All posts by Dennis Hartley

SJFF 2017: The Last Laugh ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 11, 2017)

https://i0.wp.com/www.highdefdigest.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/last-laugh-425x225.jpg?resize=425%2C225

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. How many Jews can you fit in a VW? No, seriously…you should stop me, even if you haven’t heard it. Because if you do know the punch line, and you think it’s funny, shame on you. Of course, if you’ve never heard it, and now you’re dying to know the punchline, then, shame on me for propagating this horribly tasteless joke, even in this strictly academic context. Because now you’re going to Google it anyway, and if you do, and think it’s funny, then, shame on both of us.

I’ve had people tell me that sophomoric joke over the years, having no idea that I’m Jewish. And every time, I am so tempted to completely destroy them with one simple sentence: “You know, I have relatives on my mother’s side of the family who died at Auschwitz.”  But I don’t. I take the high road; I give a perfunctory chuckle, glance at my watch and mumble something about being late for this thing I have to get to right away.

I think that’s the gist of this documentary, which is built around this rhetorical question: Can the Holocaust be funny? Now, I am by no means a prude, or a P.C. scold. As a former stand-up comic, I firmly believe that when it comes to comedy, no subject is taboo, including the Holocaust. That doesn’t mean that I find anything intrinsically funny about the Holocaust…because I don’t. I think it’s possible to cogently stick to my comedy credo as well my opinion that only a sociopath would find the Holocaust “ha-ha” funny.

But, “Tragedy + Time = Comedy”, right? Anyone? Bueller?

Even Mel Brooks, who is one of the professional funny people on hand to opine on the topic, won’t “go there”. Remember, this is the guy who gave us “Springtime for Hitler”. However, as he astutely reminds us, he may have made fun of Hitler, the Nazis, and the very idea of the Third Reich in his classic film The Producers…but he wasn’t “making fun” of the Holocaust, or milking laughs from it in and of itself in any way shape or form.

And that’s the general consensus from nearly all the comedy luminaries who appear in the film, like Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfried, Rob Reiner, Judy Gold, Carl Reiner, Susie Essman, Larry Charles, Jeffrey Ross and Harry Shearer; that nothing is off limits in comedy, but everyone still reserves the right to draw their own line, and not ever cross it.

But what about those who actually lived through the Holocaust? That’s where the film gets particularly fascinating; when director Ferne Pearlstein invites survivors to weigh in. It is through their stories that the film ultimately finds not only its heart and soul, but critical historical context concerning a people who have developed a deep-seated cultural fatalism and sense of gallows humor purely as a survival mechanism to get through all the shit that’s been dumped on them for 5,000 years. Hey, quit laughing-that’s not funny.

(For more info, visit the Seattle Jewish Film Festival website)

SJFF 2017: Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 11, 2017)

https://i2.wp.com/www.biggaypictureshow.com/bgps/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Whos-Gonna-Love-Me-Now.jpg?w=474

This bittersweet yet life-affirming documentary, which recalls the PBS series An American Family, takes an intimate look at the travails of a 40 year-old Israeli man named Saar, who has lived a happy and fulfilling life being out and proud in London, despite the fact that his move was precipitated by getting barred from the  kibbutz where he grew up. However, he is currently weathering a midlife crisis, with an added poignancy: he is HIV-positive and yearns to meaningfully reconnect with his estranged family in Israel, who seem unable (or unwilling) to reconcile their familial love for Saar with their deeply held religious fundamentalist tenants regarding homosexuality. Co-directing brothers Barak and Tomer Heymann were given extraordinary access to Saar and his family, resulting in something rarely experienced at the movies anymore-real and heartbreaking emotional honesty, handled with great sensitivity and compassion.

