Tag Archive | Israel

Movie Review: Jeruzalem

Jeruzalem Movie Poster

Did you know that here on earth there are three gates to hell: one in the desert, one in the ocean, and one in Jerusalem? I had no idea, and I’m betting that Israel’s tourism board wants to keep that nugget of information on the down low; because it would surely be bad for business if word got out.

Unfortunately, no one tipped off Sarah and Rachel, two young American tourists on their way to a carefree vacation in Tel Aviv, who instead get a one-way ticket to the End Times in Jeruzalem, a new independent film directed by Israeli brothers Yoav and Doron Paz.

Jeruzalem Rachel Sarah Selfie
Rachel (Yael Grobglas) and Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn) Pose for One Last Selfie before Departing to Jeruzalem

On the flight over, the girls meet a sexy and charismatic anthropologist named Kevin (Yon Tumarkin) who convinces them to take a detour to the old city of Jerusalem for some historical sightseeing before continuing on to the serious partying in Tel Aviv. Sarah and Kevin hit it off, and Jerusalem is seemingly filled with all kinds of hot guys for Rachel to flirt with, so it’s kind of a no brainer. They plan to stay only 48 hours, but their second night in Jerusalem happens to be Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and that is when all hell, literally, breaks loose.

Jeruzalem Escape

While Sarah, Rachel, Kevin and new friends from the hostel where they’ve been staying make a frantic attempt to escape the walled city, it’s equally frightening to imagine that the Apocalypse will be documented via Google Glass, which, as worn by Sarah, serves as the first person-perspective from which the entire movie is shot (be forewarned that if shaky, hand-held camera movements make you nauseous, you might want to drop a Dramamine before the film even starts).

It’s somewhat distracting at first, especially when Sarah does one of her many face-plants while running after, or from, something, but the device serves to further the narrative in interesting ways; providing facial recognition, maps, Wikipedia entries, music videos, social media and panicked Skype calls from Sarah’s concerned Dad, which all get tossed into the mix.

I really don’t want to spoil anything except to offer that Jeruzalem features truly mind-bending moments of psychological terror (the scene where Sarah searches frantically for Kevin in a derelict mental institution is particularly unnerving), and more than a few instances where smart people inexplicably decline to run away when confronted with nightmarish physical horror, such as menacing giants and undead Monsters with Wings.

If you liked Cloverfield, you’ll love Jeruzalem.

Grade: B+

Jeruzalem opens at NYC’s Cinema Village on January 22, 2016, when it will also be available on VOD. Rated: R, Runtime: 94 minutes.

Israel’s Take On The Office Premiers at the Other Israel Film Festival

With NBC’s wildly popular sitcom, The Office, now in its eighth season, only those living under rocks would deny that what started out as a two season, twelve episode series on the BBC has become one of the most successful sitcom franchises in TV history. The Office has been adapted for TV in France, Brazil and Russia, and last year, Israel also got into the act. HaMisrad (Hebrew for “The Office”) wrapped its first season in November 2010, and a second season is currently in production, but American audiences got a chance to see this hilarious show for the first time when it debuted this past weekend as part of the 5th Annual Other Israel Film Festival (running November 10-17) with a screening at NYC’s Cinema Village Theater on East 12th Street.

With its characters based more directly on the original BBC series (created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant) rather than the long-running American spin off, HaMisrad lampoons office culture while presenting a microcosm of Israeli society. The humor derives from everyone’s ability make the viewing audience as uncomfortable as possible with situations involving extreme political incorrectness, gender bias and ethnic prejudices. Being a huge fan of both the UK and US versions, I didn’t really know what to expect walking in, but the excellent acting, great comic timing and spot-on dialogue quickly won me over and kept everyone in the theater laughing their heads off despite us having to read English subtitles! HaMisrad is written by Uzi Weill and directed by Eitan Tzur, both Israeli television veterans who previously worked together writing and directing the Israeli drama series that was later adapted by HBO as In Treatment. As with other versions of The Office, HaMisrad involves life at a paper / office supply sales company and is staged as a Mockumentary.

