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After the Storm – A Review By Marilyn Penn

The first thing you’ll notice about After the Storm is the height of its star, Hiroshi Abe; in a country where the average male is 5′7″ this man is a towering 6′2″ and looks like Gregory Peck – both wonderful attributes. Except that this casting interferes with the plot. We’re asked to accept this character as a down and out writer, unable to summon the money he owes his short ex-wife for child support and reduced to borrowing from his short sister and stealing from his shorter mother. But all we can think is – are you kidding me? this guy could get a job in a minute as a model or movie star earning way more money than he did with his novel. He’d be plucked right off the sidewalk by ten different modeling or movie agents before he walked three blocks in downtown Tokyo. Imagine casting George Clooney as Willy Loman and you’ll understand the problem.

As I tried to overcome this stumbling block, I looked around the theater and saw the man next to me fast asleep, two women chatting, several others having the need to organize their handbags. It was then that I realized that I too must have nodded off as I couldn’t recollect seeing something that was clearly a prior occurrence. This is a very quiet film about some very dull people with very ordinary life problems. You need a Chekhov to make something out of soporific material and writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda is not that man. In a year in which LION featured a spectacular screen debut for irresistible young Sunny Pawar, you can’t interest audiences in a reticent boy of similar age (short) who has no screen personality As he and his father decide to weather the eponymous typhoon in a playground, we are forced to acknowledge that this is too misguided to be a good bonding moment What if a tree branch came whirling towards them to smack the very tall man in the head? The old mother comes across best of the bunch but since that’s saying so little, I can’t praise her performance either. Miss this unless you’re having serious trouble napping………………

‘Hidden Figures’ Is a Powerful Story of Black Achievement African-Americans have heard lots of excuses for failure and are hungry for inspiration.

“There are two ways to disable people. One is by denying them an opportunity to compete. The other, more crippling, is to tell them they no longer have to compete and that every door will be opened. Such people can only wonder whether their accomplishments are real or simulated. Black Americans must refuse to surrender to incompetence, self-devaluation and self-marginalization. ”

People should never be defined by circumstances beyond their control—a principle exemplified by the three women whose stories are popularized in the Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures.” Based on a 2016 book by Margot Lee Shetterly, “Hidden Figures” chronicles how NASA mathematicians Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan overcame legal segregation and racial discrimination to play a critical role in astronaut John Glenn’s orbital mission aboard Friendship 7 in 1962.

There is a thirst among black Americans for such inspiring messages. I witnessed evidence of this yearning last week when I attended a book signing with Ms. Shetterly at the Fredericksburg, Va., campus of the University of Mary Washington. The 1,000-seat auditorium was filled to capacity by a predominantly African-American audience. People were packed into the balcony and there wasn’t a spare inch of standing room anywhere along the walls. The 100 copies of “Hidden Figures” that organizers had brought to the venue sold out well before the presentation began. Even the local bookstores ran out of copies.

During the question-and-answer session following Ms. Shetterly’s talk, some in the audience lamented that they had not known earlier about the heroines of “Hidden Figures.” Children in the audience excitedly raised their hands to learn more about these pioneering “human computers” and their triumph over adversity.

There are thousands of such stories embedded in the history of black America. Sadly, they are rarely told by the elite media—black or white—and often ignored by academia. The most powerful antidote to disrespect is not protest but performance. Stories that convey this idea, however, are considered “off message” in the national narrative.

The dominant racial message today attributes black failure—academic, occupational and even moral—to an all-purpose invisible villain: “institutional racism.” Those who shake their fists and proclaim that white America must change before blacks can achieve anything are embracing a version of white supremacy clothed as protest. The debilitating effects of this attitude are exacerbated by liberals’ “white guilt.” Since the time of “race norming” and the promotion of Ebonics as a separate national language in the 1960s, white liberals have approached the black community with a combination of pity, patronage and pandering. CONTINUE AT SITE

The Sense of An Ending: By Marilyn Penn

The title of this adaptation of a Julian Barnes novel seemed prophetic as several people in the rows near me could be heard asking each other for clarification of exactly what did happen at the end of the movie. This was not a purposeful device on the part of the director who wished to leave certain information ambiguous – instead, it was the result of a pile-on of too much information crammed too quickly into a tidy ending. It reminded me of what a hostess does when guests are at the front door too early and miscellaneous stuff needs to be collected and tossed into a closet so the entrance way looks neat.

