Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Edlavitch DCJCC Washington Jewish Film Festival 2017 [SPOILERS]

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I hope you all had a good Memorial Day weekend! For the past two weeks, I have been enjoying the Edlavitch DCJCC Washington Jewish Film Festival. I'm not sure if they've offered a young professionals pass before, but this year, for a little over $40, I could go to pretty much all the movies I wanted! What a great deal!

Of course I couldn't go to all of the events, but here are the films I did see. Watch out for spoilers!

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Moos is an awkward, unattractive (the actress Jip Smit looks like the female version of Paul Dano) young woman with no direction. She lives with her father, who assumes she'll take over the family business. But her dream is to go to theater school. She auditions, which her father and most others do not support. She tries out, can barely sing or dance, and is not accepted. But she's annoyed that no one believes in her or supports her aspirations, so she lies and tell everyone she did indeed get into the school. To make it look like she's busy with classes, she gets a job at the school's cafeteria, and she ends up sleeping with her voice coach. In the end the truth comes out, she gets in touch with reality, and while her friends and family are disappointed and upset with her at first, they can't stay mad at her because they love her.

She's supposed to be lovable in all of her awkwardness, but honestly, I found her character very unlikable. She's the kind of person who lies to her father, gets angry with him for having a girlfriend even though her mother has been dead for some time, sleeps with her teacher...I would NEVER be friends with someone like that! The film has no real romance (they show a couple having sex in a restaurant bathroom...), and it starts off with fart jokes. I should have known right then I picked the wrong film to see.

People That Are Not Me

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First, let's try to get past the poor grammar in the title: people should be referred to as "who," not "that."

Okay, moving on. So, this film is about a 25-year-old girl named Joy (played by Hadas ben Aroya, also the director) whose identity is clearly formed by the men in her life. The movie starts off with her crying and naked, filming a love confession to a man she's clearly no longer dating. While that drama is going on, she hangs out a lot with her friend Nir (played by Hagar Enosh [I think]). They sort of have a friends-with-benefits situation, but they never have sex, and he doesn't like that she's starting to have feelings for him. She's also looking for a new roommate, and when Oren (played by Meir Toledano) stops to see the place, he doesn't want to live there, but he wants to go out with her. They go out ONCE for drinks, she asks him up to her apartment, and they get naked; he can't get it up, so nothing happens. But later he calls her to say he has gonorrhea, and suggests she get tested. The movie ends with her sneaking into her ex's apartment and crawling into his bed, and then latching herself so tightly to him that he can't get her off. It would have been comical if the entire story weren't so pathetic. 

I saw Moos and this film in the same night, so it was discouraging to see young women portrayed in this manner. Both of them are lost young women who aren't sure of who they are and use men for comfort even though that doesn't actually help anything. Why can't films show young, beautiful women who are succeeding in life and maybe don't even have boyfriends at all? Strong independent women who have their s**t together? Would that be so difficult to make a character like that for a movie? I think not.

Thank You for Calling
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This movie is based off of the true story of Gilbert Chikli. He and his brother (and eventually the Israeli mafia) ran a scam where they would use spoof phone numbers (i.e. numbers that can't be traced) to call people who worked for banks or big companies; Gilbert would claim to work for the government in national security, and that the money from certain accounts had to be emptied because the accounts belonged to criminals. The gullible employees would believe Gilbert and transfer the money to a different account (i.e. where Gilbert could access it), and after years (I think) of doing this, Gilbert stole millions of dollars (well, Euros, but anyway). Of course he eventually gets caught (and his brother looked like a snitch and has his mouth sewn/stapled shut [I can't tell you which because I was too traumatized to watch!]), and he goes to jail.

I thought this was a pretty interesting movie, and the fact that a lot of it comes from real life makes it an even stronger film (much like Captain Phillips). I would recommend it, but I'm not sure I'd watch it more than once.

A Classy Broad
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This is a documentary about Marcia Nasatir, the first female VP at a Hollywood studio. The film follows her life of how she climbed up the ladder in the industry, but never made it to the top ("If I'd been born 20 years later, I would be head of a studio"). She was in production, and was the one who read scripts to decide whether they were worth making into movies or not. She made risky choices, making movies that no one else wanted to make, but they became big hits. The list of movies she was involved in making is long and distinguished (these are just some of the most famous ones):

The Big Chill, Rocky, Carrie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Exorcist, Apocalypse Now, Coming Home, Invasion of the Body Snatchers

You'll notice that she helped make a lot of movies that were about the Vietnam War. Her son was in the war, and I think that had a big impact on the kinds of stories she wanted to tell.

A big point of the movie was to show how many people in showbiz she has touched. Whether she helped someone get a job as a reader (i.e. reading scripts before the higher-ups see them), or advocated for a certain script or actor, it seems like everyone in Hollywood knows Nasatir. She was especially helpful for other women, and like she said, if she were still at her prime right now, more doors would have been open to her. BUT she is the one who helped open those doors for the next generation of women who wanted to work in the industry.

