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City of Ghosts (2017)
Chilling reminder that evil still thrives in 2017.
For the briefest of moments, we were certain that the combination of pure evil and military might died in a German bunker at 1945. there are many examples in the 21st century to provide us with clear cut proof that it hasn't. we don't need City of ghosts to be reminded of that but even in the age of full transparency evil can still thrive and probably better than ever before.
City of ghosts centers around a subservient group of ordinary Syrians who found themselves in unordinary times and became journalists who report against the takeover, cleansing and terrorizing of the Syrian city of Raqaa by ISIS. ISIS entered the city on 2013 in the midst of the civil war that still goes on and immediately called the citizens to cooperate or face the consequences. Those highly unsubtle threats were recorded and were broadcast by a group mention before. This groups is known as RBSS (acronym of : Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently). ISIS who's agenda is to show that the newly conquered city is blooming, finds in RBSS a cardinal threat and starts in brutal campaigns that include murdering activists of the organization (even those who fled Syria) and in many cases, murdering the kin. ISIS is not the first organization to launch brutal and senseless murders but is different than any other militia in both there propensity to flaunt it and in their high production value of their brutal videos.
RBSS members are normative citizens and none of the people presented in the film, lodging in undisclosed location in Germany has a death wish. The eminent threat is permeating to their personal life and although they never say it aloud, it brings doubts to their commitment. A doubt any human being can understand
The direction is minimalist and is comprised almost exclusively of the testimony of these activists. No English voice-over is used for background purposes or contemplation. The movie, wisely, leaves the contemplation to the viewer.
The movie is so engrossing that in the few moments that I wasn't transfixed to the screen, I thought that everyone should watch this beautiful (albeit hard to watch) documentary that proves once again that world indifference can lead to unfathomable horror and even in the day of modern communication, we still can't see what's going on in many parts of the globe. But the most important point the movie makes is that history can repeat itself and with ISIS recruiting adults and children with funding and a fake sense of purpose, a Nazi like threat to humanity is not just material for the history channel, it could very well be reported in the evening news
10 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter
Description d'un combat (1960)
The portrait of a young state and a bygone state of mind
First of all, a disclosure. As you can probably tell from the user info, I am an Israeli and no matter how hard I try, there is no way i'll review this title through purely objective eyes. The good news are that the reality perpetuated in the movie and reviewed here, doesn't exist anymore.
What was Israel in 1960, you ask? It was a country basking in the warmth of stability after a decade long era of wars that pre-dated Israel itself. social oriented communities called Kibbutz were in their golden age and harvested many of Israel's future key figures; Agriculture was Israel's main export and so was the feeling of redemption of the never redeemed wrong of the holocaust. Chris Marker, traveled the length and breadth for a month to capture the faces that tell the stories and the message these stories carry. He wondered through the culture center of Haifa, the hangout for intellectuals and photographed the droves of north-African immigrants' parade for Rabbi Meir, an apparently formidable (I am highly secular, mind you) Rabbi who is buried near the sea of Galilee. Marker canvassed the than virgin shores of Eilat who would later become a highly thriving and grotesquely commercial city and depicted the poor kids of Haifa who find themselves as part of the workforce.
You might wonder if these sporadic scenes carry any message. They do and Marker stresses it. Israel is the country who was born from the wrong doing of several nations. One name appears on the top of my head as it does in yours, I'm sure but Marker notes that Great Britain took the grief stricken refugees and locked them in concentration camps in Cyprus. Marker states (via narrator) that "Israel can't afford not to be right". Not because Israelis are error-free humans but because it exists solely as a safety net of for Jews that might feel threatened by countries that are now or will be wrong.
The movie is touching to the Israeli and provides a time capsule of a bygone era. Era where Naivity was considered noble. The movie suffers from melodramatic approach and doesn't address inter-racial tension but otherwise, it's very compelling and engrossing.
One last thing, some might wonder how is the Palestinian plight debated in the film. It's not. Mainly because there were no Palestinian groups at 1960 (PLO was formed in 1963) and more importantly because it was peace time and those who could profit from it, regardless of creed, have.