If memory serves, some of the plot points have been added on in order to make the movie more relevant to today’s mores, such as a mid-thirties pregnant lesbian daughter becoming a single mother, played by Downton’s formidable Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). Though she lights up the screen, this side-plot adds little to the story of a man whose past catches up with him through a surprising bequest of his best friend’s diary and the subsequent unraveling of the differences between memory, longing and some difficult truths. Jim Broadbent plays the aging Tony Webster, a former Oxford student whose life as a divorced, uptight owner of a small camera shop belies the promising future he once imagined. Charlotte Rampling plays the aging woman he once loved who betrayed him with his own best friend, provoking Tony’s mean-spirited letter that contained an ominous curse on that relationship. Unfortunately, Rampling bears no resemblance to the actress playing her younger self, a big casting mistake since it’s hard to see her as anything but a new person in his life. What works better in the novel than the film are the serendipitous off-hand observations and overheard remarks that give this anti-hero his eventual epiphanies into what really happened and what kind of man he actually is.

Besides being confusing, these realizations seem gratuitously forced as opposed to earned and the semblance of a hopeful ending all around is more trite than profound. For a much more satisfying adaptation of a Barnes novel, see the first-class t.v. mini-series of “Arthur & George,” (2015) a fascinating take on a true story concerning Arthur Conan Doyle and a man convicted of a crime he did not commit. The ending will be crystal clear.



Asghar Farhadi, Hollywood Hero Hollywood’s hypocrites – and Tehran’s. Bruce Bawer

Yes, you’re right. The best way to deal with today’s Hollywood community is to try to ignore it. The Oscar ceremony is a parade of mostly dimwitted narcissists whose fame and wealth have convinced them that their inane parroting of received elite opinions amounts to thoughtful political expression. And the nominations and awards themselves, especially in the documentary and foreign-language categories, are often based less on artistic accomplishment than on identity politics and other PC considerations. This year, it was widely assumed that the annual festival of shameless self-celebration would also be an all-out attack on Donald Trump, and that we would all have served ourselves, our country, and our culture best by tuning out. Plus a fact, I, for one, had nothing to root for, since I’d seen only one of the nominated pictures: Silent Nights, a nominee for best short film that happened to have aired on Danish TV immediately prior to the red-carpet nonsense.

But in my case, curiosity won the day. Would the winners, presenters, and host Jimmy Kimmel actually go after the president, and thereby alienate half the country (and bore much of the other half), thus continuing the show’s yearly slide into low ratings and cultural irrelevance, or would they do the smart thing and leave politics out of it? It didn’t take long to learn the answer. Preening statements about walls and religious bigotry and international brotherhood abounded. So did tired Trump humor: Kimmel kept flogging that dead horse, and each gibe was worse than the next – but that didn’t keep the glitterati from laughing reflexively at each lame gag. (It was interesting to note that when Kimmel, in reference to the winning feature documentary, O.J.: Made in America, actually cracked an O.J. joke, the audience response was one of discomfort – so much so that Kimmel commented on it, joshingly serving up a faux apology for having mocked “our beloved O.J.”) Also worth mentioning is the winner of the short documentary award, whose director, upon accepting his statuette, piously intoned that ubiquitously misquoted line from the Koran, “To save one life is to save all of humanity.” The audience, of course, applauded lustily.

But the highlight, or low point, of the whole preposterous pageant was the presentation of the award for best foreign-language film. A couple of days before the ceremony, the directors of the five pictures nominated in this category signed a joint declaration in which, presuming to speak “[o]n behalf of all nominees,” they expressed their “unanimous and emphatic disapproval of the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the U.S. and in so many other countries, in parts of the population and, most unfortunately of all, among leading politicians.” Subtle, huh? Speaking up for “the diversity of cultures,” they decried those who raise “divisive walls” that categorize people by “genders, colors, religions and sexualities” and celebrated the power of film to offer “deep insight into other people’s circumstances and transform feelings of unfamiliarity into curiosity, empathy and compassion — even for those we have been told are our enemies.”

Who were the signers of this pompous document? Martin Zandvliet of Denmark, Hannes Holm of Sweden, Maren Ade of Germany, Marin Butler and Bentley Dean of Australia, and – last but not least – Asghar Farhadi of Iran. Farhadi ended up winning the trophy, but didn’t show up. In fact he may have won precisely because of his announcement, some days before the big night, that he wouldn’t be showing up. His motive: to protest Trump’s temporary ban on travel to the U.S. from his country and six others. When his victory was announced (it was his second in the category, after A Separation in 2011), the audience cheered, and it cheered again, quite fervently, when an Iranian-American woman read aloud a statement by Farhadi in which he explained that he’d stayed home “out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.”

