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‘Dunkirk’ Review: Finding Humanity in Calamity Christopher Nolan revisits the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops from a French beach during World War By Joe Morgenstern

In “Dunkirk,” an astonishing evocation of a crucial event during the first year of World War II, Christopher Nolan has created something new in the annals of war films—an intimate epic. The scale is immense, and all the more so in the IMAX format that shows the action to best advantage. The density of detail is breathtaking; it’s as if the camera can barely keep up with what’s happening inside and outside the frame. Yet the central concern is steadfastly human. Whether we’re watching a huge Allied army encircled by Nazi forces on a beach in France or tracking the progress of their would-be rescuers, the drama turns on individuals and their feelings—of terror, excruciating vulnerability and fragile hope that they will make it back home, only 26 miles across the English Channel.

What the film excludes is historical context. It is not, and wasn’t meant to be, an explanation of the circumstances that led, in the spring of 1940, to the entrapment of some 400,000 British, French, Belgian and Canadian troops, including what Prime Minister Winston Churchill called “the whole root and core and brain of the British Army.” Instead, “Dunkirk,” which Mr. Nolan directed from his own screenplay, is a fictionalized, impressionistic account of a calamity that culminated in a near-miracle, although many lives were lost in the process—the rescue of 338,000 of those soldiers by shallow-draft naval vessels plus a large civilian flotilla of fishing boats and yachts.

With sparse dialogue, a minimum of digital simulations and an emphasis on spectacular images, the production follows, among others, a young British enlisted man, Fionn Whitehead’s Tommy, from the moment he emerges from the streets of Dunkirk to join vast throngs of other men, most of them young and all of them frightened, on the sands of what was formerly a vacation resort. They have no more idea than he does what’s in store for them. All they know is that they’re totally vulnerable to German tanks and planes, and unlikely to survive. (The cast includes Harry Styles, of One Direction, making his acting debut.)“Dunkirk” is hardly the first film to depict the mad chaos of modern war. The champion in that category remains “Apocalypse Now,” with “Black Hawk Down” and “Saving Private Ryan” as strong contenders. Still, Mr. Nolan has spoken of his own list of influences being topped by “The Wages of Fear,” Henri-Georges Clouzot’s peerless thriller, made in 1953, about desperate men in South America driving nitroglycerin-laden trucks over primitive roads. What’s the common denominator? Existential terror, for sure, an awareness that one’s life may be snuffed out at any moment, but also classic suspense. CONTINUE AT SITE

Lady Macbeth: A Review By Marilyn Penn

The critics loved this movie adapted from a Russian novel, “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District,” written in 1865 by Nikolai Leskov. Based loosely on Shakespeare’s cold-blooded character, this adolescent wife, purchased by the father of the groom to entice his son to produce an heir, begins as an abused woman and morphs into a sociopathic murderer whose two favorite activities are sex and violence. Despite her fitting perfectly into the contemporary cinematic cult governed by the same naked drives, there is an appalling logic gap in this movie which seems to have escaped the attention of its fawning fans, though not of its audience.

The bride is brought into a Gothic house ruled by a tyrannical husband and his aging father. There are workers and servants in this house, but except for the lady’s maid, the others are mostly invisible except for isolated scenes. When the husband leaves home on an extended business trip, the young wife elevates her groomsman/lover into a foppish facsimile of master of the house and has him served at the dining room table without fear that this will engender chatter by the kitchen help that will eventually reach the ears of the community. And when the young wife shoots her bludgeoned husband’s horse twice, she is clearly not concerned that the sounds of those gunshots will reverberate to the suspecting household staff as well. Nor is there any fear in Lady Macbeth that the unburied horse will be spotted by the search team wandering the forest where it was killed while they look for a missing child. Though these are small details, they accumulate rapidly leaving us to wonder where the screenwriter disappeared while these events occurred.