Could the movie appeal to those who never set foot in Israel? the top prize it picked on Berlin festival of 1961 indicates that it might. Can it be a mirror of modern day Israel? god, no.
9 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter
Particle Fever (2013)
Riveting documentary about knowing the greatest unknown there is
If there's one thing I learned at particle fever, it's probably the fact that Phyiscs is not what I learned in high school. The Physics I studied (and failed miserably) was the calculator of light rays and gravity forces. The real Physics, the one some people choose as their livelihood is, quite literally, a universe away. Some might say multi-verse away.
But I'm jumping ahead of myself.
The focus of the movie- the Hydron collider in Switzerland is a project according to all projections, should never have materialized. Its costs sky-rocketed to five billion pounds, it took almost twenty years to build and a few more years to overcome glitches (and when you build a seven mile long tunnel to run beams in the speed off light, glitches are inevitable) and it's functional and commercial uses are, as of today, non-existent. It's hard to persuade people to allocate money and time just to get a replay of the big bang. Alas, it's not the Hedron's goal.
I'm still jumping ahead.
Physics is the most pretentious of scientific fields. Its purpose is to compose the great manual of the universe. A tough assignment considering no one knows how it works, how long it will work or if it was intentionally premeditated to work. CERN, The ultimate place of worship for all physicists, takes the wild theories of the universe and with high powered, heavily documented and shockingly susceptible device, puts them to the test.
The one test that CERN failed to anticipate is the test of the real world. When one operate a gigantic, costly collider, you need press coverage, in order to do that, CERN must provide insights. Keeping the experiments clandestine, isolate CERN from the media, making them public, lead to rushed tests that more often than not, fail and alienate the press even more.
Apparently, the world outside the Hedron collider is as vicious as the Collider itself.
Of course, the Hedron collider overcame all its initial difficulties and supplied the world with shocking insights that leave many questions unanswered. One that, in my opinion, looms over all the rest, is whether or not this manual of the universe was authored or generated by circumstances. In other words, is there a big guy upstairs or is this universe one big exercise in probability.
This movie makes you think. beyond the colorful and diverse types of physicists, it projects an image of the universe and forces us to redefine perspective. Now, that's quite an accomplishment for a modest documentary.
Don't expect the movie to be easy. It's not for the Physics majors but it's also not digested to be user-friendly.
Manuals never are.
8 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter
Blue Ruin (2013)
compelling action movie that actually appeals to our intelligence
If you want to know how bad 2013 was, take a peek at the top 250 list and find out how many of them were made on that year. As of 01/10/2013 (dd/mm/yyyy - just to clarify) this number is a staggering 0. It's too early to determine whether 2013 was a great year for the accountants of Hollywood but it sure was a dreadful (pending "Gravity") for its pantheon. On the positive note, 2013 could be the onset of a very promising director named Jeremy Saulnier and the beginning of a new genre: the multiple-twist movies. The plot seems pretty straight forward at first. Dwight (Macon Blair) is a homeless man living on the outskirts of an amusement park. One day he finds that his longtime nemesis (for reasons revealed later on in the film) is about to be released from prison. Clearly, Dwight has no intention to turn the other cheek in this case and he sets out to a successful assassination. After committing his first criminal act (and certainly not the last) Dwight moves in with his Burgois sister and her kids and finds out his brutal, bloody and terribly conspicuous revenge is left unreported because the victim's grieving family is gearing up for an act of apocalyptic vengeance. Dwight is left with no choice but to accept the challenge. Remember in the Matrix the big spoiler appears mid film? Or how the gigantic spoiler is close to the finale at "The sixth sense"? This movie is an installation of successive twists and I have to say it's a very effective way to keep the viewer glued to his seat. Saulnier's writing or casting are commendable but not revolutionary but it's the movie's pacing that distinguish him from the multitude of rookie directors with affordable cameras and editing software. You could argue as to the integrity of some characters in the movie or even question how imperative they are to the plot but when the movie is layered through and Dwight's vigilante act appears more and more like a fatal judgment error, a profound experience happens and the viewer's empathy of the main protagonist wanes down. In a highly unusual introduction at the Haifa film festival, a festival's representative stated that Saulnier could the next Tarantino if he plays his cards right. Saulnier vision of crime drama with moral issues is in fact a breath of fresh air in a stagnant Ganre and one can forgive the lackluster performance of Macon Blair or even look the other way with some character development issues. These issues don't subtract the film's appeal but they do make the comparison between the directors premature to say the least.
