Archive for the ‘Film Commentary’ Category

(Originally published in 2003)


Mystic River

by Jonas Cukierman

Clint Eastwood haunts us once again with a hard-bitten drama about the harsh lives of some very tough Irish-Americans in BostonSean Penn leads a cast of such greats as the sorely missed Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne and Marcia Gay Harden. The film opens with three best friends as young boys, Dave (Robbins), Jimmy (Penn) and Sean (Bacon) playing ball on the street of their working-class neighborhood. Then almost at once, their lives are traumatically changed. Now we jump forward twenty-five years and are led through a series of seemingly unrelated crimes. From the onset, the film’s cinematography and its minimal yet ominous music, are instrumental in depicting a world that is as much forbidding inside, as it is outside the minds of the main players. The relationship of the individuals and those surrounding them is tested to the breaking point when Jimmy’s daughter (Emmy Rossum) is found murdered. This is also when we are given a paced but well calculated inroad into the psyche of these three men, who were once close, but have each taken diametrically opposite paths. From this point, the surface of their outwardly cohesive community begins to break as secrets and past grievances rear their ugly heads. Slowly but surely, we realize that Dave, Sean and Jimmy have histories, which are disturbing in their own design. While there is a seemingly innate tendency towards crime within Jimmy, there is also an ever-present allusion to the power which religion plays in his life and how he relates to his ordeals. Neither the major or minor characters in Mystic River are spared the barrage of violence and misunderstandings, which snowball into a final and very alarming finale.

Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne are mainly left in the sidelines and turn in rather muted performances. This however is not so much a product of the material, as it is the fact that Penn and Robbins deliver the embodiment of two truly unhinged and in many ways defeated men. In my opinion, there are two central themes that prevail in this film, which at times seems to have a murky plot. The first is that people have a dangerous tendency to draw inferences based on certain perceptions rather than on hard evidence. This in itself is most risky, especially when a person’s sanity is at stake, let alone his life. The other is that in the end we answer not to other men, but to our own conscience.


(Originally published in 1999)

American Psycho

by Jonas Cukierman

American Psycho, the controversial book by Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero) has finally made it to the big screen after ten years of playing havoc with the heads of readers and feminists. As one who has read the macabre book on more than one occasion, I was curious to see how the material would be interpreted       celluloid. Oddly enough, the book which was blasted as a pinnacle of misogynist literature, has been brought to life on screen by none other than feminist director Mary Harron, whose film credits also include I Shot Andy Warhol.

The life and times of Patrick Bateman are filled with platinum credit cards, Armani suits, the latest and greatest of all material gains and a pretense so blatant, it serves as the humorous essence of this black comedy. Set against the backdrop of New Wave music, high stakes finance and lots and lots of cocaine, American Psycho captures relentlessly the hedonistic boom of the 1980’s

