Best-selling author Scott Turow is best known for legal thrillers like Presumed Innocent, which was made into a movie starring Harrison Ford. His latest project is a three-part story called “Rochelle,” starring Rosanna Arquette as a divorceé who hires a call girl to break her ex’s heart. And it’s on YouTube. You can watch it on the WIGS channel, with top talent producing high quality scripted stories about women.
40th Anniversary Tribute to “The Godfather” — Archival Memorabilia
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There are two big releases in honor of the 40th anniversary of one of the most critical and popular successes in film history, The Godfather. First, coming out October 1, is The Godfather: The Official Motion Picture Archives, the definitive behind-the-scenes guide to the making of one of modern film’s greatest works from Peter Cowie, a film historian who has written extensively on the work of Francis Ford Coppola, and in particular The Godfather trilogy.
This stunning book of memorabilia and never-before-published photos takes you behind the scenes to reveal the seldom-told story of how this epic was created against great odds. Despite the critical acclaim and financial success of the venture, the initial Paramount production was made under pressure-cooker conditions. Coppola was Paramount’s third choice for director; no one wanted to gamble on an unknown actor named Al Pacino; and the studio initially wanted Robert Redford or Ryan O’Neal to play Don Corleone. This production is brought to life through previously unpublished photos of experiences on the set and on-location filming that captures the grit of 1970s New York and glimpses of deleted scenes.
Second, Paramount studios has granted permission for replicas of fifteen items of archival memorabilia, including a poster publicizing the original film, a special leaflet on the prosthetic teeth worn by Marlon Brando, and a page from Mario Puzo’s novel annotated during the writing of the screenplay.
Musician Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat are Australians who are drawn to bleak internal and external landscapes. They worked together on “The Proposition,” a western-style and very violent crime story about brothers. “Lawless” is another crime story about brothers, again very violent and, like “The Proposition,” with a bleak setting and compromised characters. This one is a true story, based on Matt Bondurant‘s book about his Prohibition-era grandfather and great uncles, who were ran illegal hooch in Franklin County, Virginia, described by writer Sherwood Anderson as “the wettest county in the world.”
“There’s a feeling around these parts that these Bondurants is indestructible,” one character says. Forrest Bondurant (a quietly powerful Tom Hardy) came back from WWI without injury and the community almost believes the legend that he cannot be stopped. That’s good for business; you might even say it is their brand. But just as in legitimate enterprise, the success of a local operation selling moonshine in mason jars attracts the interest of the competition. The big bootlegging organization out of Chicago is thinking about what one might call a very hostile takeover. The Bondurants have a good relationship with the local sheriff, who is happy looking the other way for a small piece of the action. But a federal agent named Charlie Rakes (an oily and twisted Guy Pearce) arrives and for him it is not about law, morality, or directions from his superiors. It is about power. The Bondurants are not afraid of him and that is why he wants to destroy them. Pearce, in gloves and slicked-down hair parted in the middle, is one of the best villains of the year.
Forrest is the leader and he has an unspoken understanding with his brother Howard (Jason Clarke). Indeed, a lot that goes on here is unspoken. The youngest brother, Jack (Shia LeBoeuf) wants to prove himself to his older brothers. And he wants to prove something to a pretty churchgoing girl named Bertha (Mia Wasikowska). Brash and flashier than his brothers, he has the nerve to try to make a deal with machine gun-toting Chicago hood Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) and the entrepreneurial instinct to improve and expand production and delivery. When he sees a brutal gangland slaying, his only thought is to grab a souvenir shell case. He will have a Michael Corleone moment when the violence gets closer to home. “It is not the violence that sets men apart,” Forrest says. “It is the distance he is prepared to go.” The Bondurants do not give up. It is not about the money. It is about defending their home and their right to make their own choices.
Maggie (Jessica Chastain) shows up out of the blue one day, offering her manicured hand to Forrest’s rough one and offering to work for the brothers. “The city can grind a girl down,” she tells Forrest. “Gets to a point where you start looking for somewhere quiet.”
Franklin County is far from quiet. But the noise Maggie wanted to escape was the cacophony of heartlessness she was surrounded by in the city. Everyone in this story is breaking the de jure law, but Maggie knows that the Bondurants have a core of integrity and loyalty that she can count on. And she will show that she can be counted on as well.
Strong performances and an evocative sense of time and place anchor the film and the unexpected tenderness of the romantic interludes balances the brutality. A coda provides perspective that just because someone is willing to go the distance does not mean he cannot come back home.
Parents should know that this is the true story of moonshiners during Prohibition, so the good guys are law-breakers and the police are corrupt. The movie includes extremely graphic violence with characters tortured, injured, sexually abused, and killed, strong language including a racial slur and segregation, sexual situations including prostitution, female nudity, and alcohol and smoking.
