Video film review of Amos Oz film

April 29, 2010

My first video review for the Australian Jewish News has now been released:  of the new documentary (being released in Australia today – April 29) about the famed Israeli author Amos Oz entitled Amos Oz:  The Nature of Dreams.

I have been a fan of the great Israeli writer Amos Oz ever since reading his early novels Elsewhere, Perhaps and My Michael.  His extended autobiography A Tale of Love and Darkness has now been adapted to a documentary film which is being released in Australian cinemas, following its Australian premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2009.

This is no straight adaptation of Oz’s extraordinary 500-plus page book, but instead a selection and illustration of key points, following Amos Oz over the course of a two-year period.  With the mellifluous-voiced Oz himself providing much of the narration, the film has a delicacy and poetry which is frequently moving.

Aside from Amos Oz, the film also features American novelist Paul Auster, South African Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer, Salman Rushie and others.  This film – by Israelis Yasha and Jonathan Zur – has immediately become one of the finest film portraits of a contemporary Jewish writer.

You can watch my review on YouTube here:


German Film Festival article

April 29, 2010

My review article on the German Film Festival in Australia – playing until early May – is available online on the Australian Jewish News website.


New film about Anna Halprin

April 25, 2010

The New York Times reports on April 23 that there is a new documentary about the dancer Anna Halprin.  Called “Breath Made Visible”, this 80 minute doco has just opened theatrically at the Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street in Manhattan.

Anna Halprin is the widow of the late Lawrence Halprin, a famous Marin County landscape architect whose passing I reported on December 9, 2009.  I had taken an intensive workshop with Lawrence Halprin (at Sea Ranch and in San Francisco) in November 1977 (and did another one with him in Sydney in 1981 or thereabouts), and I recall from that workshop how much Anna had influenced his work.

The New York Times has a great online trailer, which includes samples of some of the astonishing footage in the well-made documentary.


Let me count the different prices for David Remnick’s ‘The Bridge’

April 16, 2010

Peter Osnos is an experienced journalist who writes a fascinating monthly column called “The Platform” on journalism and the media for the Century Foundation.  His most recent article (14 April 2010) is entitled “Bonanza for Book Buyers”, and reports on all of the diverse ways that people can now obtain a copy of a new book – using the example of The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama by David Remnick (editor of The New Yorker).

Here is an extract from his article:

Last week, Alfred A. Knopf published The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama by David Remnick. Here are the ways you can buy it: The hardcover list price is $29.95 and the CD audio lists at $50. But that is barely the beginning. Amazon sells the printed book for $16.47, the Kindle e-book version for $14.82, the audio CD for $31.50, and the downloadable audio for $34.12. B&N.com has a “member” price for the hardcover of $15.52 and the CD for $36.  At Borders.com, the book is $17.97.  The Sony Reader e-book is $14.50.  A mid-Manhattan Barnes and Noble sells the hardcover at full price. At a nearby Borders, it is discounted to $21, and at Just Books in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, the book is sold at list. Audios there are a “special order.” The new iPad app iBooks doesn’t offer an e-book because Random House, of which Knopf is an imprint, has yet to reach agreement with Apple on terms for sale on its device. But you can get the Kindle edition on an iPad app.

By now you should be persuaded that there are many options and multiple formats.

In key respects, the release of The Bridge has followed a time-honored pattern. It has received admiring reviews in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Time, and the Economist, among those I read. The combination of its subject and Remnick’s stature as editor of the New Yorker and author of previously successful books pretty much guarantees a bestseller. Based on its Amazon ranking in the top tier of new titles, initial book sales are strong. But what is distinctive in this publishing story is that the competition for readers is so much more about choices and platforms than it ever was.

I have long been aware that the price of a book is no longer simply “the price” – if you know what I mean.  Amongst other things, Amazon has changed the nature of bookselling not only in the USA, but worldwide, including here in Australia.  (The rumour is that Amazon is in fact the biggest bookseller in Australia; even ten years ago reportedly it sent 250,000 packages per week here.)

