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)
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)
“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)