New York City on Sydney streets, June 2018

June 30, 2018

I have been monitoring how New York City is presented here in Sydney, Australia – New York is one of the great city brands that Australians relate to, along with London, Paris and – to a lesser extent San Francisco and Los Angeles. Yes, there are others that Australians love, but some keep popping up again and again.

So, New York City the city brand campaign has made it again onto Sydney streets, as seen in the image below, taken on Elizabeth Street across from Hyde Park and just outside of the David Jones department store. This is part of an official advertising campaign by NYCGO – the official New York City guide.

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Trust in US falls to historic low

June 28, 2018

The Australian trust in the United States to “act responsibly in the world” has fallen to a historic low, according to the 2018 Lowy Institute Poll, released on 20 June.

Here is an extract from the Poll, with a graphic at the bottom of this post:

Trust in countries and confidence in their leaders

A bare majority of Australians (55%) say they trust the United States to ‘act responsibly in the world’, in a six-point fall since 2017, a 28-point fall since 2011, and the lowest level of trust in the United States ever recorded in our polling.

Australians’ highest level of trust among the eight nations polled is placed in the United Kingdom (trusted by 90%). Japan is trusted by 87% of Australians, and France by 84%. Trust in India (59%) is ahead of the United States (55%), followed closely by China (52%). Just 28% trust Russia, and 8% trust North Korea.

Only 30% of Australians have either ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ confidence in Donald Trump ‘to do the right thing regarding world affairs’. This places Trump ahead of only Russia’s Vladimir Putin (19%) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (5%) among the nine leaders ranked.The leaders Australians regard with the most confidence are the UK’s Theresa May (68%) and Japan’s Shinzo Abe (66%). Next is Malcolm Turnbull (63%), and France’s Emmanuel Macron has the confidence of 61%. Eighteen points behind is China’s Xi Jinping (43%), followed by India’s Narendra Modi (37%).

Commentary:

“The Poll figures suggest, therefore, that the Trump presidency is a negative for Australia–US relations. A politically stupid choice as the next US Ambassador to Australia would not be good for public confidence in the relationship, and a potential unwanted political headache for the Turnbull government,” writes Geoff Kitney.


Film review of Foxtrot

June 22, 2018

(This film review of “Foxtrot” appeared in the Australian Jewish News paper on 21 June 2018, and online on 27 June 2018.)

Written and directed by Samuel Maoz; starring Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonathan Shiray, Shira Haas, Yehuda Almagor and Karin Ugowski.

The new film Foxtrot belongs to the long list of eminent Israeli films that attempt to respond the country’s continuing cycle of war and conflict. The name foxtrot provides writer/director Samuel Maoz (Lebanon) with both a recurring theme as well as a metaphor for Israeli security and life. As a formal dance, the foxtrot’s four steps continue to rotate around a simple square, always returning to the same place.

The action in Foxtrot fits neatly into a variation of the classic three act film structure. The first third opens with the arrival of soldiers to the trendy, geometric grey-accented flat of architect Michael Feldmann (Lior Ashkenazi, from Footnote and Norman) and Dafna Feldmann (Sarah Adler, from Jellyfish). They come bearing news of every Israeli parent’s nightmare: their son Jonathan has been killed serving at a checkpoint in the north. What follows is a painful filmic study of extreme grief and anguish. Dafna faints, but the soldiers have come prepared with drugs they administer and put her to bed. Michael is struck dumb, wordless and barely moving. He and his brother Avigdor (Yehuda Almagor) are both irritated by the presence of an army rabbi – they are atheists – who tells Michael not to carry the coffin at the funeral because he will need to support his wife. As men must. But Michael, the son of a German Holocaust survivor who has dementia, is pursued by his own demons from his own army service, and is anything but the strong silent type he at first appears.

The second act moves to an isolated mud-bound army checkpoint, where four soldiers – including son Jonathan (Yonathan Shiray, who played the teenage Amos Oz in A Tale of Love and Darkness) – listlessly pass the time, checking the papers of the occasional passing car, working out of a leaking water tower and sleeping in a sinking shipping container. This chapter presents as a classic absurdist and surreal black comedy tinged with both melancholy and tragedy, typified by the periodic arrival of a lone camel galloping along the road – the most frequent promotional image for the film (see image below).

The final third of the film returns to the Feldman apartment, where Michael and Dafna’s marriage appears to be breaking down. Virginia Wolff style, we watch them slowly reveal their relationship’s anger, stresses and blame – a true tour de force of two-handed acting.

There is a devastating revelation (no spoilers here) towards the end of the first act that re-sets the film’s tone but does nothing to erase its pervading unease. Foxtrot is uncomfortable to watch, and many – particularly those who have lost loved ones in security conflicts – are likely to find the scenes of anguish and grief to be extremely painful. Foxtrot is not a film to love, but one to admire, for its filmic artistry, its formalism, its strong performances and the control that writer/director Maoz exerts over every frame. The production design is simple but effective, and inclusions such as animations are evocative and powerful. Foxtrot won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival and eight “Ophir” Israeli film awards, including best picture, director, actor and cinematography. While well-received by international critics (almost 100% positive on Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator), the film has been the subject of trenchant criticism by Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev and others for its unrealistic portrayal of IDF actions.

Foxtrot premiered in Sydney at the Sydney Film Festival earlier this month and opened in Australian cinemas on 21 June 2018.