Here is  the situation in Australia, based on my short research on the cost (and availability) of The Bridge:

–          Borders (Australia) offers the hardcover at A$52.95 (with free delivery if ordered online).

–          You can order it from Amazon at Aust$18.36 plus shipping to Australia of A$11.12 shipping and handling for a total of Aus$29.48.

–          Booktopia (Australian online bookseller, based in Sydney) offers the hardcover book for $40.50 (free for pickup in Lane Cove West, in Sydney) or with $6.50 shipping – thus total $40.50 or $47.00 with shipping and the CD for $63.50.

–          Readings (a variety of Melbourne locations) $31.90 trade paperback edition available 1 May.

–          Angus and Robertson has it listed at $44.95 for the hardcover.

–          Dymocks is selling the hardcover for $41.95 plus shipping of $5.50.

–          Gleebooks (Sydney) offers a paperback edition for $39.99 available May.

–          Abbeys Books (Sydney) lists it for $39.99 paperback edition available May.

–          Co-op bookshop lists it for $39.99 paperback edition (presumably minus 10% discount for Co-op members).

–          The Nile online bookshop offers the hardcover for $48.99 plus shipping.

And the winner (or, rather, cheapest) of them all?  The Book Depository, out of the UK:  Aus$26.71 (free shipping), almost $3 less than Amazon.  Don’t believe me?  Go to http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9781400043606/The-Bridge to see for yourself.

Of course, I am not the only person to notice this.  A July 14, 2009 article by Michael R. James entitled “Parallel This:  Top Ten Book Prices Compared” on Crikey.com, did an extensive analysis of best-sellers.  He too noted The Book Depository was usually the cheapest of them all.

And if you would like a good listing of Australian booksellers, go to http://www.aussieeducator.org.au/reference/books/booksellers.html


New report on Crikey’s health blog ‘Croakey’

April 14, 2010

The Rural Health Education Foundation – of which I am the CEO – has a  simultaneous live webcast and satellite broadcast of an important Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health program entitled Sharing Solutions: Indigenous Communities Tackling Chronic Disease (live at 8.00pm Sydney time on Tuesday 27th April).  This program is featured in a report which I have contributed (entitled “Some good news in Indigenous health”) to the Australian current affairs website Crikey’s health “blog”, which is called “Croakey”.

I have also accepted an invitation from Crikey to be a member of the Crikey Health and Medical Panel (known as “CHAMP”).  Established in 2000, Crikey is a daily Australian electronic bulletin (with a readership of about 30,000) aimed at providing independent news.  CHAMP was established to enhance public debate about health, to encourage public health advocates to engage in debate, and to help the media to identify public health advocates and issues as sources for articles.


The Passion of the Christ six years on

April 13, 2010

My article entitled “The Passion of the Christ Six Years On:  What Happened?”  has just been published in Metro magazine, issue 164, April 2010 (from the Australian Teachers of Media).  The table of contents of the issue can be seen here (note 1.3 mg PDF file).  The article is not available online, but I reproduce the first and the last paragraphs of the article below:

Opening on 25 February 2004, Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ confounded numerous critics and observers by becoming one of the most successful films of all time, particularly in the USA.  The film also arrived with enormous controversy about its antisemitic portrayals and excessive violence, and resulted in an extraordinary media storm.  Almost six years on, what has happened?  Why was the film not as successful in Australia as in the USA?  Were fears that the film would encourage a rise in antisemitism justified?  Does Hollywood provide more films for the Christian audience who embraced The Passion?  Where has the audience gone?

