I liked Margin Call.

I am thrilled to report I spent $9 of funemployment money seeing a movie about the financial crisis. I was thinking about seeing Blackthorn, the Butch Cassidy sequel, but decided Margin Call would be more appropriate to the zeitgeist: it was supposed to make me angrier at the world and propel me deeper into my anti-establishment ideologies.

But rather, it made me take a step back and think more deeply about the roots of this movement and some its major influences. It reaffirmed many of my criticisms of our society and my conviction that a portion of the movement is not being entirely honest with itself. (Incidentally, I liked the movie. It tells the story with more sensitivity and complexity than it’s being told otherwise.)

The most honest and expository moment of dialogue in the movie:

“Shit, this is really gonna affect people.”
“Yeah, it’s gonna affect people like me.”
“No, well, real people.”
“Jesus, Seth. Listen, if you really want to do this with your life, you have to believe you’re necessary, and you are. People want to live like this in their cars and their big fucking houses they can’t even pay for. Then you’re necessary. The only reason they all get to continue living like kings is ‘cause we’ve got our fingers on the scales in their favor. I take my hand off, well then the whole world gets really fucking fair really fucking quickly and nobody actually wants that. They say they do but they don’t. They want what we have to give them but they also want to, you know, play innocent and pretend they have no idea where it came from. Well that’s more hypocrisy than I’m willing to swallow so fuck, fuck normal people.”

Like all business, Wall Street operates on the premise of supplying a product for which there is a demand. We wanted, and Wall Street provided. How much can we blame the dealer for the habit?


Things I do in * real * life

Please note: Full festival schedule and film descriptions follow at the end of the release.

March 7, 2011

Maine Jewish Film Festival, in its fourteenth year, celebrates the rich diversity of independent Jewish film
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The Real Syrian Bride

I love love love the movie The Syrian Bride. But today it happened in reverse … for realsies.

So cool. So interesting. Golan Druze communities are super-fascinating. But films like The Syrian Bride and Shout effectively de-romanticize the cross-border communal bonds. Syrian Druze who are permitted to go between Syria and Israel will all ultimately face an impossible decision: permanence. It’s not just exile; it’s opt-in exile. Today’s young bride will never again see her family. (Unless by some unlikely miracle Syria and Israel forge a treaty, but I won’t waste my breath.) Druze students from the Golan who study in Damascus must ultimately choose a life in Syria or a life in Israel. How do you make the choice? How can you be expected to make a decision with such weighty permanence? What if she doesn’t like her husband? She has no recourse. And let’s not fool ourselves; she will never, ever become an Israeli citizen. From Syria to statelessness.

I can’t even imagine.

Michael Moore is lame.

So I just watched Capitalism: A Love Story. Maybe I’m becoming fiscally conservative – though I doubt it – and all I see in it is some uppity young folk trying to destroy the American dream. Or maybe I think Michael Moore is a sensationalist who doesn’t know how to draw legitimate comparisons.

He spends the entire movie contrasting capitalism with democracy with socialism – like somehow all three are not simultaneously feasible. Of course, in a vacuum, capitalism and socialism cannot coexist, and neither can democracy and socialism. But in the real world, you can take aspects of capitalism – like free enterprise – and impose government on it, in the form of regulation, and then make sure that government is socially responsible and takes care of all its citizens (socialism) through a democratic, one-man-one-vote process (democracy).

But apparently, we don’t live in the real world either. We live in Michael Moore’s world, where capitalism necessitates criminality and fraud and foreclosures and powerful corporate lobbies and back room deals, the American system is its enabler (which is often true, but due to its imperfect application and not necessarily inherent flaws in the system or concept), and the panacea for all maladies is magical mushroom socialism. Never mind all of socialism’s shortcomings, those don’t exist in Michael Moore’s world of black and white.

And yes, I know I’m like a year behind on this one. Whatever.

