Italian funeral dinners…

4 May

Look Who’s Back – A comedy about…Hitler!!??!

4 May

April 22, 1945 -Hitler  admitted defeat; 

April 30, 1945 -Hitler committed suicide; 

April 1, 2016 – Hitler meets Netflix.
In this turbulent election year Netflix’s April 9 release of Mythos Films’ German satire based on the book of the same name by Timur Vermes, is either a bold choice or an epic miscalculation. 

Whatever the case, the film, which has similarities to Sascha Baron Cohen’s  2006 send-up BORAT, could have been released on one of the April Dates associated with Hitler’s  end for maximum bang. This was a sadly missed PR move for some added exposure that could have matched the book’s release in Germany, where the book price was 19.33 – a shrewd PR move- linking the book to the year he came into power…

Both the 2012 book & the film (titled in German -Er ist Wieder Da:  He is Back…) were blockbusters in Germany, with the book breaking sales records & the film doing incredible box office. A combination of fish-out-of-water premise & mistaken identity film, the major premise here is that from the get-go Hitler always says he’s Hitler & yet no one believes him. 70 years after he was believed to have committed suicide – he’s taken for a comedian, political satirist, caricature artist…but never the world’s most notorious mass murderer.

With a grand slam performance by Oliver Masucci as Hitler, the film pushes the boundaries for racism & animal cruelty while simultaneously  calling people out for being hypocritical, greedy, gullible & short-sighted.  One tv exec in the film notes people’s embrace of Hitler’s policies towards humans but their horror at seeing Hitler’s Hitler-like behavior with a dog…

Sharing a page with films like ENCINO MAN  & THE FIFTH ELEMENT, LOOK WHO’S BACK  shows Hitler catching up with technology but unlike these other films, he immediately embraces the new methods of communication offered up by social media. He understands the importance of communication. This allows for comedic moments as well as a chance for the viewer to contemplate the impact the Web’s immediacy has on public opinion & action. 

At times shocking, funny & abhorrent, the film, was shot in Germany before the massive Syrian influx into Europe & Germany broke all records in the summer & autumn 2015.  Since the film’s release in Germany on October 8, 2015,  Frontex, the EU’s  external border force, has pegged the total land wave of non-visa holding Syrian immigrants at over 1,800,000 total for 2015. 

The film itself is  well written, superbly acted ,and finely shot, with seamless effects.  It deals with major issues (including feeding the entertainment appetite of the lowest common denominator) while also winking its eye at the viewer, seemingly admitting it is pushing the same greedy, racist buttons as its protagonists do throughout the film. 

But it also comments on the evil of Hitler’s actions, the complacency of the people who accepted his leadership, the repetition of history & the shared responsibility for maintaining a humanist’s integrity.  It’s social & moral conscience is recovered in the character of Fabian and his realization of the truth of Hitler’s identity. 

Hitler responds to this accusation about his identity by reminding his accuser that he always said he was Hitler & never said he was anyone else. True evil never does. Likewise, the film stays true to itself & never shies away from being what it is. Interesting movies never do. 

Schultze gets the blues & we get lucky…

11 Mar

What is a fellow to do when he is forced into early retirement? if you are Irish, you go in on a fish & chip van (The Van-based on Roddy Doyle’s book of the same name). If you’re Scottish, you decide to swim the English Channel, like Peter Mullan (2005’s On a Clear Day). If you’re Schultze, forced out of your job in the salt mines in a small German town, you stumble around as time passes, until you find something that speaks to your soul.