Oscar Wears a Burqa : Edward Cline

Yes, Oscar wears a burqa.

“O Prophet! Say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw their outer garments close around themselves; that is better that they will be recognized and not annoyed. And God is ever Forgiving, Gentle.”

— Qur’an, Surah 33 (Al-Ahzab), Verse 59

The Hollywood version of that Islamic winding sheet hides the true soul of Hollywood. Nay, disguises it. Big screens and TV screens are no longer venues of “entertainment” but places of subtle brainwashing, or subliminal auto suggestion. Hollywood would never admit it. It wears a burqa to deter recognition and annoyance by anyone who questions the identity of the entity it sheathes. And what is it that Hollywood wishes to hide, lest its audiences flee from the theater as though someone had shouted “Fire!”

This column begins with a shoot-down of the latest TV offering of Hollywood in Sharia compliant, anti-American cinematography, featured on Fox News.

‘Incorporated’ canceled By Oriana Schwindt

Published February 27, 2017

Syfy won’t be ordering another season of thriller “Incorporated,” Variety has confirmed.

The news comes a little more than a month after “Incorporated” finished its first season on the NBCU cable network. Deadline first reported the cancelation.

“Incorporated” came from executive producers Matt Damon, Ben Affleck,

Set in a future where corporations have unlimited power, “Incorporated” revolved around Ben Larson (Sean Teale, “Reign”), a young executive who concealed his true identity to infiltrate a very dangerous corporate world to save the woman he loves and quickly found he wasn’t the only one in this world with a secret. Dennis Haysbert, who just booked a lead role in NBC’s pilot “Reverie,” also starred, along with Julia Ormond and Eddie Ramos.

The series debuted to mostly positive reviews. “‘Incorporated‘ is an energetic and watchable science-fiction thriller that posits that a climate apocalypse will be followed by a swift division of survivors into haves and have-nots — all by the year 2074,” Variety‘s Maureen Ryan wrote. “Right now, that date feels like a somewhat optimistic estimate.”

Echoes of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) in which the Time Traveler journeys almost a million years into the future to discover the Eloi (the upper crust, the “elite,” the “beautiful” people) and the subterranean, hideous, subhuman Morlocks, who support the Eloi and then cannibalize them.

“Same ole, same ole”: bad corporations take over world, in echoes of “Rollerball” and “Soylent Green” and other science fiction apocalyptic movies, in which corporations impoverish everyone in the world, in conjunction with the “greenhouse effect,” but whose executives live the high life and wield power. No imagination. Hollywood is obsessed with smearing business and even technology. This mindset dates back to Fabian Socialist author H.G. Wells’s “When the Sleeper Awakes,” (1899, revised 1910) and Fritz Lang’s film “Metropolis,“ (1927) and “Looking Backward: 2000-1887” (1888) by Edward Ballamy, a 19th century Progressive.

Remembering “Operation Wedding,” the Event That Kick-Started the Movement to Free Soviet Jewry Dore Feith

In June 1970, fourteen Soviet Jews tried to steal an airplane to fly themselves to freedom. A new documentary marks their story—and Natan Sharansky reminisces.

In June 1970, fourteen Soviet Jews who had been refused permission to emigrate tried to steal an airplane to fly themselves to freedom in the West. Led by Edouard Kuznetsov and Mark Dymshits, the group had spent months plotting their move.

The hijackers, claiming to be traveling together to a wedding—hence “Operation Wedding,” the name of their scheme—had bought all the seats on the small aircraft to ensure there would be no one but themselves on board. They intended to subdue the pilots non-lethally and leave them on the side of the runway, having provided sleeping bags to keep them warm until rescued. Dymshits, a former Red Army pilot, would fly the plane.

When they arrived at the small airstrip outside of Leningrad, KGB agents were waiting to arrest them.

The sensational news spread throughout the Soviet Union, reported first by Voice of America and then by Pravda. Some Soviet Jews reacted with dread; others felt proud and emboldened. At the time, Jews in the Soviet Union numbered approximately 2.5 million. Religious practice was restricted, the teaching of Hebrew was banned, and Zionism was branded a subversive ideology. Small groups of Jews were meeting in secret to preserve what remained of their religious and national identity. Although many had begun to apply for exit visas—at risk of losing their jobs or even their friends—most were denied. The Soviet government strictly curtailed emigration in general, and by 1970 had barred Jews altogether from leaving for Israel.