(For more info, visit the Seattle Jewish Film Festival website)

SJFF 2017: Germans and Jews ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 11, 2017)

https://i0.wp.com/film-studies.osu.edu/sites/film-studies.osu.edu/files/styles/full_width/public/Teichtal2.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

Can’t we all just get along? If you’re talking Jews and Germans, even in the context of here and now in a modern, (very) democratic Germany…it’s complicated. This documentary was the brainchild of NYC-based (non-Jewish) director Janina Quint, who grew up in Germany, and her friend, producer Tal Recanati, who was born in the US, but spent some formative years in Israel. The result is a fascinating study about collective guilt, forgiveness, sins of the fathers and sociopolitical backlash. Don’t expect pat answers; on one hand, it’s been over 70 years since WW2 ended…on the other hand, it’s only been 70-some years since WW2 ended (if you know what I’m saying). And yes, there are discomfiting moments, but this film is timely and thought-provoking.

(For more information, visit the Seattle Jewish Film Festival website)

SJFF 2017: Shalom Italia **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 11, 2017)

https://i1.wp.com/en.celluloid-fabrik.de/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/KIDS_2-2-583x377.jpg?resize=474%2C307

Tamar Tal’s gentle, low-key documentary follows three Jewish octogenarian brothers, as they return to the Tuscan countryside of their youth in an attempt to locate the make-shift forest cave that their family and grandparents called “home” for the duration of WW2 (for obvious reasons…as these gentlemen are still with us). It’s best described as The Trip to Bountiful…with more eating and complaining. A bit slow in spots (and repetitive), but the denouement is quite moving.

(For more information, visit the Seattle Jewish Film Festival website)

SJFF 2017: Moos ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 11, 2017)

https://i2.wp.com/prod1.agileticketing.net/images/user/bjffc_11259/Moos%2021-Jip%20Smit%20&%20Jim%20Deddes%20%C2%A9Greetje%20Mulder.jpg?w=474

This charmer from Dutch writer-director Job Gosschalk follows the plight of a young woman who is torn between care-giving for her widower dad and pursuing her dreams for a life in the theater. When an old childhood friend comes for a visit, everything goes topsy-turvy. Hanne Arendzen is a delight in the lead; her quirky performance (and the character that she plays) reminded me of the young Lynn Redgrave in the 1966 dramedy Georgy Girl.

(For more information, visit the Seattle Jewish Film Festival website)

Acid daze: Deconstructing Sgt. Pepper ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 4, 2017)

https://i2.wp.com/americandigest.org/beatles-sgt-pepper-1280.jpg?w=474

Hard to believe that it was 50 years ago today (well, officially, as of June 1st) that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play around with vari-speeding, track bouncing and ambiophonics. Eh…wot?

Considering the relative limitations of recording technology at the time, the sonic wizardry and hardware MacGyvering that resulted in The Beatles’ groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band continues to amaze and fascinate musicians, studio engineers and music fans. For that matter, I bet any Beatle fan would happily buzz in through the bathroom window to have been a fly on the wall at any Beatles session, for any of their albums. Perhaps that’s not the best analogy.

That imagery aside, there is a “next best thing”, thanks to composer and musicologist Scott Freiman, who has created a series of multimedia and film presentations called Deconstructing the Beatles. His latest exploration focuses on the Sgt. Pepper song cycle. Some engagements are personal appearances; others limited-run film versions of the lecture. My review is based on the filmed version, which ran here in Seattle last weekend (you can find upcoming cities/dates here).

Freiman kicks off with deep background on the February 1967 release of the double ‘A’ sided 45 “Strawberry Fields Forever” / “Penny Lane” (although he doesn’t deconstruct the recording sessions as he does for the Sgt. Pepper tracks). I think this is a perfect choice for a launching pad, as those two songs were not only crucial signifiers of the band’s continuing progression from the (seemingly) hard-to-top Revolver, but originally intended to be included as part of Sgt. Pepper.

The remaining three-quarters of the film is a track-by-track journey through the album (in original running order, of course). By playing snippets of isolated audio tracks and subtly stacking them until they transmogrify into their familiar finished form, as well as supplementing with archival photos and flow charts annotating how tracks were reduced and mixed down, Freiman is able to give the viewer a fairly good peek into the unique creative process that went into the Sgt. Pepper sessions. Freiman’s running commentary hits the sweet spot between scholarly and entertaining.