Part road trip, part performance film, part German beer part Louisiana beignets, we go from small town to bayou & enjoy the journey all the way. Director Michael Schorr’s gently paced doesn’t pander to the audience but instead pulls us along with it…


Del Sarto, Sorrentino, Bottura & Klimt… 

10 Jan
  • We might finally be going into the cold void of winter here in New York, but for me it has been an explosive spring, a veritable reawakening of art, food & film.    Today’s brunch at the Ron Lauder’s Neue  Gallerie ( of smoked trout crepes in the Sabarsky Cafe, thank you very much…) caps several crammed weeks of Museum hopping, Oscar screenings, and cafe dining.  
  • I’ll be looking at the various films, exhibits and nibbles in more detail in the coming weeks,but I couldn’t let anymore time go by without commenting on a few quick highlights . 
  • Go see Paolo Sorrentino’s La Giovinezza/Youth. And then go see it again.  Set in a spa retreat in the Alps, Sorrentino seduces you with incredible imagery, amazing sound ( AND SILENCE), as wel las presenting you with a sometimes comic, often poignant, look at relationships, careers & lifespans.  Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel & Rachel Weisz all contribute nuanced complicated performances that pull you along.  
  • Tarantino’s  The Hateful Eight is also another must see  with compelling storytelling- although you have to be up for the bloodiest & violence that is Tarantino. His choice to shoot in 70mm, even though much of the film occurs in an interior setting, kept making me think that this medium would serve Sorrentino’s visual poems much better.  Paolo – per favore! shoot in 70mm!!! Or maybe even IMAX!!
  • ( in an odd aside, I was immersed in Freds as I am curating a series on Mel Brooks. The same week that saw Michael Caine’s performance as Fred, included Gene Wilder’s performance as Frederick ( or “Froderich”-  according to Marty Feldman’s incomparable Igor.) –  
  • Another great combo this week was the trout crepes (pictured above)  and the small but potent permanent collection in the main gallery at the Neue on Fifth.  
  • The rotating space is changing over for a February 18th opening of Munch (& yes, it will feature The Scream …) so the next few weeks are given to the permanent gallery & an exhibition on German posters.   
  • There is a simple joy in standing  in front of a few perfect Klimts, including of course, the portrait of Adele Bloche Bauer, bought for $135 mil by Ron Lauder for the Neue from Maria Altmann a few years after she won a court case for the restitution of 5 of her uncle’s Klimts that had been sold to the Austrian State Gallery collection by the German state.  ( Last year’s film, The Lady in Gold, hollows Altmann’s legal battle fur restitution of her uncle’s collection) 
  • There are 3 other portraits & 3  landscapes in various styles (pointillist, Toulouse-Latrec inspired, nods to Fernand Knoppf, etc) that will also capture your imagination, but it is the Ravenna/San Vitale mosaic inspired portrait of Bloch Bauer that is the scene stealer in the room. 
  • In fact, I think I am going to sneak one more peak at the incredible detail …     
  • More on next time on Del Sarto’s Madonna & Bottura’s rescuing Of the parmigiano cheese industry after the Modena earthquake with a simple risotto cacio e pepe recipe…
  •   Until then… “Ciao chow”

Sicario: War on drugs…shot for the Oscars

16 Sep

Where to begin with Sicario?
How I wasn’t prepared for such a rough ride…to be thrown back to the Middle Ages, where warlords hung & quartered their enemies, leaving the bodies to rot in public as a warning against any possible dissenters?
How I was blown away by Tom Ozanich’s tremendous sound design -wave after wave of silence and terror that propels you through the film the way a helicopter envelopes you in it’s rolling attacks of rising suspense?
How Roger Deakins’ camera work sucked me into a world that I shudder to think of as existing? How his beautifully fluid long tracking shot through what would otherwise be a house of horrors at the opening of the film is just a sweet, sweet taste of the visual candy, like the aerial shots of the no man’s land along the border between the US & Juarez, that is crammed into this technical delight of film making, kept me simultaneously entranced and repelled by Northern Mexico’s drug infested existence?

Or maybe I should focus on a really interesting story, one that looks at the effects of an industry that is the result of American demand for illegal substances? Josh Brolin, in the Q & A after this evening’s screening of the film in Manhattan, mentioned his interest in the topic. He’s read Don Winslow’s book, The Cartel, and he spoke about the documentary film, Cartel Land ( see the trailer> ) and the powerful fight that continues on a daily basis.