The trials of the would-be hijackers were closed, although activists did what they could to follow the proceedings. Dymshits and Kuznetsov, the ringleaders, were sentenced to death. But the international outcry—protest marches were held in Paris, London, and New York, and other forms of pressure were brought to bear as well—the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev commuted their sentences to fifteen years apiece.

Yesterday,Operation Wedding, a documentary about the hijacking directed by Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov (the daughter of Kuznetsov and Sylva Zalmanson, another participant in the plot) received its New York premiere at Columbia University. In anticipation of the screening, which was arranged by my student organization, I recently interviewed Natan Sharansky, who at the time of the hijacking had been a twenty-two-year-old mathematics student in Moscow. I was curious about his recollections of this incident, which would launch his own career as the world’s most famous Soviet Jewish dissident and later “prisoner of Zion.” We spoke in Jerusalem, where since 2009 he has served as chairman of the Jewish Agency.

The thwarted hijacking, Sharansky tells me, influenced him more profoundly than any other event apart from the Six-Day War of 1967. He had been unaware of the underground Zionist movement that developed in Riga and Leningrad in the 1960s, so the deeds of Kuznetsov and his co-conspirators were his first indication that some Jews were actually fighting for any opportunity to leave for Israel and willing to take extreme risks in the attempt. His reaction, he says, was typical of countless other Soviet Jews dreaming of emigration and afraid of saying so. In a society where anyone could be a KGB informant, no reasonable person could be expected to take a chance of speaking out.

Lights Dim on Reality in the Cinema: Part I

A friend sent me a book about movies published in 2005, Movies and the Meaning of Life, edited by Kimberly A. Blessing and Paul Tudico (302 pp., including the Index). After discharging myriad other writing chores, I finally made time to read it, taking a break from my “Islamophobia, with a tentative eye to reviewing it. It is a collection of essays by college professors on the “meaning of life” as they interpret some nineteen recent – that is, modern – movies. All of the movies were produced and released in the 1990’s or later.

Modern movies that purport to dramatize the “meaning of life” – unless it’s a comedy (such as Monty Python and the Meaning of Life) — whether or not the directors or casts have a conscious, fixed idée about it, leave me cold. Many of the movies featured in Blessing’s collection I have seen. Others I have not because their subject matter repelled me or produced body-shaking yawns. Some of them I’d never heard of until now.

The nineteen movies are arranged under such topics as:

What is reality and how can I know it? (Contact,The Truman Show, Waking Life)

How can I find my true identity? (Boys Don’t Cry, Being John Mallkovich, Fight Club,Memento)

What’s the significance of my interactions with others? (Chasing Amy, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Shadowlands)

What’s the point of my life? (American Beauty,Kill Bill, Life is Beautiful, The Shawshank Redemption)

How ought I to live my life? (Groundhog Day, Minority Report, Pleasantville, Pulp Fiction, Spider-Man 1 & 2)

In large part, the essays are written from a Critical Theory standpoint, or as Post-Deconstructionist textual jigsaw puzzles. These terms have “traditionally” been applied to examining the printed word in fiction and nonfiction, but branched out into “film theory,” and their presence in these essays demonstrates that they can be applied to cinema, as well. Critical Theory, notes Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Critical Theory has a narrow and a broad meaning in philosophy and in the history of the social sciences. “Critical Theory” in the narrow sense designates several generations of German philosophers and social theorists in the Western European Marxist tradition known as the Frankfurt School…. Critical Theory when capitalized refers only to the Frankfurt School….

From Encyclopedia Britannica:

Deconstruction, form of philosophical and literary analysis, derived mainly from work begun in the 1960s by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, that questions the fundamental conceptual distinctions, or “oppositions,” in Western philosophy through a close examination of the language and logic of philosophical and literary texts. In the 1970s the term was applied to work by Derrida, Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller, and Barbara Johnson, among other scholars. In the 1980s it designated more loosely a range of radical theoretical enterprises in diverse areas of the humanities and social sciences, including—in addition to philosophy and literature—law, psychoanalysis, architecture, anthropology, theology, feminism, gay and lesbian studies, political theory, historiography, and film theory. In polemical discussions about intellectual trends of the late 20th-century,deconstruction was sometimes used pejoratively to suggest nihilism and frivolousskepticism. In popular usage the term has come to mean a critical dismantling of tradition and traditional modes of thought.

