Monday Morning at the Movies – The Bookshop

I confess. I went to the movies on a Monday morning.

The Jerusalem Cinemateque is the home of several film festivals and is a place for movie lovers to gather and enjoy film. One of the major differences between the Cinemateque and a regular movie theater is that you will be shushed and chastised if you don’t observe proper movie-watching etiquette (they only recently allowed food in the theaters!).

You can buy a yearly membership and go to as many movies as you like throughout the year and get discounts on festival entrance fees. They have lectures and special screenings. Once I saw a new John Turturro movie followed by a Q&A with John Turturro. They screened The Karate Kid on a big screen on the lawn. I sat through all three Matrix movies in one night (ok, that was a mistake on my part)

This summer, on Monday mornings, they are screening several different movies and this week was The Bookshop. It was 10 NIS and I had missed the last showings at other theaters. It just so happened that I could arrange my schedule that morning, so at 11am I was in the theater.

The Bookshop stars Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, and Patricia Clarkson, and is rather gray and melancholy. It’s well-cast, well-acted, and well-done. But if you are not in the right mood, you won’t appreciate the small village Britishness of it.

Short review: Cautious thumbs up. Be in the right mood.

Long review: Below the trailer. Some spoilers.

 

“It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it.”

Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) 2:21

A British movie in the middle of the day brought out many British people and a variety of other English-speakers. The theater was surprisingly full. I heard English from all corners. But the interesting thing was that after the movie, it was the Hebrew-speakers congregating in the foyer to discuss the film.

“Such courage!”

“How could she stand up against the whole town?”

The grande dame of the village was a horrible, petty woman. She decided that there would be no bookstore in that old house and that was it. A younger woman decides to stand up for her right to have a bookstore. And the widower on the hill who rarely steps out of his house is re-inspired.

All the makings of a Hollywood Hero’s Journey. And this movie is definitely not that.

And yet.

I was reminded of the line from Ethics of the Fathers. Emily Mortimer’s character begins the work. She decides to try to open the closed minds of the villagers. Cue Sisyphus.

And it is the child who carries on the work – I won’t give away the ending (you probably won’t guess the final act).

From there to here, we see a lot of the dirty underbelly of an English village: gossip, us versus you, the smile to your face while stabbing you in the back, and power plays.

Like the Hero’s Journey, this too is a universal story, except that it’s not one that we like to tell; it’s a little too close to real life, and frankly, it’s sad. But that’s why that last moment in the film reminds you that you have to start the task even if you don’t finish it in your lifetime. Someone else will continue it in the next generation.

I’m a huge Anglophile and I love all the actors. I’m glad I saw it. But this is not a movie for everyone.

Friday Night at the Movies – Crazy Rich Asians

Given my earlier post, nobody should have been surprised that I went to go see Crazy Rich Asians at my first opportunity.

I love to go to the movies in Jerusalem on Friday nights. The timing has to be just right in order to get as few people in the theater as possible. If the movie screens over sunset, all the people who keep Shabbat won’t be there. The secular people who wouldn’t miss Shabbat dinner with their families are also at home; they’ll head out around 10pm for evening entertainment. So I check to find the movie that’s been playing for a while and is playing right at sunset. Result: Nearly private screening! Crazy Rich Asians just came out, so there was a “crowd” of about 40 people in a 300-seat theater.

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Friday night at the movies in Jerusalem, 9pm

Short review: Two thumbs up! Go see it! Here’s the trailer.

Long review: Below the trailer. Spoilers abound!

As an avid Korean drama fan (let’s not go so far as to say addict; I never binge watch, I marathon watch, so I feel I’ve accomplished something…), I was ready for this film. Or at least I thought I was. So many of the deeper nuances were lost on me. Plus, Asia is a big place. These Crazy Rich Asians aren’t Korean.

If you want to dip your toe into the K-drama (or Chinese drama or Taiwan drama) world, this movie is a good place to start. This is a 16 to 20 episode rom-com crushed into a 2-hour movie. And it has a lot of the tropes.