Patrick is a loathsome character of sharp wit, undermining sarcasm, great looks and most of all, a very sadistic form of expression. As he does not see himself as a human being, but merely the embodiment of two emotions, “greed and disgust”, he is able to separate himself from mankind. It is perhaps for this reason, he is able to justify the murderous amusement in which he so fancifully partakes. But to be sure, the “creative” ways in which he murders women and sometimes men (if they have reservations at a swankier restaurant than him), also lends itself to becoming an avenue into the mind of a man who is desperately in need of fitting in and is sent into a flying rage when he cannot be at the top of the ladder of the materialism in which he lives. Christian Bale is perfectly cast in the title role of Bateman, and let me assure you that his performance possesses all the sinister charm and delivery of wit needed in the dialogue. With occasional breaks in the overall hilarity of his life comes the sullen and muted narration by Patrick about his innermost thoughts. His conversations with himself are the only indicators that represent what he is really thinking. The rest of the time, he engages in mindless conversation with mindless individuals whom are only interested in which restaurant to eat at that evening and who has the most toys or the best looking business card. It is by all accounts, a grim picture of grown up children playing dress up. The girls are all Barbies  and the boys all want to be Lord of the Flies in a world of savagery called Park Avenue. In a world of blank faces and dull minds, where nobody knows anybody in the true sense, and nobody listens to a word anybody says, we come to understand the analogy of Bateman’s need to rebel against society by taking a nailgun or a sharpened coat hanger to a woman’s head. The most disturbing point of all in this film is not so much the actions of Patrick Bateman, but the fact that he remains at large in the end. There is a sharp reference to how inept our criminal justice system is when dealing with the rich and powerful. Willem Dafoe is Det. Kimball, a seemingly thorough cop who we soon realize is equally pliable when it comes to Bateman’s duplicity and high society’s “untouchability.” When a woman at a club asks Patrick what he does for a living, he answers “murders and executions.” However, the woman hears “mergers and acquisitions”, and it makes this scene undoubtedly one of the best examples of how little anyone cares. Even Patrick’s girlfriend Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon) is a representation of why people are together for convenience, next only to Bateman’s atrocities committed behind the protective veneer of wealth. American Psycho is a fast-paced examination of our society and its need to compete for the ultimate dream. It is also a character study of a madman who is content to be disembodied to the extent of feeling only certain degrees of rage and jealousy. The other women in Bateman’s world are portrayed by Samantha Mathis as Courtney, Patrick’s stupefied drugfiend of a concubine and Chloe  Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry/Kids) as Jean, Mr. Psycho’s homely and unaware secretary, perhaps the only person in the film who’s character isn’t oversexed, overdrugged or blissfully detached from the rest of humankind. Patrick Bateman is vain, self-absorbed and absolutely in contempt of the entire world and its concepts. Things which are known to most people as evil and barbarous, are commonplace in the mind this man who admires his biceps in the mirror while about to mutilate two prostitutes. While he is a human being, he transcends all comprehension of abhorrence, for he comes in such an unlikely package, and his methods are unlike that of any other. Lastly, stop to consider and look for the signs that maybe all this is merely in Patrick’s head. Something the book was not to indicative of.


by Jonas Cukierman

A film with a quiet pace and the prosaic quality of a transcendental 20th century novel, Hereafter also incorporates elements of noir with shadows and angles giving us a glimpse into the minds of the central characters with a discreet yet invasive enough methodology.  Throughout the film there is an unyielding sense of pain which is waiting to be alleviated by self-discovery. In Hereafter the pain the players all battle with is one that crosses our paths without fail.  That pain is the crunch of death.

Marie LaVey (Cecile De France) is a Parisian reporter on vacation on an island somewhere in the pacific rim when a tidal wave suddenly wipes out the resort village where she and companion are staying. As she is swept up in the maelström, she is killed by the rush of the sea. Yet not sooner does Marie see spirits shrouded in light when she finds herself awakening to a disorienting struggle to determine which way is up as she rolls in a vortex of seawater which still has her gripped.

On the other side of the world, Ten year old Marcus lives in London with his identical twin Jason and his junkie mother. One day Jason is bullied by some street ruffians and while fleeing from them is caused to run in front of an oncoming truck and is suddenly killed on impact. When the mother checks into rehab, Marcus is forced into foster care and this is when a sort of globe-trotting quest to find answers begins; when fate will bring several souls in need together and a very deep contemplation from the mind of audiences.

San Francisco

George Lonegan (Matt Damon) is a lonely industrial worker with a very special gift.  A reluctant psychic, he gave up honing his abilities long ago in exchange for a quieter life. Taking too much of a toll on his existence, connecting with the dead proved too much, so George now relegates himself to listening to Shakespeare audiobooks read by Derek Jacobi and keeping away from anyone who may want to use him for celebrity purposes, including his brother Billy (Jay Mohr).

While Marie goes on a journey to understand who is chosen to die and who is spared, she seeks advice from the scientific community, with its no-nonsense approach and its rejection of religion, to a more directly emotional experience as she witnesses the suffering of a family as a young loved one slips away in their arms in hospice care.  No matter what, Marie is getting a taste of every point of view whether she believes in one, the other, or some midpoint in the spectrum; especially after being haunted by spirits during her death experience.