Lights Dim on Reality in the Cinema: Part II: Edward Cline

This is Part II of “Lights Dim on Reality in the Cinema ” from February 22, about the reviews of several movies in Movies and the Meaning of Life, edited by Kimberly A. Blessing and Paul Tudico (302 pp., including the Index). I chose not to create a longish column about all 19 essays by the university professors about these films. In this column I will cite just a handful of those movies and touch on their contents and what the writers said about them.

To iterate, all the essays (written by college professors) are written from a Marxist, Critical Theory or Deconstructionist standpoint. As I noted in Part I, these essays, if they are Marxist – and Marxist interpretations of any realm of art, in the printed word, in the visual arts or sculpture, or in film are written from a “sociological” point of view, as opposed to an objective, rational one – they’re automatically suspect because they are root, branch, and twig divorced from an objective, rational perspective. In short, reality is a creation of the mind, and reality can be anything one wishes to make of it, governed by one’s own personal experiences and subjective prejudices. Critical Theory and Deconstruction both work to unplug one’s mind from reality, and lure one into a critic’s universe via the hypnotic appeal of a degree holder’s “authority.”

The essays in Movies attempt to answer the questions:

What is reality and how can I know it? (Contact, The Truman Show, Waking Life)

How can I find my true identity? (Boys Don’t Cry, Being John Mallkovich, Fight Club,Memento)

What’s the significance of my interactions with others? (Chasing Amy, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Shadowlands)

What’s the point of my life? (American Beauty, Kill Bill, Life is Beautiful, The Shawshank Redemption)

How ought I to live my life? (Groundhog Day, Minority Report, Pleasantville, Pulp Fiction, Spider-Man 1 & 2)

I say attempt to answer the questions, but instead they crash into rational epistemology and metaphysics, or rather create the disastrous centrifugal force of the out-of-control the merry-go-roundat the end of “Strangers on a Train.”

The professors provide brief teasers of concrete actions in each film, and then extrapolate them into their own exercises in creating (not recreating; art being the selective recreation of reality as defined by Ayn Rand; Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments. Man’s profound need of art lies in the fact that his cognitive faculty is conceptual, i.e., that he acquires knowledge by means of abstractions, and needs the power to bring his widest metaphysical abstractions into his immediate, perceptual awareness . . .) the reality of each film’s philosophical or moral meaning. The essayists’ exercises in interpreting the “meaning of life” in any of the discussed films typically go beyond any definition of rational observation; we are only presented with their unsupportable assertions.


When we watch a documentary film, we assume that we are seeing a true story and that there will be sufficient information for us to contemplate its veracity. In this film about a former leader of Hungary’s far-right, anti-semitic, holocaust- denying Jobbik party, there are huge blocks of missing information that would have helped to put the main character in better context. Csanad Szegedi is the protagonist whose life is upended by the discovery that his grandmother is a Jewish woman who was deported to Auschwitz and bears the tattoo which she has concealed until now. Not wanting to relive the horrors that she had already experienced, she married a non-Jew and raised her daughter without any reference to Judaism. Similarly the half-Jewish daughter followed in her mother’s footsteps and never mentioned it to her son, Csanad.

When he is kicked out of his political party because even a drop of Jewish blood can contaminate a barrel of water, Csanad seeks out Rabbi Oberlander, an ultra-orthodox rabbi who undertakes the task of bringing this anti-semite back to his religion – including circumcision, putting on tefilin, davening with the congregation and speaking out about his past transgressions in an effort to atone. Here are some of the myriad questions that occurred to me:

Why didn’t Csanad remain a secular Jew? Where is the family of this seemingly middle-aged man – wife, children, brother – and how does this orthodox conversion sit with them? We meet his mother and grandmother – is he single, divorced, gay? How many Jews are there in Hungary, where do they live and what is their demographic? Is the English-speaking rabbi an American sent to Hungary by Chabad? What is the current Hungarian attitude towards Israel? Are they one of the pro-Palestinian European countries who boycott Israeli products as well as their artists, scholars and athletes? The filmmakers follow Csanad to Auschwitz because the grandmother was imprisoned there. Bobby, another woman survivor who speaks Hungarian but seems to be American tells the chilling story of children forced to climb into the toilets and use their caps to clean out the contents, then put those caps on their heads. Just ponder this plan – no comment would be sufficient to characterize its cruelty.