On a funny note, she and Lorenzo Semple, Jr., another Hollywood veteran, have a YouTube channel called "Reel Geezers," in which they discuss movies (from serious films like Revolutionary Road to silly ones like Superbad). Here's the Superbad video:

I really liked this movie. Even in her 90s, Nasatir is quick-witted and sharp. She's definitely a great role model, and she has been an incredible asset to Hollywood for decades. I'm happy she now has her own story to share with the world!

Want to learn more? Visit the film's website here.

On the Map
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This was the best movie I saw over the entire film festival. It's the "Miracle on Ice" of basketball. A club basketball team from Tel Aviv, the underdog in most games (and Israel as the underdog in pretty much all situations), wins the European Cup Basketball Championship after beating several teams, including the team from Moscow (the Russians are always the bad guys, am I right?).

The team was mostly made up of Americans who either didn't make it into the NBA, or they amazingly gave up the chance to play in the NBA to join Maccabi Tel Aviv (like team captain Tal Brody). The film has tons of old footage, some of which was archived and most likely never seen before. The movie also includes interviews with several of the players, as well as sports announcers of the time, Bill Walton (a close friend of Brody's and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame), and the wife of teammate Jim Boatwright. Boatwright had already passed away, so he is not featured in the film. Actually, his death helped get this movie made: the director of the film, Dani Menkin, wanted to tell this story before all of these men were gone.

Menkin was at the screening, and he mentioned that the story wouldn't have been believable as fiction:
  • Brody was able to get on an airplane from JFK back to Israel without a ticket because a security guy recognized him
  • Rabin postponed his resignation until after this big basketball game was over so his televised resignation wouldn't interrupt the game
  • The team's coach was a Holocaust survivor and later was asked to coach a German team
  • AND the fact that the team won the championship in the first place. 
It's all almost too amazing to believe, except it actually did happen!

So where does the title come from? After the Israeli team beat the Soviets, American Brody said in Hebrew, "We are on the map and we will stay on the map! Not only in sports but in everything!" This statement means so much: not only was he saying that the Israeli basketball team was a real competitor, but that Israel as a nation was here to stay. How prophetic! This was a defining moment for Israel, and I get chills just thinking about it. This really is a great, inspirational sports story, and I'm not sure how I've never heard of it before. I highly recommend this film. Here's the trailer in case you need more convincing:

Want to support more heartwarming and uplifting stories from Israel? You can donate to the On the Map Foundation here.

Lasciati Andare ("Let Yourself Go")

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This was one of the fictional comedies I saw during the festival. It's about an old psychotherapist (played by ) who doesn't get out much; when his doctor tells him he needs to exercise more, he gets a personal trainer named Claudia (played by ). That's where the shenanigans begin. She's over-the-top and ends up putting the old man in danger because her ex gets out of jail and is looking for stolen jewelry. The whole movie is full of dysfunctional relationships: Elia still lives next door to his wife (They're separated but never got a real divorce; they talk all the time and even go to the theater together), and Claudia is yet another female character portrayed in today's films as an unwed, incompetent mother. There were some funny bits, but in general this movie was a waste of time. I wouldn't see it again, and I don't feel bad that I almost feel asleep while watching it.

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This is another biographical film I really enjoyed. Naomi Kutin is a young girl who has broken power-lifting records, and "Supergirl" is her alter-ego when she's working out and performing at competitions. After seeing so many movies where women twice her age don't know what they're doing with their lives, this film was a breath of fresh air, showing that women (girls even!) can put their minds to work, set goals, and achieve their dreams. The whole time I was thinking of another movie, The Eagle Huntress, which is the true story of a young Mongolian girl who wants to be an eagle hunter, which is traditionally a man's role. In both films you have these young girls breaking barriers and reaching success. I recommend both!

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I had heard of this movie before, and I knew that Liza Minnelli was famous, but that was pretty much it. I really liked this film, even though I'm kind of a prude when it comes to burlesque or bawdy shows like that. The head of the film festival introduced this movie as ahead of its time (1972), but I'm not sure I agree with that. Minnelli's character Sally Bowles reminded me a bit of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's (written in 1958), with her (at times) care-free attitude and personable nature; the love triangle between Sally, Brian, and Max reminded me of The Great Gatsby (written in 1925), with a poor and a rich man in love with the same woman. But, I do suppose the fact that the love triangle included the two men sleeping with each other is modern for the film (though the act has been going on for thousands of years), and I don't think abortion was discussed too often in movies back then, either. I liked the music (although Joel Grey's character was a bit creepy), and of course I couldn't help but compare it to the musical Chicago (which came out just a few years later).