Meanwhile Marcus is on an equally exploratory quest in which he is determined to communicate with Jason at all cost.  However, for this he must find a medium which will facilitate such a meeting.  After running into nothing but charlatans and quacks, Marcus reaches a stalemate and come to a dead end…or so it seems.  Then it turns out George will be present at a book signing right in London because, in a strange turn of events,  none other than Derek Jacobi himself is going to be there.  Furthermore, Marie has also published a book and now the very notion of death has breathed new life into the weakened souls of these three sojourners in a monumental act of serendipity.  In a final act of closure, the three protagonists do not escape death, but they sure come to terms with it. And in the end, that is perhaps all we can hope for. Hereafter is not a happily ever after tale, nor is it a glossed-over Hollywood effort which means to idealistically cheer you up. It is an examination about a very real subject with a naturalistic approach from all angles: scientific, medical, religious, spiritual, holistic, superstitious, and most of all familial.

Additionally, it is a work which deals which deals with such a personal topic that it is impossible not to become engrossed in Eastwood’s directorial style.  Rather than observing characters being played out on a screen, George, Marcus, and Marie draw you into the center of their dilemmas which makes for a rather paralytic confusion, which eventually segues into a gradual relief that comes with that very discovery – there’s that word again- and finally coming to terms with a disenchanting subjects.  Eastwood’s storytelling is universal but hardly typical. Highly introspective, not overly dramatic, and unsentimental, Hereafter is an emotional and analytical approach to the destiny we wonder most about.

(A Girl Named) Osama

By: Jonas Cukierman

A young Afghan girl must pass herself off as a boy (Osama) to help her family after the Taliban,   closes the hospital where she and her mother work.

Along with the film Kandahar , Osama is one of the most thorough depictions of how women are treated in a fanatical world where men are untouchable and laws are enforced at the whim of a few religious hardliners.

The locations and cinematography are a testimony to the time and place in which our characters evolve. As far as the eye can see, there exists a small village neck-deep in poverty, squalor, and the iron-fisted, looming shadow of the Taliban. There is not a subject more pervasive than this film as far as epitomizing the lack of women’s rights in a place where such basic entitlements as medical care are virtually nonexistent.

There is one scene in particular which is especially powerful in its own, unassuming way. While taking part in a wedding ceremony, a group of women’s festivities are cut short by the arrival of Taliban officials. As soon as they turn up, the veils go on,  and the joyous adulations of celebration cleverly turn into cries and wails of a funeral rite.

Osama’s beauty as a film rests in its simplicity, as well as the character’s newfound self-awareness. Furthermore, the film’s allure is reflected in director Siddiq Barmak‘s, use of contrasting colors. The saturated blues of the women’s garb are the flower in the cement garden of grey, dilapidated houses and crumbling walls into which the invisible, yet unmistakable presence of souls are felt; souls whose lives have been inextricable turned upside-down by war, famine, and hardship.

Audiences will hopefully be astonished at the richness of a people and their religious beliefs, which are fueled by frenetic radicalism on one hand, and a truly peaceful devotion to God on the other.

In the end, viewers and Osama are exposed  to the bleak and unfortunate prospects reserved for women in such a dark period in Afghanistan’s history.

Soon after Osama’s real identity is discovered, she is married off to a man old enough to be her grandfather – and then some.

However, the bitter end is perhaps the most redeeming quality of the film. The fact we are, like Osama, the focus of a realistic ending is reason enough to ponder the history of how such patriarchal societies came into existence.

Images of director Siddiq Barmak and Osama:


Images of the Taliban:


Repo Men. 2010. Directed By: Miguel Sapochnik


By Jonas Cukierman

Repo Men are Remy (Jude Law and Jake (Forrest Whitaker)
Jake is a flunky who found something he is good at. Remy is a robotic and icy
family man whose marriage is on the rocks because his wife is becoming
increasingly disturbed at what he does.

That is because Remy and Jake butcher people for a living.

For the first three months, there is a grace period for
non-payment. However, by the first few days of the fourth month, the Repo Men
come. But this is no car repossession, and this is not the bank foreclosing on
your house. If you’re behind on this payment, your heart goes. No, not from
having a coronary, nor from having it broken by a beautiful woman. Rather, it
is repossessed, as might your liver, kidney, or pancreas. This is because your
organ is artificial and manufactured by a company that doesn’t skimp on its
pennies. The Union is a cinematically proven model of a mega-corporation with its tendrils reaching out to every part of
society’s vulnerabilities. It has the power to make you sign on the dotted line
with barely a hard sell, and it never misses a beat because its product is
impossible to turn down, and be sure that The Union’s grasp is as impossible to
escape as the IRS.