The series stars actor Dvir Benedek as Avi Meshulam, the branch’s regional manager; a character based heavily on David Brent in the original series (played by Ricky Gervais). Avi is overweight, sexist and completely clueless about the fact that his employees jokingly refer to him as Ahmadinejad behind his back. Benedek, a fantastic comic actor, is excellent in the role. Since readers of this review are likely more familiar with the American Office than the BBC series, I’ll cite the names of American characters for comparison in referring to the series cast of characters.

Maayan Blum plays Yariv Shauli (Dwight Schrute) – Assistant to the Regional Manager. He is a proud veteran of what he refers to as a secret branch of the Israeli Army, is extremely loyal to Avi and tries hard to maintain office discipline. Yossi (Jim, played by Eldad Fribas) is the Senior Sales Representative, who has a crush on the Office Receptionist, Dana (Pam), a frustrated artist who’s unhappily engaged to the Warehouse Forman.  Avi’s Russian immigrant Boss is Yelena (based on Jan Levinson, played by Helena Yaralova). One of the more interesting, multi-faceted characters is Abed (Jamil Khoury, comparable to Oscar) a gay Israeli Arab Sales representative who is assimilated into Israeli society but feels alienated from his co-workers. The audience at Cinema Village got see two episodes of HaMisrad and both were consistently very, very funny despite a couple of jokes where the humor failed to directly translate due to cultural dissimilarities.

In Episode 7, Yariv finds out that Abed is gay when he sees him making out with his boyfriend in a parked car. Abed begs Yariv for his discretion but then preemptively tells the entire office, and introduces his boyfriend. The officemates, who don’t seem to be shocked at all, can only think to ask who in the relationship – Abed or his partner – is responsible for making the hummus (“Whoever is the more feminine should make the hummus”).  Also in this episode, Avi is burdened with firing one member of the office staff and is pressured by Yelena to fire his new secretary, who then accuses him (deservedly) of sexual harassment. Avi then wrongly accuses her of leaking equipment sales prices to a competitor, which leads to her wrongful termination, without any negative consequences for Avi save for a slight reprimand from Yelena.

In Episode 12, Avi, who fancies himself a motivational speaker, gets an after-hours gig presenting at a seminar and enlists Dana as his assistant (read: pack mule) for the trip. When Dana insists on some kind of remuneration, Avi repeatedly jokes that he is paying her so much to assist him for the evening that he might as well be paying a prostitute for sexual favors. At the seminar, where two other presenters are also named Avi, he gives a rambling talk that completely bewilders his audience and then ends his presentation by playing a tape of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” before leaving the room and then re-entering for dramatic effect. This episode also included hilarious physical comedy involving Avi’s jeans fitting way too tight for his bulky frame.

Immediately after the screening, director Eitan Tzur participated in a brief Q&A with the audience where he addressed the Comedy and Social Politics involved in producing the series, which airs on Satellite TV in Israel. When asked if the extremely un-PC and often somewhat blunt sexual dialogue would be acceptable on Israel’s version of Network TV, he revealed that while a Satellite broadcast gives them bit of a wider berth as far as questionable material is concerned, he believes that Israelis are almost preternaturally jaded and thus not that easily shocked. Whereas the British tend to be easily embarrassed, with Israelis you have to push the envelope a bit further to get a reaction. Tzur also talked about how, as the series continues and you look past each character’s stereotypical, non-PC behavior you come see through to who they really are as people. Avi may be “Stupid and Horrible,” he said, but at heart he also has a certain sweetness. Other than a couple of YouTube clips, I haven’t been able to find HaMisrad streaming anywhere on the Internet but with luck season one will find its way on to DVD in the near future!

About The Other Israel Film Festival

Founded in 2007, The Other Israel Film Festival uses film to foster social awareness and cultural understanding. The Festival presents dramatic and documentary films, as well as engaging panels about history, culture, and identity on the topic of minority populations in Israel with a focus on Arab citizens of Israel/Palestinian Citizen’s of Israel, who make up twenty percent of Israel’s population. The goal is to promote awareness and appreciation of the diversity of the state of Israel, provide a dynamic and inclusive forum for exploration of, and dialogue about populations in margins of Israeli society, and encourage cinematic expression and creativity dealing with these themes. The programming is guided by the mission to showcase quality cinema that brings to the big screen the human stories and daily lives of Arab Citizens and other minorities groups in Israel, often overlooked by mainstream Israeli society and culture.