Posts Tagged ‘Jonas Cukierman’

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

Mona Lisa Smile.
Women’s advancement stifled despite academic milestones.

by Jonas Cukierman

I have to be honest, when I heard I was going to see a movie with Julia Roberts
in it, I wasn’t too excited or impressed. However, as Mona
Lisa Smile begins to express its content, it not only becomes more interesting, but the
performances of Roberts and company- Julia Stiles, Kirsten Dunst and Maggie Gyllenhaal
are nothing short of superior.

The film takes place at Wellesley College in
1953; a time and a place steeped in such tradition and formality, that at times you think you’re visiting the Vatican.
Julia Roberts is Ms. Watson, an independent and free spirited Art
History teacher just in from California. The culture shock is not so much New England itself,
rather, it is the sternmindedness of the faculty and students which at first
completely steamrolls her before she has even presented herself on the first
day of school. The tension and a certain sense of drowning are hard to swallow
as Ms. Watson tries to acclimate herself in a place that is more like a
pedagogical fortress, than an institution of higher learning.

Mona Lisa Smile is an allegory that speaks of the fact that nothing is ever what it seems on
the surface. Great examples of this occur throughout the film as Ms. Watson’s
students struggle tirelessly with the issues curtailing women of that time.

Mona Lisa… is an extraordinary period
film on several degrees. On one level, there is the incredible atmosphere that
reins you into the 1950s. Between the immaculately tailored fashions and the
big soirées, to the advertisements and television shows of the departed era,
there is little to be desired after also factoring in the cinematography and
majestic sets.

Nevertheless, on the second and most important level, there
is the underpinning of life in a time of conformity, and a place where women
(educated or not) face few prospects and are expected to live the status quo.

Ms. Watson’s character develops brilliantly, because she too finds herself grappling with a system of rigid
standards where nobody is spared. Moreover, as if things are not tough enough,
she goes nose-to-nose with an ever-present complacency that vows to keep her
students from pursuing a life outside of making a home, making babies, and
basting the chicken while ironing Mona Lisa Smile is a great study in the art of fighting back. A story about women, but also
men, this film is about a glorious and transitional time in our history. It’s
about a time that tested the limits of one’s ideals, and challenged the daring
to free their minds

This picture may give the impression that feminism is its
driving force. This is however untrue. Mona Lisa
Smile does not preach, it confronts. Lastly, one the key factors in the success of this movie is the sensitivity in which director Mike
Newell captures the human condition. With such films as Donnie
Brasco and Enchanted April under his belt, there couldn’t be a better
person at the helm.

Visit the Madeleine K. Albright Institute

Veronica Guerin. Based on a true story.

by Jonas Cukierman

Journalists sometimes sacrifice their lives to protect the public; theirs is the noblest service. – Jonas Cukierman