For Remy and Jake, it helps to enjoy hurting people. Recruited from the military, the feared duo
walk the streets of the city while striking fear and panic into the faces of
everyone who knows their racket; and everybody knows them. Even the police
don’t dare mess with them. The Repo Men are polished, but nevertheless nothing
more than killers with the social reputation of bounty hunters. Moreover, like
bounty hunters, they are their own subculture of creeps who use any methods
necessary and stop at nothing to acquire their booty.

Then one night as Remy is on a routine job, he injures
himself while trying to “repo” the ticker of RZA (T-Bone).
They say rock stars are immortal, you had better believe it. Because in the end
it is Repo Remy who wakes up in the hospital under a strange state of affairs.
Circumstances that he has no idea are unfolding into the greatest blessing and
the vilest curse ever bestowed upon a man like him. Remy is suddenly faced with
a “bill” after having undergone a transplant himself. Rather ironic is that at one
time, Remy had a human heart, but no “heart” at all. Now with an artificial
implant, he has come to understand the importance of being human, and that the
lives he took at seeing to it that he feels the loathing of what it’s like to
live under the shadow of a ruthless corporation.

While his life has been saved by The Union, he must now
contend with the probability that he too will be stunned, tazed, and stabbed to
death (all in that order), and then be sliced open with quasi-surgical
precision in order to give another Repo Man the quarry.

Suddenly elements of Blade Runner , Total Recall,
Minority Report,
and especially Logan’s Run’s_Run_(film)
begin to fuse perfectly together into a visual effects spectacle to really gaze at.

Logan’s Run was a constant game of cat and mouse, whose
characters were not only bent on living, but were also out to inform others of
a completely different world if they could first win a battle against a
corporation with its own set of rules and its own private military to enforce
them. In Logan’s Run, those who tried to escape their obligatory death at age thirty were called
‘Runners’. They would be terminated by a legally sanctioned death squad called ‘Sandmen’. In this case, the similarities are striking because the organ recipients are the runners and the Repo Men are the Sandmen. But the film also
contains the building blocks of Orwellian
prose, and the story is different enough for Repo Men to stand very much on its
own and even bear further similarities to other films such like Star Wars as
Remy and Beth (Alice Braga),
a woman with rigged black market organs, run from laser fire delivered by
company shock troopers.

On a more metaphorical level, Repo Men might be a testimony
as to the direction our healthcare system is going. With costs rising, and
insurance companies non-committal, people have to resort to an installment
agreement with The Union, which cripples them even more than their ailing
bodies. Should this extreme situation occur, companies would no doubt
capitalize on the misery of the public, as they know there isn’t anyone who
would not pay exorbitant amounts of money to save a loved one.

The problem with being a Repo Man is not only the nature of the job, which lures the shady and the murderous. Rather, you have people like Jake, who are so enthusiastic and dedicated to their jobs, that they are more like Mafia enforcers, not men of integrity who
question what they do. Moreover, these mafia “thumb breakers” work for bosses
who are equally as scary. Much like Al Capone, Sam
Giancana, Michael Corleone,
or Tony Montana, Liev Schreiber flawlessly fills the role of Frank. A calculating Union exec and overlord who is an arch criminal, despite his
educated front and his Armani suits.

The Union itself is instantly reminiscent of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation,
aka “the company” from the Alien
series. Far too powerful, extremely opaque, and all too possible.

Be prepared to enjoy and be genuinely shocked by a film
whose action scenes are about 10% shooting, while the rest are gladiatorial
stabbing and slicing. This aspect alone makes the film far more interesting in
that it furthers the notion that when Repo Men fight, they are so skilled with
blades, that they would rather duke it out dirty because they enjoy cold steel
in lieu of the easy way out.

Repo Men will leave you pondering the question “is this bad
science, or poor corporate regulation?” And in case that’s not enough, there
remains yet another mechanical menace. While they haven’t built a Death Star, there is The Union’s newest
device, the M-5 Neural Net. But if I tell you any more, it will spoil the plot
and the ending. The good news is that the M-5 is on special. Installment plans
to fit your lifestyle and credit score begin at only 18% for the first year,
and 24% thereafter. However, you must hurry, as this is a limited time offer,
good only this month. Repo Men will not only make you ponder the issue of corporate ethics, it will also give
you a renewed hatred of high-pressure salesmen.