  • Independent girl – succeeds on her own merits
  • Semi-clueless boy – master of industry probably, but has been in his isolated world
  • Future mother-in-law hates the girl
  • Catty girls trying to tear down the independent girl
  • Birth secrets
  • Pointless shower scenes to provide “fan service” for the ladies
  • Everything is over the top
  • Independent girl wins and brings everyone up with her (We are all Independent Girl!)

The future mother-in-law is brilliantly played, but in comparison to K-dramas, this lady is a marshmallow. She has one great scene and then they have to move on. If she had taken a note from a K-drama mama, the viciousness and intrigues to get rid of this girl would have gone on for a few episodes (may I suggest Secret Garden or Boys over Flowers? Or in Chinese, Meteor Garden 2018). But this is also a Hollywood movie, we wouldn’t see as much of the deeper conflict between getting what you want (love) and family loyalty and honoring elders. Our clueless guy has spent too much time in New York and is ready to give up his family in a second (so he says).

A huge gutted fish in someone’s bed does send a message, even if you don’t write nasty comments using fish blood on the windows. Yeah, I’d have to say the catty girls tormenting our heroine were K-drama level.

Think of the most over-the-top wedding you’ve ever been too. Did they flood the church to create a mermaid-themed wedding with everything glittering and each person waving a lit flower while standing in what appears to be tall reeds? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Had it been another genre, flooding the wedding would have been the start of the tsunami plot line.

It was fun to watch and I enjoyed every minute. But I missed stuff.

At the beginning of the movie, we see our heroine playing cards. Her opponent has 2 pair. Even if you are not a poker player per se, you might have enough cultural knowledge to know that this is a good hand. At the end, we have a mahjong scene between our heroine and the future mother-in-law. The point isn’t the game, but the symbols in the game are obviously important to the scene. We understand that our heroine thinks really hard and lays down a tile that’s good for the future mother-in-law’s hand and it seems that m-i-l wins, but then our heroine shows her tiles. She gets up from the table and leaves with her own mom. Future mother-in-law is left at the table with an expression of acknowledgement? Respect? But what are the symbols within the game? Think how much more interesting the scene would be if you have cultural context. Luckily, my friend SHC is an excellent resource and sent me a great article all about that scene!

This morning I was scrolling through Instagram (the algorithm seems to think I have an interest in Asia, I wonder why that is?) and I found a letter that the director of Crazy Rich Asians wrote to Coldplay for use of their song. When I was watching the movie, I heard the song and enjoyed the fact that it was a cover sung in Mandarin. The song, of course, is “Yellow.” That’s nice, I thought. But I didn’t understand until I read the post this morning that: The. Song. Is. Called. “Yel-low.” Wow. I can be so dense sometimes.

Not a translation of “Yellow,” but lovely nonetheless

On my path to global citizenship, there is one thing I know for sure: I know nothing. But acknowledging it is a fine place to start.

In the meantime, go see Crazy Rich Asians and watch a few K-dramas while you’re at it.

Hamlet in the Park

It all started with Richard III for me. I was mesmerized. My expectations for the show weren’t very high because it’s English-language theater in Jerusalem. It’s not like we have Broadway-caliber actors living here with nothing to do in August. But then there he was. It was as if there was a light shining on King Richard and nobody else in the play mattered.

I think the vernacular here is: Squee! Fangirling!

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Anyway, I haven’t seen that guy in any other play, but I think I’ve seen him around town and there’s a part of me that wants to point and scream “Richard III!!!” Thankfully, I’m able to stop myself in time.

So every August, I go back to the park to see whatever Shakespeare play is on hoping for the same experience.

Sometimes it’s a hit. Sometimes it’s a miss. This year Hamlet was a hit (I mean, it’s no Richard III, but it was good).