This Lady Macbeth has a script written by someone who hasn’t learned that both character studies and thrillers depend on pivotal details and that once our disbelief has been aroused, it doesn’t matter much what follows. Credibility is the key to identifying with protagonists whether they are likable, hateful or both. As Johnny Cochran might have said, “without some common sense, the criminals are dense.” To crown the disregard for some degree of accuracy in the characters’ behavior and circumstance, there is the misleading Scottish connection since this Lady Macbeth apparently lives in Northern England.


When this movie opened, I postponed seeing it, thinking that I had seen so many other movies about World War II that this one could not surprise me. And was I wrong! Turns out that I knew just about nothing concerning this particular attempt to assassinate Hitler while he spoke in Munich in 1939. For most of you, this movie will be revelatory both in terms of history and the character of Georg Elser, the unsuccessful perpetrator whose home-made bomb exploded 13 minutes after Hitler left the lectern.

Told in the real time of Elser’s arrest and interrogation and the flashbacks to his life in the decade leading up to the event, this movie artfully details every aspect of the rise of Nazism and the national mood in Germany. The set designs of factories, steel-work installations, offices, beer-halls and rural houses are pitch-perfect as are the depictions of women working in the fields, children caught up in the frenzy of Hitler-Youth and ordinary people seduced by the peer pressure of an entire population hypnotized by the Fuhrer’s promises of power and glory for the Homeland. The character of Georg, a jack of all trades artisan, furniture-maker, skilled technician, musician and ladies’ man is singular and captivating. We see him playing the accordion, then singing, then capturing the heart of a young woman who attempts to teach him the tango only to be led by him with the grace and control of a seasoned dancer. Georg is a man who thinks for himself, avoids joining any political group and has the clarity and instincts of a true humanist. The contrast between his deepening awareness of the moral depravity around him with the mob euphoria of the crowds leads to his eventual decision that he must act alone.

Driven by his conviction, he must leave his family, the woman he loves and the town that has grown so foreign and abhorrent to him. Though we are familiar with re-enactments of life in concentration camps, there are scenes of torture in this film that make water-boarding seem like the pause that refreshes. But nothing is gratuitous here – these are records of one of the darkest periods in man’s history. The fact that one man had the strength and determination of an ancient prophet is a symbol, however small, of the redemptive power of character, rational thought and human values. The fact he failed was tragic but his heroic effort and resistance to the forces of evil was a startling triumph. Previously unknown to most of us, Georg Elser has been given his proper recognition in a remarkable performance by Christian Friedel and a well-crafted film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel.

The Beguiled and The Big Sick By Marion DS Dreyfus

Happily, the audience for the delicate, moody-erotic The Beguiled is not that lowest common denominator so often seen at the Biff-Bam school of entertainment, where special effects rule.

The Sofia Coppola-directed historical drama is rich with atmosphere, with photographic meditations frequently invoked through the sultry, tenebrous Spanish moss-draped Southern landscapes, wild grasses and brambles, figurative representations of the subcutaneous emotions of the seven young boarding school charges of Nicole Kidman’s governess, Martha Farnsworth, in bucolic Virginia during the late Civil War.

With several murkier films under her directorial belt, Coppola just became only the second woman in film history to take the Cannes Film Festival’s Best Director prize.

The toothsome found enemy, a Union soldier with a broken leg, played by the sinewy Colin Farrell, lying in favored state, is attended to by the bevy of boarding school beauties sequestered as the war proceeds within actual earshot, just miles away. We hear the muffled booms of the cannon from afar.

How the houseful of lissome and flirtatious young ladies succors the manipulative, perhaps dangerous but handsome soldier with his wounded leg is the tale. Each sedate but demurely aroused female demonstrates unambiguous interest in this unwonted male guest as a semi-resident in their cloistered enclave. Amusing to note their individual stratagems for dropping in on their soldier.

Farrell is, of course, the “other side,” and thus a risk, both to them and to any home-team soldiery who might come to claim him.

For all the suppressed erotic longings, it is a decorous series of weeks, furtive-innocent nighttime visits, on many pretexts, from cups of water to berries fresh picked – with period language and comportment worthy of Henry James. Coppola wrote the script from a novel penned by someone else.