I was a little disappointed that he gives my two favorite cuts, “Getting Better” and “Fixing a Hole” short shrift; especially when compared to the amount of time he spends fixating on three cuts in particular: “She’s Leaving Home”, “Within You, Without You”, and “A Day in the Life”. Not that those aren’t all classics, but you can’t have everything. After all, art is subjective, right?

I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Freiman doing one of his presentations in-person; I imagine it’s more dynamic and engaging than watching what is essentially a filmed lecture (think An Inconvenient Truth). If you’re expecting something along the lines of The Beatles Anthology, this may not be for you. Still, the Fab force is strong in this one, and he obviously holds a genuine affection for the music, which keeps the proceedings from sinking into an academic snooze fest.

Side 2: It was a very good year

While Sgt. Pepper certainly deserves the accolades it has received over the last 5 decades, 1967 was a watershed year for a lot of bands; there was definitely something in the air (or the punch).

Here are 10 more fabulous albums that are blowing out 50 candles this year (goddam, I’m old…).

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/c/cb/DisraeliGears.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

CreamDisraeli Gears…Clapton’s psych-blues zenith, Bruce and Baker’s dangerous rhythms, Pete Brown’s batshit crazy lyrics, lorded over by producer/future Mountain man Felix Pappalardi. Best cuts: “Sunshine of Your Love”, “Swlabr” (fuck you, Spellcheck), and “Tales of Brave Ulysses”.

https://i2.wp.com/images.amazon.com/images/P/B000002I25.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg?w=474

The DoorsThe Doors…“He took a face, from the ancient gallery. And he walked on down the hall.” And music would never be the same. Best cuts: All of them.

https://i1.wp.com/e.snmc.io/lk/f/l/d42e387afc30d6334d6efdd6c4dd05ca/5884173.jpg?w=474

Jefferson AirplaneSurrealistic Pillow…Luv ‘n’ Haight. Remember, I want you to toss the radio into the bathtub when “White Rabbit” peaks. Get it? Got it? Good! Best cuts: “Somebody to Love”, “White Rabbit”, and “Plastic Fantastic Lover”.

https://i1.wp.com/loudwire.com/files/2013/06/600px-Are_You_Experienced_-_US_cover-edit-300x300.jpg?resize=300%2C300

Jimi Hendrix ExperienceAre You Experienced?…Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful. There ain’t no life, nowhere. And you will never hear surf music, again. Best cuts: “Purple Haze”, “Love or Confusion”, “May This Be Love”, “I Don’t Live Today”, “Third Stone From the Sun”, and “Are You Experienced?”.

https://i1.wp.com/fanart.tv/detailpreview/fanart/music/17b53d9f-5c63-4a09-a593-dde4608e0db9/albumcover/something-else-by-the-kinks-527df88ac2eb9.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

The KinksSomething Else by the Kinks…The genius of Ray Davies cannot be overstated. Every song is an immersive picture postcard of the traditional English life. Brilliant. Best cuts: “Waterloo Sunset”, “Lazy Old Sun”, “Death of a Clown”, “David Watts”, “Afternoon Tea”.

https://i2.wp.com/e.snmc.io/lk/f/l/622b641e989c47128fda5b5e6f3518ee/2777221.jpg?w=474

The Moody BluesDays of Future Passed…Mellotrons R Us. Symphonic rock before anyone thought it was even possible. A thing of beauty. Best cuts: “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights in White Satin”.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/3c/PinkFloyd-album-piperatthegatesofdawn_300.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

Pink FloydThe Piper at the Gates of Dawn…Syd Barrett, before the drugs kicked in for keeps. He’s got a bike, you can ride it if you like. Space rock, ominous dirges and proto prog supreme. Best cuts: “Astronomy Domine”, “Flaming”, “Interstellar Overdrive”, and “Bike”.

https://i1.wp.com/e.snmc.io/lk/f/l/6f8c56d655937e21822b25bf8d0c5b87/3864809.jpg?w=474

Procol HarumProcol Harum…Gary Brooker’s distinctive voice, Robin Trower’s peerless fretwork, Matthew Fisher’s signature organ riffs and Keith Reid’s wry and literate lyrics made for a heady, proggy brew that didn’t quite sound like anyone else at the time. Still doesn’t, actually. Best cuts: “Conquistador”, “She Wandered Through the Garden Fence”, and “Repent, Walpurgis”.