I for one, thought that analogy is slightly optimistic. Tarantino took the action Ganre and added complex narrative and time maneuvering (Most notably in Pulp fiction but also at Reservoir dogs). The director doesn't rock the revenge saga in such a manner but he might be a good shot of making 2014 a much better movie year than 2013 was. This movie is worth seeing and despite its modest budget, doesn't seem shoddy or awkwardly delivered. I won't risk predicting that Saulnier will be a household name in the future but I can safely foresee that although this review (thanks for reading it) may be chronologically first on IMDb, it won't be the last
World War Z (2013)
world war zzzz
Here's the thing, Zombies are a metaphor. The Zombie character is a symbol of the blue collar office workers that drone to the corporate hive and than totter out in wearing a blank facial expression. Zombie epidemic is impossible and Zombie movies epidemic is pointless for quite some time. Longer than the first draft (of many, we learn) of world war z.
While Gerry lane (Brad Pitt in a reasonable but unmemorable performance) prepares pancakes for his kids as the ex-UN officer-turned-homemaker that he is, a growing army of the undead is spreading through every city. Brad is called from retirement to try and find a cure. After a brief and rather cryptic meeting with a virologist, Brad heads to Jerusalem to examine close hand the solution they effectively devised against the Zombies. As an Israeli, I was surprised not only by the fact that the Israelis actually solved a problem but also from the visions of unity between Israelis and Arabs. In one scene, Arabs and Israelis were standing and singing peace songs in unison. Maybe such an eminent threat will make us Israelis and Arabs set aside our differences and unite us all as one family but it definitely won't turn us into the Von-Trapp family.
Gerry (the formerly retired UN officer) has little time to dwell on the petty. After a brief session with a Mossad official with the least Israeli name anyone can think of and after roaming in in a city that never won the "Jerusalem lookalike" contest ,He continues with a wounded female Israeli soldier named "Segen" (Hebrew for "Lieutenant") to the last resort to cure the world of this endemic. Some of you might think I'm a little light handed when it comes to quotation marks but I assure you there is no one named "Segen", the Jerusalem in the movie has very little resemblance to the real Jerusalem and the entire premise and plot evolution seem like one big quotation mark that's not worth quoting.
The authenticity problems with the Jerusalem of WWZ is meaningless to the 99.99% of the people who, in my estimate, have never set foot in it. The thin plot and the flatness of all characters but Pitt's are the movies major flaw and when the sluggish pacing (especially during the last half hour) builds in for the big climax, it's poorly executed and the pieces of the story are rashly held with a duct tape dialog. The flawed writing is evident by the realization that if the (few) surviving characters would have fallen victim to the epidemic, it wouldn't have mattered one bit to the story's appeal. I'll go the extra mile and wildly speculate that the extensive rewrites made the problem even worse.
I think the movie's biggest problem is that it misses its mark. If it's meant to be a Zombie movie with a hidden criticism of human ineptness, it loses to the masterful "28 days later", if it's a one man journey in a dystopian apocalypse movie than it waddles behind "I am legend".
I have seen these aforementioned movies many times and I assure you I have no plan to see WWZ another time. The only good reason to see this movie is the opportunity to write a snide review in which I strongly suggest to Hollywood to bring the zombie movie genre to a final overdue rest.
The zombie metaphor, it seems, is undead too.
5 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter.