Nicole Kidman starred as a governess previously in the tense Gothic ghost story The Others (2001), another film with elements of psychological horror (directed by Alejandro Amenábar) evoked by the current decorous offering.

Standouts in the cast are Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning as two of the steamy-repressed ladies in waiting under Kidman’s ministrations and tutelage.

The Big Sick, on the other hand, is the true story of how Pakistani comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his real-life wife, Emily. Aside from the misconceived and off-putting title, this is an endearing, warm-hearted, exceptional biopic with a goodly trove of laughs and insights into the often irksome life of a comic, especially one whose family is traditional Muslim – and disapproves utterly of their son’s raffish and low-esteemed career.

The Beguiled – A Review By Marilyn Penn

Some reviewers have found fault with the erasure of important issues such as slavery from Sofia Coppola’s version of The Beguiled based on a novel about a southern girl’s school set during the Civil War. The school is on a beautiful ante-belum estate surrounded by magnificent trees and woods that let us know we are in a place where innocence will come to a reckoning far more primal than politics. In the opening scene which captures the essence of so many fairy tales, a young girl with pigtails is walking through the deep woods gathering mushrooms in her basket. Instead of a wolf, she comes upon a wounded Union soldier and out of compassion for his plight, helps him back to the school There, he is confronted with a handful of girls and women, all of whom will eventually be implicated in his fate.

Played by Colin Farrell, the soldier can’t help being a sexual turn-on to the range of young lovelies held in check by Miss Martha, the headmistress played by Nicole Kidman. Steady and steely but also open to suggestions from the girls, she asks their opinion on how to deal with the “enemy soldier.” Cool and rational, she agrees to let him remain while he convalesces from her surgery on his leg. We watch as Farrell plays each of the women with intuitive skill while they compete for his attention and affection. Coppola maintains the tension with a minimum of histrionics and some quiet scenes of the girls saying their prayers, playing music and dressing for dinner set beautifully at a candle-lit table that offers a surprising bounty during a time of war. Quite obviously, this is not a kitchen drama about wartime privation.

Ms. Coppola is painting on a larger canvas than American history – the scale is more mythic than realistic and the outside world appears only once briefly with an unexpected appearance by two confederate soldiers who are quickly dispensed with. It would be a spoiler to discuss the plot beyond this set-up but this is a movie skilfully directed, beautifully filmed and more thought-provoking than it first appears. It may take you back much than the 19th century, perhaps as far back as the Garden of Eden.

Politically Incorrect Hollywood: Some Films to see By Armando Simon

Although at times it feels—quite correctly—like one is swamped with Politically Correct propaganda in the movies and television and magazines, a number of films have been made over the years that buck the trend. Unfortunately, many of them have not been well-publicized and/or not as patronized by conservatives as they should have been. By comparison, every time Hanoi Jane, Michael Moore, or Oliver Stone make a movie, liberals trample themselves over in a mad stampede to support their propaganda movies; conservatives, on the other hand, when they hear of a movie that might be putting up a fight against the totalitarians, often stay at home scratching their rear ends, complaining that Hollywood doesn’t make enough movies that support their viewpoints—and then wait until the movie comes out at Redbox or Netflix.

So here is a list of movies that you might want to watch:

Red Family

Although Kim Ki-duk did not direct this film, he wrote and produced it and it still came out great. The film centers around North Korea sleeper agents passing themselves off as a South Korean family, all the while carrying out espionage and assassinations and maintaining a harsh discipline and ideological purity. Throughout, Damocles’ sword is hanging over their heads because they are being monitored by other agents. Although initially being vicious, cold-blooded killers, with time they become corrupted by their environment and start acting more human, and even humane, with foreseeable results.