https://i0.wp.com/cdn3.pitchfork.com/albums/18317/homepage_large.a22f4e29.jpg?w=474

The Velvet UndergroundThe Velvet Underground and Nico…In which Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Nico, and Moe Tucker invited the flower children to attend New York art school. However, no one enrolled until about 10 years later, when it came to be called punk rock. Best cuts: “I’m Waiting For the Man”, “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, “Heroin”, and “Femme Fatale”.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/98/The_who_sell_out_album_front.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

The WhoThe Who Sell Out…A kind of warm-up for Tommy, The Who’s concept album was constructed to simulate a pirate radio station, with interstitial spoof ads and station jingles linking the cuts together. A very strong song cycle for Pete Townshend. Best cuts: “Armenia City in the Sky”, “Tattoo”, “I Can See For Miles”, “Our Love Was”, “I Can’t Reach You”, and “Sunrise”.

BONUS TRACK!

There were also a lot of memorable hit singles on the pop charts that year. Here’s one of my favorites from the summer of 1967:

Trail of fears

By Dennis Hartley

https://i2.wp.com/s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/39/04/ee/3904eee6b5280120d5cdb26fbaf5bcef.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

Last night, the Great White Father in Washington decreed before a joint session of Congress that there is a new sheriff in town:

(from The Independent UK)

Donald Trump will form a new agency to publish a regular list of all crimes committed by immigrants.

During a speech markedly softer in tone than his inauguration address, in which he dialed back his trademark brash rhetoric, he revealed that he would set up a special agency for “immigrant crime”.

The agency is expected to publish a weekly list of all crimes committed by what it terms “aliens”.

That does not seem to refer only to undocumented migrants – suggesting that anyone who has moved to the US could find their name on the public list.

Audible groans greeted the President’s announcement, during a speech that was mostly met with applause from lawmakers.

“I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American Victims,” he said in the speech.

“The office is called VOICE — Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests.”

He went on to list a number of people who he claimed had been killed by immigrants that he would have banned from the country.

“A weekly list of all crimes” Hmm. Sounds awfully familiar:

https://i2.wp.com/www.usmbooks.com/images/Stuermer/Judenopfer2.jpg?w=474

The headline above roughly translates to: “Jewish Murder Plan Against Gentile Humanity Exposed”.  Der Sturmer  was the weekly Nazi tabloid founded in 1923. It was the brainchild of Julius Streicher, who was tried, convicted and executed for crimes against humanity in Nuremberg after the war.  The paper regularly issued tallies on alleged crimes committed by Jews against Gentile German citizens; with names, dates, and descriptions that were limited only by Streicher’s fevered imagination.  Fake news of the worst kind.

My heart went out to the grieving families of murder victims that the POTUS had stationed in the gallery expressly for this portion of his speech.  However, as Digby Tweeted back to me after I observed that the manner in which Trump went on to exploit their pain went “beyond bad taste”, it was more aptly described as  “grotesque”.

But it also got me to thinking about the way Trump put the emphasis on the word “Americans” in reference to the victims, as well as the specificity of  his new agency’s moniker: “Victims Of Immigrant Crime Engagement”.  Historically, there is only one group of Americans who can lay genuine claim to this victimhood. So let us take a moment to remember one of the American victims of “immigrant crime engagement”…

https://i1.wp.com/cdn.history.com/sites/2/2015/12/Big_Foot_leader_of_the_Sioux_captured_at_the_battle_of_Wounded_Knee_S.D.-_Here_he_lies_frozen_on_the_snow-covered_ba_-_NARA_-_530805-1.jpg?resize=474%2C282

The body of  Chief Big Foot at Wounded Knee, December 29, 1890

16th notes in heaven

By Dennis Hartley

https://i0.wp.com/s3.amazonaws.com/radiomilwaukee-wordpress-uploads/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/21122201/larry-coryell-guitar-bw-obit-1973-billboard-1548.jpg?w=474

Larry Coryell 1943-2017

Tough as it was for the music world last year, I can’t blame it on 2016 anymore. For those “of a certain age”, I guess this is how it will be for us, going forward. The icons of an entire  generation are fading fast.