Upstream Color (2013)
I need your help. Usually when I see movies I don't care for but many others do, I can see the traits they had that made them appealing. Magnolia to me is drastically overrated but I do appreciate the effort put into the writing and acting. Moulin Rouge made me feel like a prisoner forced to give information but I recognized it's music, style and setting qualities. Upstream colors left me dumbfounded. I want to ask all those movie critics what was the hidden plot that they saw and I apparently never did.
The plot (and I use the term very loosely) revolves about a young woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz) who falls victim to a con man that by using pills, hypnotism and even a worm, turns her to a submissive zombie and drains out her bank account. Broke, unemployed and wrought with emotional disturbances , Kris meets Jeff (Shane Carruth, who's got a lot of explaining to do) and form a very special bond wherein they refrain from coherent sentences and normal behavior. Things go downhill from here.
The movie also introduces us to a weird Art Garfunkel look alike who spends his days recording sounds, growing pigs, doing something not very nice to one of them, attaching them with earrings and name tags and eventually sends a bunch of people a book. The book is imperative to establish the "what the hell?" mood that accompanies the film.
Things go even worse from here.
Kris is now busy picking small rocks from the bottom of an indoor pool and reciting random lines from a book (Is it Walden? is this the same book that the pig farmer had sent? does any of this makes sense?) Jeff's unburied past is revealed while we learn that the pig farmer/sound recorder won't get away with it (although we don't know what "it" is).
Oh, we've only just started.
There's another couple. They don't make any sense either but at least we can take a breather from Kris and Jeff while waiting for that redeeming moment to put all the pieces of this puzzle together. A moment that never comes. Not to mention the orchids. I didn't figure them out, either.
I hate to be the sarcastic and mean spirited critic but I have to point out that this film is not only overrated, its acclaimed under false pretenses. Somewhere after 20 minutes, Carruth stops from making any attempt to follow a story line, the dialog is grotesque and there is no effort to bind these pack of stories to something that might resemble a movie.
The strangest thing is that the movie's editing is superb and so is the cinematography. Carruth, who clearly has an acute visual sense, left any shreds of a story buried under the rubble of sentence fragments and awkward silences.
Yes, I HAVE read all the explanations and theories regarding the plot holes and they are meaningless. The plot holes don't exist because the story is one giant black hole. If this review (thanks for reading it, by the way) was a bunch of random letters, would it have mattered if some of the letters were actual words?
Next time, I'll catch an actual movie.
2 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter.
If you have a good story, the rest will take care of itself
If you'll indulge me. The year is 2012, Christoper Nolan launches the third installment of the most lucrative batman series in the history of motion pictures with "The dark knight rises" The movie is well executed but for me something was missing. The movie was big but it outgrew its own story.
No, I didn't forget which movie I'm commenting on, I am merely saying what you and Nolan already know. A movie might benefit from A list actors or lavish CGI but it has to have a great idea.
Someone who is short of a great idea is "The young men", an "aspiring" writer. His dull existence render his stories unwritten. In his despair, he stoops to stalking random strangers. After a brief research, he stumbles on Cobb, a burglar who looks like a suave businessman but enjoys the thrill of violating the holy privacy of complete strangers.
His quirky observations lure The young man to a series of break-ins that are pointless and hopelessly addictive. The young men gets ideas and adrenaline rushes, Cobb sketches mental drawings of his victims by rummaging in their belongings. We soon find out that Cobb analyzes first and foremost his new companion. brimming with newly found confidence, The young man starts to date a stand-offish (Lucy Russell) who is never clear about her past and almost always reluctant to talk about it. Her agenda, we later learn, has ulterior motives. The young man is about to find out what is the game he serves as a pawn in and decides to take actions. I can't tell much more than I already have but I could point out that there's a reason why none of the pieces in chess is capable of moving itself.
Nolan, who wrote, shot and directed "Following" back in 1998, could have made over 35,000 "Following" movies with the budget it took him to do just one "The dark knight rises" and I'd choose the former over the latter any day of the week.