This is also a beautiful film to watch, with the vibrant colors and a variety of sets/scenes. I can see why this is a classic! I would totally recommend it, and I'd watch it again, too!

A Jew Must Die
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This disturbing story is based on real life. The tale was first a book written by Jacque Chessex, who as a young boy saw the inner-workings of a local Nazi group in Switzerland (which is always known as neutral during World War II), including the murder of a well-known townsman (which is a very gory scene in the movie). The film mixes up time: we're supposed to be in the 1940's during WWII, but some of the cars and costumes in the movie are modern-day; we see Chessex as a little boy like a flashback, but then Chessex as an old man is inserted here and there into the older scenes. I believe the book came out just as some of the criminals were getting out of jail, and some people thought the book was just bringing back the past and was unnecessarily "morbid." But Chessex' point is that 1. we should never forget the horrible things that happened in the past and 2. that history repeats itself, and antisemitism lives on today. A moving story, but certainly depressing.

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This movie is in black and white, even though it was filmed this year. Again, this movie takes place around the World War II time-period (hence the title). There's a small town, and word gets around that two Jews have arrived. Because people had taken over the lands, houses, and belongings of Jews once they had left, the townspeople are worried that the Jews are back to claim their things, as well as to take back the pharmacy they had owned before the war. Some feel guilty about what they had done (to the point of hanging themselves), while others feel like the houses and such are rightfully theirs. In the end, you see that the Jews only came back to bury what was left of their dead: tiny children's shoes, toys, books. This film shows the spectrum of feelings that people had just after the war. Most of those feelings seemed to be negative, which is probably why I didn't enjoy the film that much.

Angry Harvest
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This film was made in 1985, which is not the oldest movie I saw, but the rendering was quite bad, especially when I'm used to watching everything in HD. The movie is about the single Mr. Wolny (played by ) who houses a Jewish woman () on the run; even though she is married, he falls in love with her, and keeps her as his woman. There are many forces between the two of them: she doesn't love him, but she is thankful for his help, while still feeling dead inside without her family; he's Catholic and disrespects her Jewish faith, but he's never been with a woman before, and he likes that he's not alone anymore. There are many stressful moments throughout the film, the culminating of which takes place when he is letting another woman stay with him, so the first has to leave. He sets up another hiding spot for her, but she is already so worried about her situation that she doesn't want to go. She pleads with him to stay, but he is adamant that she leave. She asks for a bucket of hot water, and the next thing we know, she has slit her wrists and died. Soon after, her husband who also escaped is there asking about her. If only he had shown up sooner, or if she could have stayed just one more night! There's a lot of hurt in this film, and it does an excellent job of showing all the tension at that time between everyone.

After the screening, the director did a talk/Q&A. She is very funny, especially when she was talking about how she went about learning English (she had several teachers, each of which moved on in some form or fashion before she could learn very much). She is clearly very talented, and is a role model for women who are interested in directing movies.

Unrelated to the film festival but during the same time, I also got to see a preview screening of Rough Night.
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This is a very silly chick-flick about a bachelorette night gone wrong.  is the bachelorette, and she gets together with her college friends to celebrate her coming nuptials. You've got the fun blonde whom she met while studying abroad in Australia (), the two college friends who are actually in love with each other ( and ), and then the crazy chubby one who is super-obsessive and insists on being the "best friend" (). They go to Miami to celebrate, order a stripper, and then everything goes wrong: they accidentally kill the guy, try to lose his body in the ocean, then the REAL stripper comes and the other guy's criminal buddies show up; all the while her fiancé (Paul W. Downs) is driving to her rescue, and wears a diaper so he won't have to stop on the way. It's all so over-the-top and ridiculous. One star*.

SO MANY MOVIES! What have you seen lately? Anything good?

*I did get to go to the screening for free and got two glasses of wine on the house, so watching this dumb movie was kind of worthwhile. You should just wait to see it on Redbox or Netflix.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Concert: Carmina Burana

This past weekend, I saw the last performance of the season for the National Philharmonic at the Strathmore. The National Philharmonic Chorale was there, too, so there was a mix of classical music with singing. Quite the finale for the season!

The show started with Andreas Makris' Alleluia, followed by Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture (a very recognizable piece if you scroll to about 4:20). But the heart of the show was Carmina Burana, composed by Carl Orff in the mid 1930's. Here are some notes from the program:

"Carmina Burana puts to music a total of 24 poems, some written in Latin and others in a very old form of German, covering a great range of subjects that would have been part of the lyrical repertoire of troubadours and minstrels in the Middle Ages: the fickleness of Fortune; the vagaries of love; drunkenness and ribaldry; gluttony; gambling; the coming and going of seasons; and the ordinary spectacle of life in general...In its final form, it is composed of five sections with a total of 25 movements [which are] subsumed under three larger sections, titled "Spring," "In the Tavern," and "Love."