You have to feel for the Poles. The Russians Germans, and Austrians have repeatedly raped Poland over the centuries. The Katyn massacre is one of those items that make up That Which Must Not Be Mentioned about WWII (another one is that the Soviet Union and the Third Reich were allied during the first few years of the war as they had agreed to partition Europe between them, starting with Poland. Later, when one of the allies attacked the other one, the original pact of alliance was never mentioned, as being in bad taste if you did).

The Katyn massacre, in particular, made a deep scar in the Polish psyche. Perhaps it was due because Russia invaded the country when it was trying to fight off the German invasion, perhaps because the subsequent occupation by the Communists tried to convince the Poles that the Russians were their friends, perhaps because the Russians refused to acknowledge what everyone knew. Who knows.

Another thing that makes one sick is that the Poles behaved with honor towards the conquerors, not realizing at the time what vicious monsters they were dealing with. Example: (a) the professors naively show up at the university, summoned by the SS officer, only to be brutally rounded up and sent to Sachsenhausen (b) the Polish officers are initially loosely guarded, which means that many could have easily escaped, but did not do so and therefore were subsequently butchered by the Communists. The ending of the film is brutal to watch, but it needs to be watched

Unfortunately, to people who are unacquainted with the history, as was the case with my wife, events seem to jump and are a bit disorienting. Had the director simply inserted at the right time in the film what is going on historically, e.g., the pact of alliance between Russia and Germany, the subsequent invasion of Russia by Germany, the occupation of Poland by Russia, etc., the movie would have flowed smoothly.

Hail, Caesar!

The first time I saw it, this film left me a bit befuddled. It took me a second time of seeing the film to truly appreciate it. Part of my initial confusion is that there were so many subplots going through the movie.

Anyway. The title of the movie is the title of the movie being filmed in the movie, sometime in the 1950s. Got that? The main star gets kidnapped held for ransom from the studio. However, the main character is Eddie Mannix, one of the head honchos of the studio and he is primarily a “fixer.” He is presented with one problem after the other and he fixes the problems. Then, he is presented with the kidnapping. The kidnapping, by the way, was carried out by Hollywood communists, who are presented as a pack of intellectual buffoons spouting Marxist jargon. Mannix at the same time is being sought after to quit his job and go work for Lockheed, but he cannot make up his mind. At one point, one of the Hollywood communists gets picked up by a Soviet sub and is presumably taken to the Iron Curtain (in actual life, one of the Hollywood 10 communists did disappear and surfaced in East Germany). There are a lot of in-jokes regarding Hollywood of the ’50s, some of which, frankly, went over my head.

Pawn Sacrifice

When I was in my early 20s, I was touring Europe and the talk everywhere by Europeans was the intense chess confrontation between Fisher and the Russians in Iceland, exemplified by Spassky. Everyone was chuckling over Fisher’s antics and Spassky’s apparent befuddlement at Bobby’s behavior, thinking that the latter was messing with the Russian’s head. They jokingly referred to Fisher as being a crazy guy and were rooting for him. What nobody knew at the time, except for a handful of individuals was that Fisher was really crazy, that his antics and demands were not psychological warfare. This secret came to light many years thereafter.

The Soviets’ philosophy was that if they excelled at chess and at the Olympics, even through cheating, then it proved that Marxist totalitarianism was superior to a Western decadent democracy, so the state-funded chess players (and athletes) and gave them special treatment, unlike the Western countries. This fact is emphasized in the film.

Unfortunately, although Liev Schreiber does a convincing and likeable Spassky, the film does not show that he was a pretty decent guy, far from the usual mindless apparatchik. At a chess tournament against the Czechoslovakian players shortly after the Soviet invasion of their country, he shook their hands even though they wore black armbands as a sign of mourning, something that the Soviet authorities got angry about. Also not shown was that after Spassky lost the tournament in Iceland and returned home, he was hassled at the Moscow airport.

‘Hate Spaces’: The Politics of Intolerance on Campus A disturbing, in-depth look at the new campus Brownshirts. Frontpagemag.com

Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) has released a new documentary called Hate Spaces: The Politics of Intolerance on Campus to address the worsening anti-Semitic environment on our country’s college campuses.