From Rolling Stone:

Larry Coryell, one of jazz fusion’s pioneering guitarists, died Sunday in his New York City hotel room of natural causes, according to his publicist. He had played gigs on Friday and Saturday night at the city’s Iridium club and had a spate of summer tour dates on the horizon with his group the Eleventh House. He was 73.

In the mid-to-late Sixties, Coryell broke down genre barriers with his eclectic, fluid playing and experiments with melding plodding rock rhythms with spacious jazz chords…

Damn.

As a guitar player myself, I have to say Coryell was one of the gods. Not that I am in any way shape or form equating my abilities with his; he was gifted  with supernatural talent (to re-coin a phrase, I’m not worthy). Whether playing blistering runs with his electric outfit The Eleventh House, or finger picking beautiful solo acoustic numbers, he displayed  flawless virtuosity on his instrument.

I had the pleasure of seeing Coryell perform at a club in L.A. in the mid-70s (either the Roxy or the Troubadour). It was a solo acoustic show; and I remember being absolutely gobsmacked by his chops. I also remember watching his fingers very closely (it didn’t take).

As Jimi Hendrix once said, play on, brother. Play on…

(h/t Kevin C.)

Put some shorts on

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo o February 18, 2017

https://i2.wp.com/blog.gospikes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Trophy_Oscar1.jpg?resize=474%2C474

At the risk of having my critic’s license revoked, I will freely admit this, right here in front of (your deity of choice) and all six of my readers: I have not seen any of the 9 films nominated for Best Picture of 2016. Then again, you can feel free to ask me if I care (the Academy and I rarely see eye-to-eye). Funny thing, though…I have managed to catch all of the (traditionally more elusive) Oscar nominees for Best Short Film-Animation and Best Short Film-Live Action. And the good news is you can, too. The five nominees in each sub-category are making the rounds as limited-engagement curated presentations; each collection runs the length of a feature film, with separate admissions (the films are held over this week in Seattle and will be on various streaming platforms February 21).

(Reads woodenly off teleprompter) And the nominees for Best Short Film-Animation are:

https://i0.wp.com/www.nziff.co.nz/assets/resized/sm/upload/0u/ct/x5/fv/Blind%20Vaysha%20-%20Theodore%20Ushev-web-0-960-0-450-crop.jpg?w=474

Blind Vaysha (Canada; 8 mins) – Directed by Theodore Ushev, this piece (based on the eponymous short story by Georgi Gospodinov) is a parable about a girl born with uniquely dichotomous vision: one eye sees the past, the other the future. Is it a metaphor about living in the moment? Oh, maybe. Simple, direct, and affecting, with a woodcut-style “look” that reminded me of Tomm Moore’s animated films (The Secret of Kells).

Rating: ***

https://i1.wp.com/www.shockmansion.com/wp-content/myimages/2016/10/ergetg.jpg?w=474

Borrowed Time (USA; 7 mins) – Set in the old west, this portrait of remembrance and regret is visually impressive, and seems well-intentioned…but it’s curiously uninvolving. It’s co-directed by veteran Pixar Studios animators Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj.

Rating: **

https://i0.wp.com/www.cartoonbrew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/pearcider_main-1280x600.jpg?resize=474%2C222

Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Canada/UK; 35 mins) – Director Robert Valley’s resume includes a graphic novel series; and his film definitely has that dark vibe. It’s a noir-ish memoir concerning the narrator’s longtime love/hate relationship with his best buddy, “Techno Stypes”, a charismatic but maddeningly self-destructive Neal Cassady-type figure. The story is involving at the outset, but becomes somewhat redundant and ultimately, tiring. Atmospheric, and great to look at-but even at 35 minutes, it’s overlong. Note: Parents should be advised that this one (not exactly “family-friendly”) is being exhibited last, allowing time for attendees to opt out (“hey kids-who wants ice cream?!”).

