Movie time in Israel provides study break for med student

Life in medical school is mostly sitting in lectures and studying until bedtime.

However, one has to unwind from time to time. And a little time away from the books can actually help refocus your mind and give your brain some time to process everything you’ve been feeding it. (I have no studies to back that up, just personal experience.)

So here are five movies my wife and I have watched lately – thanks to an iTunes gift certificate from my parents – to help put the books to bed:

 1. Take Shelter – The second collaboration between writer/director Jeff Nichols and actor Michael Shannon, take shelter follows an Ohio roughneck as he has increasingly vivid visions of an apocalyptic storm. With barely restrained intensity, Shannon wonders with the audience if his visions are prophetic or the product of nascent mental illness starting to take hold.

Regardless of their true nature, he is compelled to prepare for what may or may not be coming. Nichols knows how to use silence and landscape to draw the audience into the slow boil of the story, but his greatest storytelling weapon is his leading man, Michael Shannon, who turns in one of the best performances you will see in years. See this movie. Stop reading and go watch it. Now.

2. Buck – An amazing documentary about the “horse whisperer,” Buck Brannaman.  This was an experience more than a movie. Director Cindy Meehl delves into the tragic childhood of Brannaman to reveal how it has influenced his amazing method of training, and sometimes rehabilitating, horses. Though his abilities seem supernatural, what drew us in is how Brannaman shows how a horse’s behavior reveals the insecurities and dark sides of their riders. It makes you wonder what a horse would act like if you were the one in the saddle.

3. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Gary Oldman. That’s all I should have to say. Is there a better actor out there? Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of the John le Carre novel is an amazing, slow burn Cold War spy flick following Oldman as he searches for a Soviet mole at the highest level of the British Secret Intelligence Service.

If you haven’t already seen it, don’t expect James Bond shootouts and romance. This is a film about ordinary men locked in a battle of wits to protect the free world or give it up. It’s a wonderful puzzle that doesn’t dumb itself down with leaden exposition to make sure you know what’s going on. It brings you into the fog and puts you at the mercy of the story to bring you out the other side.

4. JCVD – The Muscles from Brussels shows acting skills I never knew he had, even though he is playing “himself.” Though the movie is a crime dramedy about a bank heist that Van Damme may or may not be perpetrating, it has a confessional feel, almost as if the action is a carrot to draw you in to a documentary about the aging action hero. Director Mabrouk el Mechri doesn’t treat Van Damme as a cliché or a buffoon, but instead gives his star the chance to be normal and vulnerable — perhaps the first time Van Damme’s been given that — and it pays off.

5. Lions for Lambs – This is a little bit of a cheat because I actually watched it last year, but it took me away from medicine for a couple of hours and it was good, so I’m including it. As soon as I saw the previews for this one, back in 2007, I was sure I would hate it. It looked preachy.

It had Tom Cruise in it and he wasn’t playing Maverick. I didn’t want to waste time and energy on letting director Robert Redford tell me how I needed to get righteous. But after a strong recommendation from my brother, I checked it out. Was it preachy? No, but it was talky. And usually I don’t like that, but I found the central discussions of the film to be timely and well elucidated.

The film follows three stories: a professor challenging a student’s apathy, a presidential hopeful describing a new battle plan for Afghanistan to a skeptical reporter, and two soldiers enacting the new battle plan. The film certainly has a viewpoint, but it isn’t the political one you might think. Essentially, it presents you with the choice of living on the past hard work of someone else, or doing your own hard work in order to deserve the bounty you enjoy. Again, the film is heavy on dialogue, to almost Quentin Tarantino proportions, but worth the investment.

That’s it. I hope you find something you like. Now get back to work!


(Feature photo by Larry Luxner. State of Israel: Sunset over the ancient seaport of Jaffa.)