It’s a uniquely Jerusalem experience, I think. The majority of the audience tends to be religious Anglos (by which I mean any variety of English-speaker). Lots of kippas, lots of covered hair, many children, lots of older people. But you also get teens (of many language groups) looking for free entertainment.* Sometimes the audience is great; sometimes the audience leaves a lot to be desired.

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I sat down first, but this lady decided that she needed to be closer and block my view.

On the plus side, we get up and move around the park, so at the next stop, you know already who to avoid.

I have to admire the guy playing Hamlet. It’s beyond theater-in-the-round; he has to act unselfconsciously crazy in the middle of the audience.

IMG_20180816_181521    IMG_20180816_182737The featured players are always a lot of fun!

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This year, I got a very good performance and a good audience (mostly), and I finished up the evening at my favorite restaurant.

slow clap

*Free, with a suggested donation. I always buy a T-shirt because I like to support community theater.  http://theaterintherough.co.il/

 

5 things that happened in Israel recently that maybe you didn’t hear about

  1. Guatemala opened its embassy in Jerusalem
  2. Paraguay opened its embassy in Jerusalem
    Hardly a blip on the international radar. I wonder why that is.thinker-28741_1280
  3. Argentina canceled its pre-World Cup friendly match in Jerusalem. This one is complicated because there are unconfirmed stories everywhere. There seems to be agreement that protesters were encouraged to wave Messi jerseys smeared with fake blood. It’s been said that Messi and his family were threatened. Some are reporting that the cancellation is because the game was moved from Haifa to Jerusalem. The BBC, linked here, says it’s because of the Gaza violence (which no one has said except the BBC).
  4. Speaking of Gaza, I haven’t seen very much about Hamas’s incendiary kites. These are not the Mary Poppins version of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”; these are kites flown over the border to cause fires. So far a nature reserve has been damaged and 6,200 acres of agricultural land has been destroyed. (One wonders why somebody who wants to move back into a house he says is his would set it on fire.)
  5. But I’m gonna end on a high note. A quarter of a million people (250,000) came to Tel Aviv to participate in the 20th annual Gay Pride March. It’s one of the largest marches in the world. Jews, Arabs, Israelis, and foreigners. Even the British Embassy had a float – the only diplomatic mission participating in the parade! See video here, more pictures here.

There may be those who would say that Tel Aviv is cold-hearted for celebrating Gay Pride while there’s violence in Gaza and fields are on fire in the south.

I say screw ‘em: In Israel, we value life and we celebrate it at every opportunity. As human beings we have a right to laugh, to love, and to be joyful. But more than that, we have a right to live, to exist. We will not be broken by fear or swirl into the abyss of sorrow.

The glass, my friends, is half full!

It wouldn’t be Gay Pride without Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame reminding us that life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.

Jerusalem scenes

Sunday, May 13, is Jerusalem Day marking 51 years since the city was reunified.  When I lived in the center of town, I could look over my balcony and enjoy the parade marching by.

Now that I’ve moved, I see a different Jerusalem, the one that real people live in day to day, not the one that is on the news or the politically charged one on the internet.

***

Cat-astrophe

Last week I didn’t write because I had a cat situation. Long story short: my vet makes house calls and came to my apartment at 2am. It was his last call of the day. He ended up doing oral surgery on my cat on the coffee table.

Sport disco

I returned home on Wednesday (aka the day after Trump announced he was pulling the US out of the Iran deal) to hear my neighbor getting psyched up for the Beitar Jerusalem soccer match that night. His method? Opening his window, placing the speaker on the ledge, and turning it up to 11 to play songs like this:

 

Ani ohev otach Betar – I love you Beitar!

He played other songs in a similar style. (Mizrachi music will have to get a separate blog post as I learn more. Though to be honest I closed all my windows to try to shut it out, but it didn’t help.)

Beitar Jerusalem publicity video (Is that music from Gladiator in the background?)