Rating: **½

https://i2.wp.com/www.monologueblogger.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Short-Film-Review-Pearl.jpg?w=474

Pearl (USA; 6 mins) – A young girl and her free-spirited musician father have a care-free, nomadic existence living out of their car, but as the years pass, life’s bumpy road creates challenging detours (Jesus, did I just write that? A gig with Hallmark beckons). Quite lovely and very moving; it’s my favorite of the nominees in this category. It’s almost like a 6 minute distillation of Richard Linklater’s interminable Boyhood (wish I’d discovered this first-would have saved me some time). Well-directed by Patrick Osborne.

Rating: ***½

https://s.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/GLOB/crop/1810x959+0+57/resize/660x350!/format/jpg/quality/85/https:/s.aolcdn.com/hss/storage/midas/45b331f6831f709f130f336d66eb53df/203954728/piper+2.jpg

Piper (USA; 6 mins) – I’ve resigned myself to the fact that a Pixar nomination in this category is as unavoidable as Taylor Swift at the Grammys. Actually (long-time readers will back me up on this) I have softened on my curmudgeonly stance on CGI animation, enough to cave on this animal-lover’s delight. Not much of a narrative, but somehow “the story of a hungry sandpiper hatchling who ventures from her nest for the first time to dig for food by the shoreline (the end)” is a perfect salve for what’s, you know…going on the world right now. In fact, I might need to watch this on a loop, just to keep from hurtling myself off the nearest cliff. Beautifully directed by Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer.

Rating: ***

And the nominees for Best Short Film-Live Action are:

https://i1.wp.com/mcphedranbadside.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/enemies-within-.jpg?w=474

Ennemis Interieurs (France; 28 mins) – Set in 1990s France, an Algerian-born French citizen is given the third-degree at a police station regarding his association with members of his mosque who are suspected terrorists. The political subtext in Sleim Aszzazi’s film recalls The Battle of Algiers; with a touch of The Confession. While I appreciate what the director is trying to convey in his examination of Islamophobia, the film doesn’t go anywhere; it’s too dramatically flat to stand out in any significant way.

Rating: **½

https://i2.wp.com/s1.srf.ch/var/storage/images/auftritte/kultur/bilder/2016/11/24/node_11691581/130131271-3-ger-DE/bild_s8.jpg?w=474

La Femme et le TGV (Switzerland; 30 mins) – Inspired by a true story, Timo von Gentun’s film stars 60s icon Jane Birken (mother of Charlotte Gainesbourg) as a lonely widow living a quiet, structured life. “Quiet” with one exception-which is when a daily express train thunders past her cottage. Smiling and waving at the train is the highlight of her day. After she stumbles on a letter that the train’s conductor chucked into her garden, a unique relationship begins (a la 84 Charing Cross Road). OK, it is borderline schmaltzy at times-but also touching and bittersweet, with an endearing performance from Birken.

Rating: ****

https://i0.wp.com/www.awardsdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/15418498_219540591828977_7764842687334714062_o-1024x684.jpg?resize=474%2C317&ssl=1

Silent Nights (Denmark; 30 mins) – A young Danish woman who works as a volunteer at a homeless shelter and an illegal immigrant from Ghana cross paths at the facility and develop a mutual attraction. Director Aske Bang uses the ensuing romantic relationship as political allegory; examining difficulties of cultural assimilation and the overall plight of immigrants in Western countries (much as Fassbinder did in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul).

Rating: ***

https://i2.wp.com/www.dteurope.com/images/culture/news/large/303/mindenki_sing_oscarnomination_oscar_go_com.jpg?w=474

Sing (Hungary; 25 mins) – It’s interesting that two of the five nominated films in this category are set in the 90s, and specifically in allusion to the political turmoil in Europe that was proliferating at the time (it’s either “interesting”, or perhaps I’m merely slow in catching on that “the 90s” was a generation ago, ergo “history”…funny how one loses sense of time as one ages, isn’t it?). At any rate, Kristof Deak’s tale centers on a young girl just starting out at a new school. She joins the choir, a perennially award-winning group with a dictatorial choir director. When she finds out that the “secret” to the choir’s continuing success is not above board, she is faced with a moral conundrum. Although based on a true story, it plays like a modern parable about the courage of whistleblowers.