APT is a Boston-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting peaceful coexistence in an ethnically diverse America by educating the American public about the need for a moderate political leadership that supports tolerance and core American values in communities across the nation.

Hate Spaces goes beyond the by-now familiar accounts of a hostile school environment to document the dynamics on campus that perpetuate the problem. It illustrates how anti-Semitism is being made fashionable at many American universities through the on-going academic de-legitimization of Israel, the normalization of hatred in the name of social justice, the growth of Muslim students on campus, and massive donations of Arab oil money to universities.

The film includes commentary and analysis from distinguished writers and academics including:

• Alan Dershowitz of Harvard
• William Jacobson of Cornell
• Richard Landes of Boston University
• Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal
• the Freedom Center’s own Caroline Glick of The Jerusalem Post

Connecticut College Professor Andrew Pessin says this of the film:

“Hate Spaces is an essential and timely film. Campus antisemitism, masquerading as anti-Israelism, is on the rise. Responding to this phenomenon requires a deep and honest analysis of its causes. Hate Spaces does this meticulously, thoroughly, and grippingly. A must-see for all those concerned about the worsening situation on campus.”

Please check out the trailer above.

Norman – A Review By Marilyn Penn

Count the derogatory characteristics stereotypically applied to Jews and confirmed by this scathing film: pushy, two-faced, greedy, power-hungry, untrustworthy, social-climbing, controlling, puppet-masters of the government – there are more but let’s start with these. Under the guise of being a soft-spoken, gentle schlemiel – the kind of man who knows how to manipulate an invite to a billionaire’s dinner party but shows up wearing a newsboy’s cap that signals why he doesn’t belong – Richard Gere plays Norman, a man who lives by connecting people to other people who can do them important favors. By tailing an Israeli minister as he meanders back to his NY hotel after an important meeting, Norman eventually introduces himself in an elegant men’s shop and promises to get the minister an invitation to the billionaire’s dinner that night. To establish his credibility, he insists on paying for the minister’s exorbitantly expensive shoes – previously tried on and rejected for their extravagance. The greedy minister accepts the offer, and if adjusted for inflation, probably sells out for less than Judas did. Jews have always loved both shekels and beautiful menswear – think of Joseph and that rainbow coat.

There’s a lot more plot concerning a potty-mouthed rabbi who needs to raise money to save his temple (Steve Buscemi); a successful lawyer/nephew who needs a rabbi who will marry him to his Korean love (Michael Sheen); an Israeli prime-minister who needs to get his son accepted to Harvard (Lior Ashkenazi) – a chad gadya of the interlocking needs and wants of Israeli and American Jewry. And there are the un-subtle references to names and types to arouse a nod and smile from viewers who pick up on them – a Korean rabbi at Central Synagogue, the names Alfred Taub and Henry Kavisch. There’s the brief scene showing Norman eating pickled herring from a jar while miles away, the prime-minister is slurping oysters and the soundtrack of glorious cantorial chanting of prayers offers the spirituality that Judaism used to represent. As a movie for home-consumption in Israel, one could make the argument that Norman is an over-extended SNL sketch that skewers its leaders, movers and shakers. As a film sent out for international distribution to an increasingly anti-semitic world, its a misguided attempt at satire that will only re-enforce and inflame existing prejudice.

The writer/director of this film is Joseph Cedar who proves one point about Jewish fixers – he succeeded in rounding up an international cast of movie stars from Hollywood, Israel, England and France. As a footnote to this review, I must add my own amazement that the man who created one of the cleverest and most insightful Israeli films of recent years (FOOTNOTE) is the same man who takes attribution for this pile of lethal ammunition. The auditorium was half-full when I saw this – I can only hope that word of mouth gets this film off the circuit as quickly as you can say “it’s bad for the Jews.”