Family discussion: How were the brothers alike and how were they different? The script was written by musician Nick Cave – how does the music help tell the story?
“Possession” and the Tradition of Jewish Horror Films
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The new horror film “Possession” is a kind of Jewish version of “The Exorcist,” the story of a little girl who is possessed by an evil spirit. Like “The Exorcist,” it was inspired by a true story, and focuses on non-religious people who must bring in a member of the clergy to remove the evil spirit. “The Possession” includes a performance from reggae star and real-life Orthodox Jew Matisyahu.
The movie did not screen for critics and it is opening at the end of August, two reliable indicators that it is not very good. Tablet Magazine has a thoughtful article by J. Hoberman about how it fits into the genre of Jewish-themed horror films.
In The Possession, Matisyahu’s game performance does offer a measure of authenticity—less in Jewish than in film-historical terms. The representation of traditional Jews as exotic, uncanny others puts The Possession in the tradition of early German horror films like The Golem (1920), in which Rabbi Loew of Prague creates an ur-Frankenstein’s monster, andNosferatu (1922), in which a vampire emigrates from deepest Carpathia to Bremen, Germany. Of course, the vampire in Nosferatu isn’t explicitly Jewish, he’s more like an anti-Semitic nightmare—a lascivious, blood-sucking extravagantly hook-nosed Eastern foreigner who arrives in Germany with a plague of rats.
Indeed, 18 years later, the Nazis would characterize their anti-Semitic propaganda as something akin to horror films. In 1940, Fritz Hippler promoted his loathsome Der Ewige Jude, largely filmed in occupied Poland, as “an absolute symphony of horror and disgust,” including an “absolutely truthful” documentary of Jewish ritual slaughter “so awful” as to be inappropriate viewing for Aryan women and children. (Among other “Jewish performances,” the movie included a clip of Peter Lorre—a Jewish refugee—playing the child-murderer in Fritz Lang’s M.)
A few Jewish films produced at Universal (the Hollywood studio most identified with the horror genre) by Central European Jewish émigrés did attempt to answer the Nazi Jewish horror genre. Most notable among these was The Black Cat (1934), Edgar G. Ulmer’s supremely perverse vehicle for Universal’s top stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, released some 15 months after Hitler came to power in Germany. Taking only its title from Edgar Allen Poe, Ulmer’s movie marooned a naïve pair of American honeymooners in Europe’s heart of darkness, where they became unwitting pawns in the death struggle between a hysterical Hungarian psychiatrist (Lugosi) and a proto-Nazi, Satan-worshipping Austrian architect (Karloff) who has built his steel-and-glass deco castle on the site of World War I’s bloodiest battlefield. Despite trafficking in incest, necrophilia, human sacrifice, and sadism—not to mention a black mass with a stylized crooked cross—The Black Cat somehow got past the Production Code to become Universal’s highest-grossing release of 1934. (Then, in a career move without Hollywood precedent, Ulmer relocated to New York to make Yiddish and Ukrainian “ethnic” movies on budgets that sometimes failed to break five figures.)
Paddy Chayefsky used the dybbuk theme in his 1959 play, “The Tenth Man,” in which a young girl at a Long Island synagogue is possessed by the spirit of a woman wronged years earlier by a man in the minyan; the play was filmed for German television in 1965. The Coen brothers opened their 2009 film, “A Serious Man,” with a Yiddish prologue about a dybbuk that served as a metaphor for the moral dilemma faced by the beleaguered protagonist. And the dybbuk plot was certainly familiar to Yiddish theater- and movie-goers who saw S. Ansky’s play “The Dybbuk,” which was made into a movie in Poland in 1937. Ansky wrote his play between 1912 and 1917, after he took a journey through Eastern Europe to research local folklore and was inspired by tales of possession and exorcism.
Hoberman talks about the influence of Jews and anti-Semites in horror films from the Wolf Man to David Cronenberg. I think his most important point is that in “The Exorcist,” we are supposed to see the priests as flawed but heroic, while the Jewish clergy in “Possession” are portrayed as strange and foreign. That insight is more disturbing insight than any creepy special effects in the movie.
The Exorcist not only terrified the world at large but had a deep and sustained meaning for Catholics, observant or lapsed. A shock closer notwithstanding, Possession is highly unlikely to make a comparable impression on Jews. By objectifying Jews as exotic others rather than presenting them as subjects, the Raimi production eliminates the precise element that would have been most powerful for a Jewish audience: We are possessed by our dybbuk, however you want to allegorize it. Clyde’s anxiety and the tension within his broken home would have been immeasurably heightened if his family were confronted with a repressed aspect of their own past. The movie would have been stronger still if that were a shared heritage—Jews haunted by a lost tradition or the burden of Jewish history.