Here are capsule reviews of four films showing in the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, which opens Sunday and runs through Feb. 12.
The Last Resort: What begins as a nostalgic look at the changing face of Miami Beach turns much darker in The Last Resort, a history of the 1970s cultural transformation of the area as seen through the lenses of two fascinated young photographers, Andy Sweet and Gary Monroe.
The two self-taught shooters had a virtual monopoly on their elderly subjects – the benign “porch sitters” of South Beach – for no one else was interested in them. But Sweet and Monroe sensed that there was something important in capturing and preserving the everyday life of these people, their grandparents’ generation, many of whom were Holocaust survivors.
Sweet preferred vibrant, saturated color portraits, while Monroe tended towards black-and-white. Their snapshots form much of the 70-minute film, augmented by commentary from such regional celebrities as Miami Herald crime reporter-turned-novelist Edna Buchanan, Books & Books proprietor Mitch Kaplan and Monroe himself.
Just as we begin wondering why Sweet is not included among the interview subjects, the narrative moves into the 1980s, as drugs, crime and Cubans arrive, chasing away the alta kockers. And the curly-haired, sweet-faced Sweet became a victim of the violence, stabbed to death in his own apartment, a murder that horrified the community he so loved.
The macabre tale then intensifies when his archive of prints, contact sheets and negatives is lost by the storage company his family hires. The film has a satisfying resolution, however, as The Last Resort updates the case in a contemporary coda that South Floridians in particular will appreciate.
THE LAST RESORT, Cinepolis, Friday, Jan, 25, 1:30 p.m.; Cobb Theatres, Sunday, Jan. 27, 4:30 p.m.; Cinemark Boynton Beach, Monday., Feb. 4, 4:30 p.m.
The Catcher Was a Spy: Even baseball fans who are familiar with Moe Berg, a so-so major league catcher in the 1920s and 1930s, probably know little about his off-field life. Incredible but true, this high-IQ, multilingual Jewish ballplayer was recruited by our government during World War II to be a spy, with the specific assignment of tracking down and assassinating the head of Germany’s atomic bomb program.
Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) is believably brainy and athletic in The Catcher Was a Spy, which puts the audience in his place asking us what we would do if given such a task. The suggestion is made that it is Berg’s ethnicity that makes him so eager to do his part in defeating the Third Reich.
He travels to Europe with a physicist (Paul Giamatti) who introduces him in Zurich to Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong) – Germany’s point man on its nuclear weapons effort. The face-to-face meeting with Berg is one of the film’s strengths, even if you know that no such assassination happened.
Director Ben Lewin (The Sessions) based the film on a best-selling biography of the same name, sticking largely to its narrative, but giving added emphasis to a brief suggestion that Berg was homosexual. That earned the film considerable criticism and may have damaged its reception when The Catcher was released commercially last year.
THE CATCHER WAS A SPY, Cobb Theatres, Tuesday, Jan. 29. 1:30 p.m.
Dark Inclusion: Serpentine family dynamics and a revenge plot elevate what could have been a mere diamond heist caper in the Belgian thriller Dark Inclusion. The death of his father reels outcast Pier Ulmann back into his family’s gem-cutting business, as he relocates to Antwerp with larcenous retribution on the brain. Perceived as no threat to the status quo, Pier is offered a job renovating his uncle’s offices. That he does, as well as secretly learning the inside tricks of the diamond trade.
Thanks to an ex-con named Rachid, a father figure to Pier, a heist plot is hatched to inflict maximum financial pain on the family. As good as the plan seems to be, the formula of such films dictates that some of it must go awry. And so it goes.
Directed by Arthur Harari, Dark Inclusion is visually sophisticated and swiftly paced, but not so much so that it cannot pause for a thematic point which lends the film dramatic gravitas. As Pier, Niels Schneider heads a strong ensemble cast whose common denominator is treachery.
DARK INCLUSION, Cobb Theatres, Monday, Jan. 28, 4:00 p.m.; Cinemark Boynton Beach, Thursday, Feb. 7, 1:30 p.m.
Why the Jews?: Jews are said to be the “chosen people,” for good and for ill, and while Canadian documentarian John Curtin never really answers the provocative question his film’s title poses, it is enough that he illustrates and gathers statistics on the high percentage of Jewish achievement in the arts, sciences and awards, as well as the accompanying envy that has led to anti-Semitism.
If the Jewish people only consist of 0.02 percent of the world’s population, what accounts for them receiving such greater number of Nobel Prize winners, chess champions and Harvard Medical School faculty members?
With dogged persistence, Curtin trotted the globe in search of clues to the roots of the hatred of Jews as well as the community’s compensating achievements. Among his more prominent subjects are former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, in what would be the waning days of his life, and celebrity attorney (and Trump apologist) Alan Dershowitz.
Curtin eventually leaves the question open-ended, enough to prompt debate among viewers, like any worthy documentary should.
WHY THE JEWS? Cinepolis, Thursday, Jan. 24, 4:30 p.m.; Cobb Theatres, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 4:30 p.m.