Later in the evening, I heard cheering from Teddy Stadium. I don’t live that close to the stadium, or at least I didn’t think I did. I’m not sure what was being cheered since Beitar lost to Haifa in a shocking upset (so say the news articles).

And Bruce Lee too?

As part of the International Writer’s Festival this week in Jerusalem, one of the writers was asked to speak and choose a movie that was meaningful to him. He chose Enter the Dragon. Before the film, he had a conversation with an Israeli writer and it was interesting – although not exactly what I had expected.

Enter the Dragon trailer

Anyway, try to imagine who might have been in the audience at a 9pm screening. Is your first thought little old ladies who bring snacks in small noisy bags?  One sat behind me making comments in Hebrew during the English conversation (loud enough to be heard on the stage) and then gasped and oohed and ahed during the movie. At some point her companion told her to be quiet because people were giving her looks. The guy sitting in front of me who had a bird’s nest hairstyle took his shoes off and put his feet on the seats in front. The rest of the audience seemed more or less normal from my observational post, but interestingly, it seemed that there were more women than men or perhaps more accurately, there were not as many men as I would have expected.

Sure, we heard news this week about attacks on Iranian targets in Syria. I saw that the door to the bomb shelter in my local park was open.

And yet.

People live here. They don’t cower in fear and pause their lives (unless they absolutely have to) here.

Next Sunday, Jerusalem will celebrate its reunification and the people of Jerusalem will dance in the streets because we choose life and freedom (and American Israelis will call their mothers. Happy Mother’s Day!).

And the day after that, Monday, May 14, we’ll open the US Embassy in Jerusalem. That should be exciting!

Flash flood

Lots of stuff happened in the world this week, but the top story in Israel was the loss of 10 young people (9 girls and a boy) who were swept away in a flash flood in the Judean Desert.

When I read the names and locations, it seemed that they were from all over Israel – places I’d heard of, places I hadn’t heard of. It’s always hard to wrap your head around the idea that all the kids belong to everyone, but this is a case where I think it’s entirely true. All of these kids touched people in their communities and were together on a bonding trip before their pre-army academy.

The nation has responded for “our children.” The kids drowned on Wednesday and by Friday, the head of the academy and a teacher were arrested.

Flash floods are serious in Israel. The rain falls hard and fast in Jerusalem. A short time later all the water is gushing down wadis and into the Dead Sea.

***

On Wednesday afternoon, I hopped on a bus to get home and within 30 seconds, the skies opened up and the rain started pounding. A few minutes later it was hailing.

By the time we got to Emek Refaim (it’s a valley and a water tends to back up), traffic slowed down because people weren’t sure if their cars could get through the puddles. All of us on the bus were, for the moment, enjoying the scene. We were dry and we didn’t have to drive.

My street is just slightly above the valley, so armed with the umbrella I knew to bring with me in the morning, I thought I’d get home relatively dryish. Nope.

The lower part of the street had water coming up past the rims on cars’ hubcaps. I got off the bus here and had to fight rain and ford puddles like they were rivers. I was WET.

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The source of the river was right here. I was getting too wet, so I put my camera away and just did my best to get home. The rest of the night was spent counting the seconds between the lightning and thunder.

***

These pictures were taken after 20-30 minutes of torrential rain in the city. Multiply this water, funnel it into a narrow canyon, and send it speeding down the mountain. And that’s a flash flood.

And for those 10 that were lost this week, may their memories be a blessing to all who knew them.

Marathon!

I’m extremely busy with my work projects and I was going to just go on hiatus this week.

And then –

Jerusalem Marathon!

It’s my favorite day of the year! I love the fact that the city shuts down for fun things. There were 35,000 people who came from all around the world to run up and down the hills of Jerusalem in what is considered to be one of the hardest marathons in the world.

This year the Jaffa Gate station was a bit more tame than previous years, but it’s still so inspiring to see people pushing themselves onward and striving to be just a little better than they were before.

Here is a 4-minute video from the Jaffa Gate observation station. Enjoy!