howl” (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 2010) It’s appalling that someone had to pretend in court that “angel headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night” wasn’t a terrific accumulation of words. James Franco may be replicating Allen Ginsberg’s mannerisms just fine. It’s young Ginsberg, before Tibet and fame. That doesn’t mean that Allen Ginsberg’s mannerisms at that period were engaging. The performance is so restrained as to be uninspired. But the court case doesn’t feel as urgent as it could have felt, and the animation that accompanies the poems doesn’t always rise up to the lyrical potential. (3)

The_Mystery_of_the_Blue_Train_First_Edition_Cover_1928“The Mystery of the Blue Train” (Agatha Christie). The Blue Train is not the Orient Express. It is one of the few Poirots that can be easily guessed, for instance, and this train runs through the Riviera, carrying a dead girl. Also, French swindlers and stolen jewels. This time around, Hercule Poirot’s sounding board is Katherine Grey, from St. Mary Mead, like Miss Marple. This was Christie’s own least liked, weak novel written before and after her “disappearance” period. (3)



coverface“Cover Her Face” ( P. D. James) Inspector Adam Dalglieh’s debut. James’ whodunits have relative psychological depth, and excel from a literary angle. However, she’s a damned Tory classist, and some of the snobbish British viewpoints annoy me: the victim is a “peccant delinquent”- a lower class woman who had the temerity to have pre-marital sex and become a single mother. (Still 5)



atypical“Atypical.” Pretending that autism is just a personality quirk is insulting to autistic people. By this show’s standard, autistic just means awkward at reading social cues. So, everybody at some point? The rest of the show is fine; I might change my mind with more viewings. (3)

the-carmichael-show“The Carmichael Show” (Brilliant but Cancelled but now with Netflix you can Always Watch Its 3 Seasons so It’s Fine) I love almost everything about this old-skool sitcom except Jerrod Carmichael’s acting. He’s limited in the ways Jerry Seinfeld was. But his show managed to tackle modern political conflicts within today’s middle class African-American family in a TV set-up that has felt creaky to audiences for 20 years, and it does so vibrantly. It’s funny! (4)

CraigFerguson_Netflix_ticklefight“Tickle Fight.” The new stand-up by Craig Ferguson, who has a dashing beard and is not all talking about Trump. (4)






juddapatow“Judd Apatow: The Return.” Judd Apatow’s stand-up is not top-tier, (he’s been away from the game too long) but it’s pleasant enough. He probably doesn’t need to name-drop as much as he does, and he definitely shouldn’t brag so much about how he married Leslie Mann. “You won’t believe this love-conquers-all story! Even a normal-looking millionaire can marry a second-tier actress!” Judd Apatow dating Beyonce? Ok, then I would be intrigued. (4)