West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 23 | November. 07 -,13 2007

Koch On Film

By Ed Koch

“Lars and the Real Girl” (-)
As I entered the theater complex, a couple in their 60s noticed me. The man told me that he liked this film so much he was seeing it for a second time, just as he did last year’s hit, “Little Miss Sunshine.” After his comment and the fact that two theaters in the complex were set aside for this movie, I had great expectations. My conclusion after seeing it is that it is a bomb.

wenty-seven-year-old Lars (Ryan Gosling) is an introvert who lives by himself in a cottage behind a house occupied by his brother, Gus (Paul Schneider), and sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer). Lars is constantly invited to join them for dinner but always declines, preferring to be alone.

One day at the office, a fellow employee shows Lars a porno website that sells anatomically correct female vinyl dolls. Lars buys one, and when it arrives he names her Bianca. He treats the doll as though it were human and announces that she needs a wheelchair. The people in the small, nameless, Midwestern town go along with Lars’ fantasy and greet Bianca as though she were real. That’s all you need to know.
HG who saw the movie with me said that it was different and he liked it.  Yes, it is different, but so what? The simple fact that a movie plot has a demented twist should not make it acceptable. This picture is a dog.

“Rendition” (+)
This is a superb movie that I found exciting and, most important, thought provoking in terms of the hotly contested subject of torture. 

An Egyptian man, Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), lives in Chicago with his son and pregnant American wife, Isabella (Reese Witherspoon). Returning from a scientific conference in Cape Town, Anwar is kidnapped by the CIA and taken to an undisclosed North African country where he is tortured. His captors want him to explain the calls made to his cell phone by a known terrorist. He denies any knowledge of them.     

One type of torture used on Anwar is waterboarding, which involves immobilizing and hooding the victim and continuously pouring water on his face until he feels as though he is drowning. Anwar is also repeatedly beaten and subjected to electric shock. The interrogation and torture are conducted by Police Chief Abasi Fawal (Igal Naor) who looks like Telly Savalas, and the CIA agent assigned to observe the interrogation is Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal). Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep) is the CIA operative in Washington, D.C., in charge of renditions. She performs her role expertly.   

Other characters include the ineffective Senator Hawkins (Alan Arkin) and his administrative aide, Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgaard). Isabella contacts Alan, an old college boyfriend, and asks him to help locate her husband. A subplot involves the police chief’s daughter, Fatima (Zineb Oukach), who has been betrothed to a young man by her father against her will. Fatima then runs off with her boyfriend, Khalid (Moa Khouas), a Muslim radical.

As an aside, the political aspects of the issue of rendition for the purpose of extracting information are now being considered in Washington, D.C. on the proposed nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey as Attorney General of the United States. Judge Mukasey apparently stated and testified that he is unfamiliar with waterboarding and is not ready now to describe it as torture.   

The media recently disclosed that a German citizen of Arab descent, Khaled el Masri, was mistakenly picked up by the CIA in the newly independent Balkan nation of Macedonia and rendered to Afghanistan where he was subjected to waterboarding. When the CIA learned they had the wrong guy, they released him in Albania. The victim found his way to the United States and sued the government. The conservative Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., accepted the government’s claim that if the case were allowed to go forward, state secrets might be jeopardized. The Supreme Court upheld that decision. Mr. el Masri was left without recourse to a trial and the right to sue for damages.

That decision is simply wrong. The law should provide for an assessment of damages in such cases where the government seeks a dismissal so as to protect national security and not be required to produce evidence. I will leave for another day a discussion on the use of torture in the case of the ticking bomb.

The New York Post reviewer, Kyle Smith, gave “Rendition” only two stars, and some of the comments by A.O. Scott in his New York Times review might make one decide not to see the picture. He wrote, “Rendition is a well-meaning, honorable movie. Which is not to say that it is a very good one. It suffers especially from a familiar kind of narrative overcrowding.” 

I would definitely recommend this film to you. After seeing it, you will have to decide for yourself whether or not waterboarding is an acceptable means of exacting information from an individual when it comes to our national security. I do not believe it is.   

HS said: “I liked the movie. Before it began, I was afraid it would be totally anti-American as so many movies are today, the worst being ‘Syriana.’ However, the picture was fair: it showed both good and bad people on both sides of the conflict. The hero was a decent American, and Muslim Jihadists came off as murderers of the innocent, not as saints or freedom fighters. As to waterboarding, I would not want anyone I know to be subjected to it. I personally think repeated beatings, fire and electric shock would be more painful. In any event, it is hard for outsiders to distinguish among forms of torture.”

“Black White & Gray” (+)
The artists Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe are the subjects of this documentary. 

Wagstaff, a wealthy New York art collector in the 1960s, met the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, 25 years his junior, at a party. The two became lovers. From this film, one would conclude that without Wagstaff’s guidance, Mapplethorpe and his homoerotic photographs would not have become so well known. While some of his photos are displayed in the movie, particularly those taken of Wagstaff, most of his trademark sadomasochistic pictures are overwhelmingly omitted. No explanation is given, but I suspect that copyright and permission issues foreclosed their being exhibited.

Near the end of his life, Wagstaff is described as though he were a shopping bag man, dragging his new collections of silverware through the streets of Greenwich Village to his Penthouse at One Fifth Avenue. He died of AIDS in 1987 at the age of 68. Mapplethorpe also died of AIDS at the age of 42 in 1989. 

This documentary is not sensational in any respect, but it is very interesting.   

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