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"Hatufim" and the Journey to "Homeland"

Not since Steve McQueen rode his motorcycle out of Stalag Luft III in the 1963 wartime epic The Great Escape has the fate of POWs so intoxicated the senses.Prisoners of War

Now that Hulu is streaming the hit Israeli TV drama Hatufim -- about soldiers who return to their native Israel after being held hostage in Lebanon and Syria for 17 years -- American viewers are discovering the addictive properties of the series on which Showtime's Golden Globes winner Homeland is drawn.

Read more: "Hatufim" and the Journey to...

Film Review: Armadillo

Directed by Janus Metz and Lars Skree
Written by Kasper Torsting

In February 2009 a group of Danish soldiers, accompanied by documentary filmmaker Janus Metz with cinematographer Lars Skree, arrived at Armadillo, a Forward Operating Base (FOB) army camp in the south Afghan province of Helmand.

The result is this tense, brilliantly edited, and visually sophisticated mirror of the psychology of young men in the midst of a vaguely defined war whose victims seem to be primarily local villagers and farmers. The gritty war drama justly won the Grand Prix de la Semaine de la Critique at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

The handsome, tattooed and unblemished soldiers each try to come to terms with waking every day to the realities of being in a terrain of rubble, faced with lethal enemies they rarely see except via overhead drone transmission, green screen computer paradigms and the hasty exits of women and children fleeing their villages in advance of what they know to be gunfights ahead.

Read more: Film Review: Armadillo

Backstage at the 2011 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies

The 27th annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies held March 14, 2011, at the Waldorf-Astoria was a bit Neil Diamond at Madison Square Gardens [photo: Rebecca Taylor]more star-studded than in past years.

The fact that pop-rock superstar Neil Diamond -- often playfully referred to as the “Jewish Elvis”--  was finally given the honor long due him was the best proof of that. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum co-founder, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, made it clear, however, that he was not a fan of Neil’s as he mentioned his induction as a fleeting afterthought in his audience welcoming speech. Diamond, who flew in from Australia and was scheduled to fly right back there to continue his tour, was visibly and understandably upset at the disrespect shown him.

Fortunately for the media, Diamond came down to the press room before Wenner’s slight. To his credit, he did not seem bitter about why he was denied rock music’s highest honor for so many years.

The 70-year-old lit up when I mentioned that my grandmother bought me a paddleball set from his dad’s dry goods store in Brighton Beach in the mid-1960s. I then asked him if his parents were supportive about his decision to drop out of his pre-med studies to pursue his musical aspirations. He said with a smile, “They eventually came around. I know that I would never have been as good a doctor as I am a songwriter."

Another inductee who waited far longer than he should have to be enshrined in the Cleveland-based museum was Alice Cooper. Cooper (real name: Vince Furnier) was a pioneer in making a rock concerts theatrical experiences. He and his band were adept at writing and performing satirical Top 40 rock hits as “School’s Out,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “Elected” and “Eighteen.” Although he doesn’t get enough credit in this area, Cooper has proven to be a fine ballad composer as evidenced by “You And Me,” a terrific song about working class love, and “I Never Cry,” a tune about male bravado.

“Thanks to reality television and new networks as CNN it is impossible to shock a concert audience these days,” lamented Furnier to the press. When I asked former Alice Cooper band member Michael Bruce about the band’s ballads, he shrugged and then said somewhat enviously, “The only rock act that can get away without playing any soft stuff in a concert is AC/DC!”

It is hard to think of a greater jack of all trades in the world of rock and pop than keyboardist Leon Russell. He initially made a name for himself as an L.A. session musician and as a songwriter/producer of many of Gary Lewis & The Playboys’ early 1960s hit records. He then became a favorite of harder rock fans by touring with Joe Cocker and playing a huge role in the musical success of 1971's Concert for Bangladesh that starred George Harrison. His medley of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and the Coasters’ “Young Blood” still remains the highlight of that show for me. His compositions, “Superstar,” “Tightrope,” “Lady Blue” and “Superstar” are enduring ‘70s classics.

Although Russell still performs (he is a regular at Manhattan’s BB King’s Blues Club), he has had health issues and had faded into obscurity. One of his biggest fans, Elton John, who helped resuscitate Neil Sedaka’s career in the mid 1970s, has tried to do the same for Leon. He cut an album with him last year, The Union, that was well received by both the public and the press. A documentary of their collaboration will be shown at the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival and Elton will be giving a free concert at the World Financial Center after the film makes its debut on April 20, 2011.

When Russell was asked why he became a forgotten man over the years despite his hefty accomplishments, he delayed answering. Finally he uttered, “Well I guess I just was never as good at publicity as Elton is.”

Darlene Love has long been revered for having one of the best voices in rock which is why troubled producer Phil Spector tried to use her as often as possible on his records. She went onto quietly have a very successful career as a background singer and for recording commercial jingles. Every holiday season she appears on CBS’s “The Late Show With David Letterman” to sing her classic, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). When I mentioned to her that the song really became popular when U2 recorded it for a fund-raiser CD for the Special Olympics, “A Very Special Christmas,” she hesitated giving the band credit for dramatically increasing its visibility. “I sang with (U2 lead singer) Bono on that version,” she informed the media.

Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman was honored as the recipient of the 2011 Ahmet Ertegun Award. Holzman is credited for signing such artists as Judy Collins, Harry Chapin, Carly Simon, Bread, and the Doors to name just a few, to his label. Although he was known for nurturing his talent, he could be a tough businessman when he needed to be. He admitted that he merged his company with Atlantic and Warner Brothers Records in 1970 to get both better distribution and to have more leverage dealing with artists’ managers’ financial demands.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame president Joel Peresman admitted that there are a lot of folks who deserve to be in the Hall but aren’t. “If we put everyone in who should be we’d have awfully long induction ceremonies!”

When asked about the financial state of the Hall of Fame, which was rumored to be shaky given the sad state of affairs for the once flourishing major record companies that had long supported it, Peresman stated that the museum had just received a $5.5 million endowment.

The 2011 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will be shown on cable’s Fuse Television quite a bit over the next few weeks. It is worth catching.

The 2011 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies
Fuse Television
March 20th, 2011

Nominees for the 83rd Academy Awards

83rd Academy Awards - Oscar Nominations

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
  • Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
  • Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
  • Colin Firth in “The King's Speech”
  • James Franco in “127 Hours”

Read more: Nominees for the 83rd Academy...

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