Maybe I should look at how this film's portrayal of the drug cartels in Juarez make Roberto Saviano's Napolitan 'Ndrangheta mafia bosses look like they are still in high school.
Or maybe I should just stop here for now. I can pick up tomorrow, and talk more about BenicioDelToro 's great comment on acting, Emily Blunt's research with female FBI agents, and the still unresolved sound issues with wireless microphones that the AMC continues to have this Oscar screening season.

And Oh yeah, I really need to mention tomorrow how I think this film will get an Oscar nom, and how Brolin, Blunt, del Toro, Villeneuve, Ozanich & Deakins are going to be pretty busy come nominating season.



The lives of others: Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Mühe & Martina Gedeck

16 Sep

So -all good artists are human: they make great art, crap art and figure out how to get though life bit by bit… Florian Henkel Von Donnersmarck is no different: as a filmmaker, he has made the good, (The Lives of Others) as well as the bad and the ugly ( the Tourist- although with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, the ugly part of that phrase is more figurative than literal…)

If you don’t push yourself as an artist, you won’t grow, and film makers, like all artists, may decide to make different films and explore different styles. Think of Coppola and his amazing variety as he pushes and explores: there’s THE GODFATHER – masterpiece of film making, and then there’s JACK- not so much… Then think of Tyler Perry and his reliance on an old recipe that does him service over and over again: there’s Medea, and Medea, and Medea & that’s about it…).

Othertimes, film makers want to try something different: maybe they want to be funny or serious or mysterious or do thrillers. Maybe sometimes they just want to follow the money and make a big Hollywood style film… ( think Kevin Smith’s flat MALL RATS after the tasty Clerks).

So, that said, you have to focus on Florian’s masterpiece-THE LIVES OF OTHERS and how it deals with the humanity in all good artists, as well as the humanity in all good people. It touches on the reasons why people do something out of character-why they turn their backs on their normal behavior. You also have to focus on the incredible use of sound in this film, as powerful as another Coppola masterpiece, THE CONVERSATION. With editing and camerawork that is commanding and yet so subtle, this film weaves together all the elements of truly great film making!

Can you bring yourself to ever forgive someone, an anonymous someone, who ruined your life in the name of the country’s needs?
Can you ever bring yourself to forgive someone who betrayed your love and trust?
That idea of forgiveness, anonymously or publicly, plays just as big a role in this film as do secrets & lies, love & greed, hate & obsession. No surprise that this film swept up with wins at the Oscars, BAFTA, The Donatellos, etc during the 2007/2008 awards season.

Finally.. just a quick last note. As with all good films, there’s the acting… Martina Gedeck’s turn as a tortured actress fighting demons of truth and lies, the ruggedly handsome Sebastian Koch’s presentation of a man fighting for truth, art and love, and finally Ulrich Mühe, as Stasi agent Gerd Weisler, bringing in a beautifully complex Stasi agent who has the conscience and soul of a good man twisted together with too much talent as an interrogator & surveillance master for East Germany’s Evil Empire.

You can see elements of Weisler’s moral ambiguity in Emily Blunt’s portrayal of an FBI agent drawn to further action in the war on drugstore the 2015 Oscar contender, Sicario…but more about that later.



Creative overload!! Art, film, Rome, Florence…

3 Aug

Life was so much simpler centuries ago… No Telly, no selfie sticks, no up skirting or rigged elections; no Internet or gaming, & plenty of time to reflect on the meaning of life.

Which I miss. I miss quiet time to just sit & think & look at the world around me. I miss time to reflect on its beauty & randomness & its natural spaces in all their glory. But I also miss time to reflect on the beauty of the world’s man made spaces- cities like Rome & Florence- places that are both ancient & new.

It’s been 2 months since I took my art & film students to Italy & I am finally starting to digest & reflect on the environment that pulls me in so completely every time I am there.



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