Defy PC Suppression and See ‘The Promise’ A moving, epic, sumptuous film on the suppressed topic of the Armenian genocide. Danusha V. Goska

Powerful people are deploying every trick to prevent you from seeing The Promise, director Terry George’s 2016 film starring Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale and Charlotte Le Bon. Their insistence that you not see the film rouses suspicion. After all, Terry George is a something of a cinematic social justice warrior and critical darling. He’s known for taking on righteous themes, including the English imperial abuse of Irish prisoners in his 1993 film In the Name of the Father, nominated for seven Academy Awards. His 2004 film, Hotel Rwanda, received three Academy Award nominations. The Promise’s script is by George and Robin Swicord, who also has an Academy Award and a Golden Globe nomination under her belt.

George’s Hotel Rwanda depicted the Rwandan genocide. Rwandans died in that signature African phenomenon: tribal violence. Hutus rose up with machetes and murdered their neighboring Tutsis in the world’s fastest genocide. Hotel Rwanda tells a different story. Rwandans died because white people don’t care about black people. In the film, Nick Nolte, playing a UN general, “explains” the genocide to Don Cheadle, playing the real-life hero and rescuer Paul Rusesabagina. “You’re dirt. We think you are dirt. You’re dung. You’re worthless. You’re black. You’re not even a n – – – – -. You’re an African … They’re not gonna stop the slaughter.”

Hotel Rwanda never explains how white people living thousands of miles away could stop a million killings-by-machete occurring over a hundred days. Rwanda is remote, landlocked, and mountainous. There were no airports, train tracks, or installations to bomb. Getting troops into Rwanda would have taken months and given the volatility of the area, the insertion of American or European troops would have sparked separate conflagrations. Witness the horrific fate of the humanitarian mission in the Battle of Mogadishu in October, 1993 – a mere six months before the Rwandan genocide. No matter. It’s whitie’s fault. That movie, the powers that be want you to see.

The powers that be don’t want you to see The Promise, though it stars Oscar Isaac, previously praised for the box office smash, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the critical smash Inside Llewyn Davis, by the hipster Coen Brothers. What, then, is the problem with The Promise and why don’t powerful people want you to see it?

The Promise dramatizes the 1915-1923 Armenian Genocide. An estimated 1.5 million Armenians were murdered by Ottoman Turkey and its successor, the Republic of Turkey.

The victims of the Armenian genocide were Christians. The perpetrators were Muslims.

Cinema Commandos of the Armenian Genocide Lessons from a courageous and long overdue film. April 25, 2017 Lloyd Billingsley

The Promise, Survival Pictures, directed by Terry George, PG-13, 2 hr. 12 min.

In southern Turkey in 1914, Mikael Boghosian wants to attend medical school but doesn’t have the money, so he gets engaged to Maral, a young woman in his village, and uses her dowry to pay tuition. In Constantinople, he meets the dashing Ana Khesarian, who is consorting with American reporter Chris Meyers.

This love quadrangle plays out in fine style, with homage to Dr. Zhivago and Casablanca. The larger back story is probably unknown to many viewers, so The Promise takes pains to spell it out up front.

At the outset of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was coming apart and that was bad news for the non-Muslim minorities, particularly the Christian Armenians. The Ottoman Turks set out to exterminate the Armenians, the first attempt at genocide of the past century and the most well documented. So the filmmakers, who claim an “educational” purpose, had plenty of source material.

As in any Islamic state, the Christian Armenians are third-class citizens, derided as “dogs” and such. One prominent Turk says the Armenians are a “microbe,” and that was indeed the pronouncement of Turkish physician Mahmed Reshid. An Islamic state can’t tolerate an invasive infection, and when war breaks out Turkish mobs attack Armenians and loot their shops and homes. The film does not explain why the oppressors met with such little resistance.

The Turks took great pains to disarm the Armenians, and that left them essentially helpless against their highly mechanized oppressors. The Turks did indeed load Armenian captives into railroad freight cars, as the film shows. As Peter Balakian noted in The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, a good companion volume for the film, the Turks packed 90 Armenian men, women and children into a car with a capacity of 36. That was hardly the only way they perished.