Rating: ***½

https://i2.wp.com/affif-sitepublic-media-prod.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/film_film/0001/03/thumb_2004_film_film_big.jpeg?resize=474%2C317

Timecode (Spain; 15 mins) – As directed by Juanjo Gimenez Pena, this hipster catnip about two mopey millennial security guards (one male, one female) who barely exchange a word during their daily shift change is a glorified YouTube video that uses up its irony quotient quickly. I might have thrown it an extra star if it was but ten minutes shorter.

Rating: *

Bang bang, shoot shoot

By Dennis Hartley

https://i1.wp.com/14544-presscdn-0-64.pagely.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/gun-show.jpg?w=474

Oh, boy.  From  The Washington Times:

Congress on Wednesday approved the first gun rights bill of the new Republican-controlled Washington, voting to erase an Obama administration regulation that would have forced Social Security to scour its lists and report some of its beneficiaries to the firearms no-buy list.

The Senate approved the bill on a 57-43 vote. The House cleared the legislation earlier this month.

If President Trump signs the bill into law as expected, it will expunge a last-minute change by the Obama administration designed to add more mental health records to the national background check system that is meant to keep criminals and unstable people from obtaining weapons.

 The previous administration had proposed requiring Social Security to search its records and report people receiving disability benefits or supplemental income payments and who had someone else managing their finances, deeming them “mental defectives” who shouldn’t be able to buy firearms. Republicans said that trampled on Second Amendment rights by casting too wide a net.
                                 

“It results in reporting people to the gun ban list that should not be on that list at all,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and chief sponsor of the effort to repeal the Obama rule. “It deprives those people [of] their constitutional rights and, in a very important way, violates their constitutional rights without even due process.”

Oh, I see…it’s just those “compassionate conservatives” selflessly looking out for the interests of Americans with disabilities; standing up for their rights. At least when the Second Amendment is in peril. Because, as you know, they’ve always been there for those folks:

Good times!

This development strikes me as particularly odious, coming  as it does hot on the heels of PBS’ February 14 broadcast premiere of Tower, a harrowing documentary recounting the 1966 mass shooting  at the University of Texas.  Over an agonizing hour and a half period, a deranged sniper who had stationed himself on the observation deck of the UT Tower, methodically picked off nearly 50 people-killing 16 and wounding 3 dozen. He still had plenty of ammo left when two Austin policeman and a hastily deputized civilian were able to make their way to the top and take him out.

Last June, in a piece I wrote about the Orlando nightclub mass shooting, I pointed to the 1966 incident as a sad marker for America:

But there is something about [Orlando] that screams “Last call for sane discourse and positive action!” on multiple fronts. This incident is akin to a perfect Hollywood pitch, writ large by fate and circumstance; incorporating nearly every sociopolitical causality that has been quantified and/or debated over by criminologists, psychologists, legal analysts, legislators, anti-gun activists, pro-gun activists, left-wingers, right-wingers, centrists, clerics, journalists and pundits in the wake of every such incident since Charles Whitman  perched atop the clock tower at the University of Texas and picked off nearly 50 victims  (14 dead and 32 wounded) over a 90-minute period. That incident occurred in 1966; 50 years ago this August. Not an auspicious golden anniversary for our country. 50 years of this madness.  And it’s still not the appropriate time to discuss? What…too soon?

All I can say is, if this “worst mass shooting in U.S. history” (which is saying a lot) isn’t the perfect catalyst for prompting  meaningful public dialogue and positive action steps once and for all regarding  homophobia, Islamophobia, domestic violence, the proliferation of hate crimes, legal assault weapons, universal background checks, mental health care (did I leave anything out?), then WTF will it take?

(sigh) I have to ask again. WTF will it take? BTW, here is what it “took” for President Obama to lobby for the regulation that has just been overturned:

https://timenewsfeed.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/nf-sandy-hook-victims-1217.jpg?w=474

But thank God the 2nd Amendment got through all this unscathed!