A lot of percussion instruments are used in the piece, and you can't help but feel strong emotions when listening to such amazing music. There were also soloists singing throughout the performance, so that added another layer of complexity to the work!

The entire thing is over an hour long, so I've broken it down by including lots of short videos as opposed to one really long one. Feel free to skip a few or just watch one or two at a time; it can be rather overwhelming! And none of these videos feature the National Philharmonic or the singers I saw that night, but you'll get the idea.

The first (and last) part of Carmina Burana is titled "Fortune, Empress of the World," which has been used in many movies and is quite popular on its own. Read this article from the Phoenix Chorale to learn more; listen below and you'll instantly recognize it.

Sound familiar?

The next section is called "In Springtime," and it sounds quite different from the first, especially the happy third part!

"One the Lawn" is the next part, with five sub-parts:

This one kind of sounds familiar to me. Do you recognize it?

Make sure to turn up the volume for this one:

Now we go "In the Tavern" ...

 I think this next part is supposed to be funny, even though I don't understand the lyrics! But it's called "Song of the Roast Swan," and the bassoon kind of does sound like a goose...

The final full section is "The Court of Love," and it's the first time we hear from the Soprano. These parts definitely sound romantic!

Turn up the volume for this one, too:

This one also sounds familiar, but maybe because it sounds like an earlier "Springtime" piece?

And here is the last part (along with the first part repeated):

Whew, that is A LOT to take in! It's really beautiful, but I will say it was hard sitting still for so long. Maybe I should just buy a CD... But truly, it's amazing piece, and I hope you like it, too!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Concert: The Wind + The Wave

The Wind + The Wave is my favorite indy band! I first discovered them in 2013 when they opened for the Plain White T's at the 9:30 Club, and I've seen them several other times, including at Gypsy Sally's, U Street Music Hall, and even at The Mint in Los Angeles! (Find that blog post here.) They did not disappoint at this show at DC9 (where I had seen them once before, too)!

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The first opener was The Native Sibling, a brother-sister duo. They both have great voices, and because it's a girl-guy duo, I think they're perfect to be touring with The Wind + The Wave, who started out as a band of two. They've been around for a few years, but I had never heard of them before. They released their first full-length album in 2014, which is the same year when they won the iTunes Best Singer/Songwriter albums award. How neat is that! Here are some of their music videos:

Carry You

Here with Me

Follow Trees

The Fall

Cold Wind

Let the Water Rise

The second opener was Justin Kawika Young. He has a very different sound from the first band; his voice actually sounds a lot like John Legend! I liked his music, and his Boyz II Men medley at the end was great. AND he's Colbie Caillat's fiancé!

One Foot On Sand

Crazy Love

Three Weeks from Tomorrow

Until the Morning

My Body Tells Me No (which is strange, since most songs are about your body saying yes!)

Then it was the headliner's turn! The Wind + The Wave sang songs from both of their albums, From the Wreckage and Happiness is Not a Place (I own both and love them!). They sounded amazing, and I love the energy of their newer band members, Nick the drummer ("Babyface Manbody"), and Scott the guitarist ("Fat Scott" who also performs on Broadway!). I think they have an all-black dress code, and all the guys have the same haircut! I sang along with every song, except maybe their encore of R. Kelly's song "Ignition;" that's a tough song to sing! Here are a few of my favorite songs from the band:

It's a Longer Road to California than I Thought

The Heart It Beats the Thunder Rolls

When That Fever Takes a Hold on You

My Mind is an Endless Sea

Before the World Explodes

Really Wanna Love Somebody

Check out their tour dates here to see if they're coming to a city near you!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Recipe: Banana Coconut Muffins

I've never added a filter to a photo before, but this one looked better "Golden."
I had a few bananas that were getting to be a bit too ripe, so I figured I'd make banana bread with them. But I make that all the time, so I thought I'd mix it up and try this new recipe I found on Epicurious.

o    1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
o    1 teaspoon baking powder
o    1/4 teaspoon salt
o    2 very ripe bananas, mashed (3/4 cup)
o    1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
o    2/3 cup sugar
o    1 large egg
o    1/2 teaspoon vanilla
o    3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut

1.      Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Line muffin cups with liners.
2.      Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together bananas, butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and 1/2 cup coconut in a large bowl until combined well, then fold in flour mixture until flour is just moistened.
3.      Divide batter among lined muffin cups and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup coconut. Bake until muffins are puffed and golden, about 25 minutes. Transfer muffins to a rack and cool slightly.

These were so easy to make, and they are delicious! They poofed up a lot, so I bet you could divide the batter into 10-12 muffins, not just 8. I think they look fun and different with the coconut sprinkled on top. Online there are 214 reviews, and 94% of people said they would make this recipe again. I would, too!