Read more about artificial organ transplantation:

La Boca Del Lobo (The Lion’s Den)

by Jonas Cukierman

Although it’s English title is The Lion’s Den, the actual translation of La Boca Del Lobo is The Mouth Of The Wolf. This is the most authoritative film on the Shining Path faction which terrorized Peru from the late 70’s through the early 90’s. The film is made entirely on location in Peru and by Peruvians. It is well made for a third world production and the acting and cinematography are as good and professional as any great independent film. Not only does this film depict the horror of the war against Peru’s Marxist guerrilas, but it catalogues their actions and emphasizes death tolls in the most unorthodox but effective way. Most of all, the film’s sentiment is achieved in that it is told through the eyes of a young soldier with lofty ambitions. Yet when he sees what his very own men are doing to the natives, he falls back in terror and realizes, as does the audience, that nobody has his hands clean. Moreover, this film greatly bulrs the distinctions between the good guys and the bad guys. The fact the terrorists are unseen and only suggested, further enforces the idea that there is a thin line between right and wrong and it is usually a mere matter of conjecture as to whom is the more benevolent, The Shining Path or the Peruvian Army?  The theme of this film reaches far beyond anti-terrorism, it’s strongest voice lies in the notion that both sides are still killers, no matter what their cause.

La Boca Del Lobo is a “MUST-SEE” for Peruvians and non-Peruvians alike. For war film buffs and antiwar philosophers equally.

Abimael Guzman

Chief Architect of The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso). Abimael Guzman (right) is responsible for 60,000 Peruvian deaths (especially innocent peasants) between 1980-92.

Link for The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso):

Link for Abimael Guzman:

Raging Bull

By Jonas Cukierman

A bleak, mood masterpiece from director Martin Scorsese , Raging Bull is the authority on boxing films as well as cinematic biographies. The life and times of Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) are as troubled and bumpy as that of any great figure. A furious man from the backstreets of the Bronx, La Motta rises from the ravages of poverty to become one of the most unbeatable contenders in boxing history. Set amid the backdrop of the 1940’s and 50’s, this film is the modern pinnacle of the always-arresting theme of Rise and Fall. A man who had everything he wanted, La Motta was forever haunted by personal demons that were expressed through forceful paranoia and the obsessive need for reassurance. Driven by anger rather than passion, he was able to defeat any opponent with sheer grit and thirst for blood. Among his Achilles heels were his young wife, Vikki, whom he met when she was only fifteen. Moving at a steady and always involving beat, La Motta is shown taking more beatings, winning more titles and self-destructing. As through a looking glass, there is always a feeling of not knowing what this fighting man will do next. And in the great tradition of Scorsese’s Italian American fables, this film forges a sober and exciting attitude all the way through. Intensifying the film’s dismal and violent beauty is the soundtrack, which mainly consists of the Intermezzo, from Cavalleria Rusticana, an Italian opera by Pietro Mascagn This choice of scores not only furthers the feel of darkness, but it immediately foreshadows La Motta’s downfall, while at the same time bestowing Italian artistry on the picture. Always worried that his wife is cheating on him, and thinking that his counterparts are working against him, Jake La Motta ventures beyond the point of no return. As the film’s flashback approach illustrates, Raging Bull is more than just a sports film. Rather, it is a look at how a person’s actions decide his fate. It is an in-depth journey into how people can shun those around them to the point of doing irreparable damage, and what carelessness and misuse of ones own limits can sow. Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese have undoubtedly constructed a picture of stark reality and emotional fire. De Niro stretches his abilities even farther than he does in Taxi Driver. This film achieves mythical direction and allegorical character figuration. With its black and white color as well as its unmistakably subdued tone, Raging Bull delivers great performances not only from De Niro, but from Joe Pesci as Joe La Motta (Jake’s’ brother) and Cathy Moriarty (Vikki La Motta). In between the ring matches, lies the story of a broken spirit with a destiny for suffering, for this story is Jake La Motta himself, and not a third person reciting it.

Jake LaMotta’s boxing matches:

Jake LaMotta vs. Sugar Ray Robinson

LaMotta vs. Sugar Ray Robinson