The Passion of the Christ defined a certain ‘cultural moment’ as a result of its impact, not only in the USA but around the world.  In cinematic terms, this moment was significant, and the film remains one of the most notable film events of the first decade of the twenty-first century.  Although that moment was significant, the ongoing impacts do not appear to have lived up to the same promise.  The Passion was very much a film of its particular point in time – the year 2004.  But within two years, enough social, political and cultural change had occurred to reduce that impact.  A continued shift in American politics – culminating with the November 2008 election of a liberal Democratic President, Barack Obama – was only part of this movement.


Film review of The Rebound

April 10, 2010

My review of the film The Rebound was published in the Australian Jewish News on April 1, 2010, and has just been put online.  Click here to see the online version on the Jewish News website.  I reprint the review below:

Directed and written by Bart Freundlich

Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Justin Bartha, Art Garfunkle & Joanna Gleason

The new movie “The Rebound” has slipped – not exactly bounded – into Australian cinemas, and adds to the ever-growing filmography of American Jewish guys going out with non-Jewish women.  This one, however, has a twist:  the main theme is “inter-generational” dating, as the young Jewish hero – Aram Finklestein (played by Jewish actor Justin Bartha, from “The Hangover”) – is an uncommitted 25 year-old, who meets and falls in love with the 40 year-old Sandy (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a separated suburban mother with two exceedingly cute and adorable kids.  Both Aram and Sandy are on the “the rebound” – Aram from his disastrous early marriage to a stunning French woman who used him to get her Green Card (U.S. residency) and Sandy from her philandering husband (played by Jewish actor Sam Robards, the son of Lauren Bacall and Jason Robards).

When Sandy rents the flat above the Manhattan coffee shop where Aram works, soon he is baby-sitting for her, then becomes the full-time nanny, and then the full-time relationship:  despite the disapproval of his “very Jewish” Upper West Side parents, capably played by Jewish actor/entertainers Joanna Gleason and Art Garfunkle.  Gleason has one of those familiar faces that you recall but can’t quite place:  she has played Jewish roles in a number of Woody Allen films and had a major recurring role in “The West Wing” television series.  And yes, it’s that Art Garfunkle, the other half of “Simon and”, in his biggest film role since “Carnal Knowledge” in 1971.

Jewish writer/director Bart Freundlich is a direct filmic descendant from Woody Allen, whose New York Jewish romantic comedies covered so much territory that younger Jewish film-makers have a hard time making up stories that have not been covered already.  At least this one is new:  Allen’s fascination was invariably for younger (rather than older) women.  But like Allen, Freundlich places his film firmly in the secular, intellectual New York Jewish milieu that he lives in with his (non-Jewish) actress wife Julianne Moore, who is ten years older than him.   Autobiographical?  Surely it must be.  In many ways, “The Rebound” is a follow-up to Freundlich’s pleasant 2006 romantic comedy “Trust the Man” (which starred both Moore and Bartha).

Freundlich does a capable job of directing his (virtually all-Jewish) cast, and has some truly great scenes:  Sandy’s extraordinary date with a chiropractor is certainly one of the funniest movie scenes this year.  Sandy’s meeting with Aram – when he plays the “perp” (perpetrator), wrapped up in a padded suit – at a women’s self-defence class had the potential to become a classic, but missed somehow.

“The Rebound” is like that:  a great cast with not quite enough to do to make this film fully emotionally satisfying.  Zeta-Jones is thoroughly watchable on-screen, an almost too-perfect beauty; how can anyone have such features without any flaws?  Bartha is an actor “on the road” to stardom:  watch for his next roles in “Hangover Two” and in the soon-to-be-released “Holy Rollers”, about Israeli drug syndicates.  His innocent Aram combines boyish enthusiasm with the not-yet adult responsibility and gives the role more depth than Freundlich may have written.  Despite its flaws, I found the film’s final fifteen minutes (which I won’t reveal; no plot spoilers here) to be unusually rewarding.  They cover some five years of Aram’s life in particular and almost wordlessly tell a story of maturation and development.  If the rest of the film had reached that level of insight and story-telling, “The Rebound” might have become a mini-classic of twentysomething emotional growth.