By the mid 1990s, Dublin, Ireland was a city overrun by an epidemic of heroin the likes of which it had never seen. Ruled by cold-blooded druglords such as John Gilligan criminal)and Martin Cahill aka the General -who would nail his victims to the floor as a way of sending a message-, the percentage of addicts in Dublin was meteorically rising until one bold woman decided to take on the drug cartels. Initially, Veronica Guerin, a correspondent for the Sunday Independent, one of Ireland’s most circulated papers, was not a crime reporter. With no lack of tenacity, she first went to the addicts for answers in order to find an informant who was directly connected to the likes of Gilligan and Cahill. Finally, Guerin found her informant in the form of John Traynor, himself a career criminal who would act as a go-between for her and Gilligan, but not without himself being under great pressure from Gilligan to keep things under wraps. Gilligan was after all a man who shunned the spotlight and led a very quiet life, which drew little or no attention from the Gardai, the national police force of Ireland. As Guerin moved deeper, Cahill was in the mean time assassinated and one would think that one of the threats to Veronica’s life was over. However, there was still Gilligan, who, although a hushed figure was as dangerous as an army on Meth. However, one of Guerin’s greatest hurdles before being able to cripple the drug trade with her effective writing was not watching children rot away with spikes in their arms. Instead, it was the super-stringent libel laws of Ireland, which greatly restricted what she could say without some serious fishing. Moreover, for this she had to go nose-to-nose with gangsters and killers and with dire consequences to her safety including being shot (surviving) and being beaten by John Gilligan while trespassing on his property. Nevertheless, Guerin was starting to make Gilligan squirm. For this reason, he offered to buy her off. When that didn’t work, he sent someone to fire a warning shot at her…literally. She was not mortally wounded, but being shot in the leg and having bullets fly through her windows at home were simply methods of intimidation, but she would not relent. Even when she received phone calls in the middle of the night from killers, Veronica continued to work with Traynor in order to peel away the flesh of the drug kingpin’s sanity. Guerin not only put herself right in the line of fire by visiting the homes of gangsters (and I do not mean with an appointment), but she received little protection from the Gardai, who trembled at the idea of prosecuting the Dublin underworld. At the core of this film are the performances of a great ensemble cast. Blanchett is perfectly suited in the title role. She portrays the selfless reporter aggressively yet with a dash of subtlety. Irish actor Cirrian Hinds is John Traynor in a present, albeit not very visible persona. However, if Blanchett represents the all-encompassing good, then Gerry O’Brien and especially Gerard McSorley are nothing short of terrifying as Martin Cahill and John Gilligan respectively. These two criminal portrayals rival anything you will see in a Martin Scorsese mafia film – in fact, McSorley was originally selected to play Queenan in The Departed. In Veronica Guerin, the good guys are good, and the bad guys are even worse. Such critics as Roger Ebert, Pete Travers of Rolling Stone and Derek Elley of Variety all panned this picture. In addition, for all the respect I have for them professionally, I must say that I disagree with their accusations of this film being a vehicle of self-righteousness and egocentrism as a means of expressing Guerin’s long-fought battle. The fact remains that like many journalists, she gave her life in order to bring about drastic changes in how Ireland punishes criminals and overrides libel laws in order to protect the innocent from the predatory. Finally, the soundtrack features three great songs including performances by Sinead O’Conner, U2 and an unknown boy by the name of Brian O’Donnell, who delivers a touching rendition of The Fields of Athenry, an Irish folk ballad perfectly suited in mood and soulfulness over the scenes directly following her brutal murder at the hands of Gilligan’s hitmen. Most sad of all is the montage, which shows the reactions of Guerin’s mother, her husband Graham Turley and her three-year-old son, Cathall as they receive the news. In fact, if you choose to buy the soundtrack, Fields of Athenry is listed simply as Bad News. For a director I have never felt was that focused, Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever, 8MM, St. Elmo’s Fire) has this time made a film with an independent feel which has delivered a cry for justice, much like the people of Ireland did after hearing about the murder of Ireland’s bravest reporter. However, this film is not only about Guerin, it is instrumental in creating awareness, a reactionary wakeup call for the protection of journalists who are often being killed in the line of duty. Veronica Guerin (1958-1996) The Irish voice of courage speaks: Veronica Guerin’s acceptance speech at an awards ceremony for journalists. Go beyond the film with this clip from 60 Minutes:

The Zero Effect

by Jonas Cukierman

Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman) was one of the best and definitely most unknown private detectives in the world. However, you would never guess this by the way he looks or talks. Instead, if you were ever invited over for a fully balanced dinner of Bumble Bee tuna and Tab cola, you would think Mr. Zero is
one paranoid dick (detective that is). Before Monk, Daryl Zero helmed the ship crashing over the waves of OCD.
Hired by the shady Gregory Stark (Ryan O’Neal),
Daryl Zero must use his uncanny abilities to track down a mysterious shadow that is blackmailing his quietly loathsome client. The first glimpse we catch of Mr. Zero’s operational tactics is when Steve Arlo (a very biting Ben Stiller in a yet muted performance) meets with the criminal element that is Mr. Stark. He then goes on to explain the services of Daryl Zero via a barrage of double-talk and mercurial banter. After such time the film takes on its familiar image of presenting
the character of Daryl Zero in all his eccentric
genius and vivacity. The Zero man
has an ability to draw conclusions
from clues nobody else can see, thus seemingly
drawn out of the blue. This is no exception when the charming but exacting Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens) approaches him. Sooner or later, every man has to find his other half, and in paraphrasing the insightful Daryl Zero, “Gloria is the only woman…I’ve ever had” (I told you he was extraordinary). The relationship takes on a tightly wound feeling as the plot begins to unfold, revealing yet another cruel and unusual set of circumstances. For all the fun and lunacy the story is built on, this is undoubtedly a dark film about the best and worst sides of human nature. If Ryan O’Neal’s character does not evoke a sense of tooth-clenching contempt with a tinge of sympathy for the devil, then you are watching the wrong screen. The fastidiously amusing persona of Daryl Zero is guaranteed to get a surprising reaction out of you.
Although the film is perhaps a trifle slow and confusing at times, it successfully makes up for this through its rare energy and distinct humor. Bill Pullman is definitely back in the saddle after a string of flavorless characters in such films as Independence Day and Lost Highway. Kim Dickens too is a well-kept secret that should definitely keep her eye on the big picture. Zero Effect is a great comedy that can really make an audience hammer away for answers. Its fresh and uniquely stealthy material makes for an offbeat and
intriguing tale.


by Jonas Cukierman

Beginning in 1965, and moving back and forth between decades, director Vincent Ward‘s (What Dreams May Come, The Rain of the Children)  Map of the Human Heart is a stirring love story about the life experiences of Avik, an Eskimo belonging to the Inuit Tribe of Canada. One day in 1931, an explorer named WalterRussell (PatrickBergin) and his team arrives in the Arctic with the intention of mapping the territory. When Avik develops tuberculosis, Walter’s decision to take the boy to a modern hospital in Montreal arises out his belief that the Inuit are too primitive to solve the problem. The pretext is that white medicine will work on Avik because he is after all, half white. As unfamiliar as the Arctic is to the European mapmakers, the enclosures of a Western hospital/orphanage, with all its technology and rules, are equally foreign to Avik.  The story begins to unfold when Avik meets AlbertineHuber; a young and sick girl who is convinced her deceased father is gallantly returning atop a horse to rescue her.   The beginning of the conflict ensues when the matriarch of the hospital (the immortal JeanneMoreau, in a cameo appearance) begins to try to keep the two children apart. Since both Avik and Albertine are both half-white and half Native American, Moreau is able to tell the white looking Albertine not to associate with the dark-skinned Avik, unless she wants to be treated as a “half-breed.” From here, the premise for the story is unmistakably unleashed.

Now the year jumps forward to WWII. Avik (JasonScottLee) decides to join the Royal Air Force and leave his Arctic home of Nunatak. Once again, WalterRussell takes Avik under his arm, but only to manipulate and deceive him into a life of struggle and self-pity. The now sophisticated Albertine (AnneParrilaud) and the soldier Avik reunite for the first time in ten years. The conflicts
are the same as the ones that kept them at a distance when they were
children. Only now, time has hammered their thoughts into shape.
Albertine is hesitant to become too close to Avik because her views of
interracial relations are very solid.

From the farthest reaches of a frozen earth, to the fire ravaged skies
over Dresden , Map of the Human Heart is a distressing voyage of
self-discovery and undying friendships.

The dazzling cinematography of this film delivers a fantastical
collage of hallucinatory and supernatural moods. With music by Gabriel
Yared (City of Angels, English Patient), the combination of Native
American chant with fierce symphonic and electronic labors, generates
a sudden indivisibility between the audience and the film’s forbidding
ice terrains, and war-devastated cities.

At times, the film leaves one with a sense of hope and desire, but the
sentiments of loss and emptiness are insurmountable as well.

If I would have to describe this film in just a few words, I would say
this is the most painful film I have ever seen. Furthermore, its ending is a brutal reminder of how unpredictably crushing life can be.

John Cusack also makes a tiny cameo appearance credited only as “The Mapmaker.”

The Bombing of Dresden

Trailer for Map of the Human Heart

All Big Decisions are Personal. Scene from Map of the Human Heart