Category Film

Not Your Typical Reunion: Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods”

A few minutes into Spike Lee’s newest film, “Da 5 Bloods,” there is a lovely scene of old pals, African American Vietnam veterans, reuniting in the lobby of a Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) hotel after an unspecified long hiatus from each other’s company. The mood is jocular, joshing, loving, full of huge smiles and secret code handshakes, all of which engendered a gushy inner glow in this viewer, reminding me as it did of warm-hearted reunions of my own.

Then I got a grip on myself and interrupted my reverie with, “Oh crap, this is a Spike Lee movie!”

Which is when my thoughts shifted instead to donning some kind of emotional flak jacket and tension reduction helmet, the better to withstand the next two and a half hours of what I knew would be Lee’s visionary provocations, challenges, goads and questionings of the American experience, particularly with respect to race relations and the centuries-long ...

Read More

Devotion, Betrayal, Conformity, Freedom: Netflix’s “Shtisel”      

I know a little bit about Judaism in general but next to nothing about its Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox versions, about which Jews themselves have huge differences of opinion. (And part of what I know about Judaism in general is how rarely Jews hesitate in sharing those opinions…)

That’s a major reason why, as a lapsed Catholic Unitarian Universalist with mystical Christian-Buddhist sensibilities and an always attentive ear for the common core of religious practice, I was enchanted recently to stumble upon “Shtisel,” an Israeli television production that ran there for two 12-episode seasons beginning in 2013 and concluded in 2016.

It then crossed the seas courtesy of Netflix in 2018 and attracted such a rapidly growing audience that it was exhumed recently for a third season that is currently in production, with full Covid-19 precautions in place.

Set in the ultra-Orthodox enclave of Geula in modern day...

Read More

Might Make Things Worse…But Give “Babette’s Feast” a Taste Anyway!

Let’s face it: we’ve got ourselves a full-on feast famine. No restaurant gatherings with their familiar bustle and clinkings and clatters. No coffee joints or cocktail lounges, brewpubs or burrito joints. No concerts or dances, recitals or readings. Big bodacious birthday and anniversary and graduation celebrations: So 2019!

And then heaping insult atop all that injury of absence, we can’t even invite beloved friends and family to gather around our freaking dinner tables for a few precious hours of conviviality. It is a sad state of affairs, and if you note a playful tone underneath these complaints, rest assured it’s just a coping mechanism: I miss the hell out of all the joys the aforementioned settings entail, and long for the day when we give the coronavirus a swift kick in the ass and plunk it into the dustbin of history.

Meanwhile, we have the consolations of memory and the nearness of winsome, joyou...

Read More

“Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band”

Some people are just born for the camera and stage and storytelling. Robbie Robertson was 16 years old and a high school dropout (not because he was a ne’er-do-well stoner, but because he had a serious jones for music-making) when he sold one of his guitars to finance a train ticket from his native Toronto to Arkansas, where he joined up to become one of the “Hawks” backing noted rock & roller Ronnie Hawkins.

Hawkins had first noticed Robertson playing locally when Hawkins toured in Canada, then invited him to come explore the possibilities of joining up with him in Arkansas. Robertson wound up writing two songs that Hawkins used, launching the teen on a songwriting and guitar-playing mission that has served him well over his subsequent 60-year career...

Read More

Two Popes Make for One Great Movie

Early in the current Netflix release, “The Two Popes,” I recalled the outlandish, unexpected success of “My Dinner With Andre,” Louis Malle’s 1981 film featuring two guys talking—and talking, and talking, for 111 minutes—across a café table in Manhattan. That was pretty much it as far as plot and characters go, but oh, what glorious talk it was.

Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles’s “The Two Popes” features quite a bit more dramatic backdrop and tension than did Malle’s film, but in its essence, it’s a kind of intellectually, theologically combative buddy movie that features two marvelously gifted (and hard-working!) actors reveling in sometimes solemn, sometimes fierce, and often enough humorous, even tender dialogue about matters of great import to themselves, their church, and the world beyond.

Two Welsh actors do virtually all the lifting required by producer and writer Anthony...

Read More