It’s Never Sunny in Audrey-delphia

At some point over the weekend, possibly due to germs flooding my system or due to a longer-term sense of despair, I decided to cease and desist all opinion-having and conviction-forming, determining it to be rather more effort than necessary. Indeed I was so dedicated to this disavowal of all things ideological that not only did I refuse to read the news or my RSS feeds, I skipped specifically to the Styles section of the Times and marked all my feeds as ‘read’ so I wouldn’t be tempted to read them later. I made every effort to flood my mind with nonsense and inanity – hours of The Three Musketeers, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Prince of Persia – and found The Social Network even too realistic for my lose-my-head-in-the-clouds weekend. (Or it could be that Mark Zuckerberg is too close to seeming a lot like real people I know that it’s just weird. Also a lot of the movie I want to slap him and especially JT.)

Now it’s Monday and though I dispassionately flipped through the news just in case of an emergency (there have been way too many fighter jets in the last few days), for the most part I have engrossed myself in poring over Google Analytics statistics and Open Office spreadsheets because anything else might be too emotionally and intellectually draining.

Having ideas is too hard so I officially resign myself to zombie-hood and apathy as the official new course of action. Until something better comes along, that is, which for my own delicate constitution I certainly hope isn’t for a good long while.


I finally saw Inglourious Basterds. I know, about time, right? I can’t believe I waited so long, but I’m glad I did because one of the things that got me about it is a result of being here.

1. I was impressed with myself that I could eat while watching a Tarantino film without regretting it. I suppose this was one of the less-gory specimens, but still.

2. I was struck by how all of the “protagonists”, for lack of a better term, lumped all Germans together as Nazis and all Nazis as terrible, terrible people. Obviously, the Nazi regime was a terrible terrible regime and the High Command did, probably without exception, terrible things in their roles. But the film took a good vs. bad, black vs. white approach. This is totally normal in WWII B-movies that use Nazis as the villains, but I was disappointed at the lack of complexity in painting the sides (although it did serve well in this particular film). The only Nazi who was almost not-that-bad was Fredrick Zoller, but even he pulled a gun on the woman we were led to believe he loved.

The film equates Germany with Nazis, all Germans are evil, all Nazis must die, therefore… It is pitted against the all-Jews-must-die rhetoric of the Nazi party, which makes sense, but I want someone to ask the question: are all Nazi soldiers believers? What about those who don’t have a choice to serve in a time of war? Is it fair to carve swastikas into their foreheads? Yes, many did horrible things and probably believed in what they were doing. But what about the ones who did it to provide for their families and preserve their own lives? Like the Frenchman in the beginning who gives in to protect his own family. Where do you draw the line? Or Wilhelm, whose son Maximilian was born just that morning – he almost goes free but is gunned down because, in the end, he wears a Nazi uniform and this makes him guilty. Does all guilt lie with all soldiers, or are those in the High Command more guilty than those below them?

Though I, like everyone like me, have almost always equated Nazis with evil, I think it’s important to think about what people do in times of crisis, the phenomenon of group-think even when it goes against personal morals, and how manipulatable the mind is. War and politics are complicated, it’s not like everyone in Germany woke up one day and decided to kill Jews. I think it’s easy to forget that. The movie, I think intentionally, shows us how the Germans-are-bad and Germany-is-evil framework is flawed. It leaves no wiggle room for dissent or defiance, or for participating under duress. A soldier is a soldier, a soldier takes commands, a soldier knows what a war crime looks like but that doesn’t mean he won’t commit it.

There was a great op-ed recently in Ha’aretz about Israeli soldiers who work in the Occupied Territories. They know what they are doing is horrible and wrong, but they do it, because doing it is better than having it done to you. It would be a sad sad thing if in the future, the world treats the Israel of today as it treats the Germany of the ’30s and ’40s; a country filled with monsters and heartless Basterds.

(I’m not really comparing Israel to Nazi Germany – my point is only that the things soldiers will do cannot always be equated with their personal morals or what they would do if they felt they had a choice.)


Go see this film. (By which I mean, find a festival where it is screening, or talk my dad into showing it at MJFF so you can see it stateside.)

Two Golani boys from Majdal Shams get permission from both Israel and Syria to study in Damascus (along with a whole bunch of students every year). This is their story.

And then we saw them in real life at the screening. But the film is beautifully shot, uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time, juxtaposing normal life (quote unquote) with the insane political ramifications of Israel’s occupation (or whatever you want to call it) of the Golan Heights and what this means for the life of the people there. Created by two young women from the Netherlands.