Those who are familiar with Nolan's work, can already recognize time- galloping narrative, the shrewd analysis of everyday life and the multi layered stories that above anything else, show how much effort and thought were put by Nolan. This movie has fewer actors, less lavish settings and even less colors (black and white, mostly) than every single movie he made since, but the story is there and all the rest become technicalities.
One of these technicalities will be the acting. aside from Alex Haw (the Cobb), the actors didn't leave a lasting impression, the fighting scenes are clumsily edited and the the demented love triangle is, well, out of shape. Nolan always had a flair for well constructed story telling but, if I may be a little vein and make outrageous assumptions, Nolan is not the kind of director who will never let an actor adhere from the character envisioned by Nolan himself and this movie, like many more of his works, suffered (slightly) for that.
More than it is an indicator to any of my traits, this overly-analyzing movie review is proof of the one common quality in all great movies have: It makes you think about them long after the credits.
Probably more than anything else, this movie is a display of raw brilliance of a fledgling British director that will become the icon of highly acclaimed and unfathomably lucrative Hollywood movies.
I think the kid's got potential.
9 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter
A generally good film that ends up missing the personal touch It's suppose to advocate
More often than not, in order to make a semi-reasoned judgment on a film, one needs a frame of reference. The particular movie screening of "Surrogates" that I attended was followed immediately by the screening of"Twelve monkeys", which was a frame of reference to futuristic worlds. Both worlds feature Bruce Willis as the main character and both deal with parallel existences. Sadly, only one of them harnesses the reference potential to its fullest.
Officer Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) seemingly chose the best timing to be a cop. The society he lives in, executed a foolproof method to combine the resources of the outside world and the safety of home. The Mechanical beings that the movie bears their name, are Human-looking robots that are physically superior and also way more attractive than us, human weaklings and are used very effectively as a channel through which the humans exercise their mental capacity from the safety and comfort of their own home. The major upside of our super ego dolls is that in the event of a car accident, shooting spree, St. Patrick's day parade or any hazardous event, they obtain the injuries or deaths that human weaklings would have endured so what ended in the past with death or crippling injury, now adds up to a restoration bill from VSI, the Mega-corporation that cashes in on the surrogates.
Basically things go quite well. Sure, a group of dissidents, lead by a an eccentric man known only as the prophet (Ving Rhames) create surrogates free compounds and the founder of the company seems reluctant of his own invention but with crime rates at an all time low and anxiety levels of Yoga instructors, the world of attractive, computerized zombies, is seemingly a happy one.
One day, though, Officer Greer and his female partner Peters (Radha Mithcell) discover that a demise of a surrogate was accompanied by the actual death of its operator, an event with literally no likelihood of occurring. Armed with that information and aided by a superior Surrogate, officer Greer escapes the plight of his troubled marriage and enters the dilapidating compounds of the dissidents. In the process, he reveals the vulnerability of surrogates, the frowned upon aspirations of their creator (James Cromwell who gives the most, and maybe only noteworthy performance in the movie) and discovers, along with the viewers (who are still human at this point in time) the grotesque world mankind sunk into in the name of technology.
The real a parallel world created by technology is a subject so vastly explored in movies it deserves its own Ganre. Whether this movie bare similarities to "The Matix" or "The Island" are irrelevant. The only relevant question is whether the parallel world depicted in this movie leaves the impression it was designed to leave and is the basic plot the premise of a masterpiece or a mere excuse for CGI.
The parallel world in this movie is depicted quite well I must say. The blank faces of the surrogates as they stroll along the streets of an anonymous metropolis (probably, Boston) leave the impression of the lifeless world that became a prison. Where the movie fails to leave the impression is the real world. With a script that occasionally stumbles on clichés and performances that are satisfactory at best , all the movie has to say about the modern day human dwellers is that they are derelicts in comparison to their surrogates.
That, my fellow human weaklings, is not a compliment by any means.
If you still wonder why I mentioned the screening of Twelve monkeys in the first place, let me explain. Surrogates is engrossing at times, often effective and visually impressive. What lacks in the movie is a spirit that is crucial to accentuate the true added values of the human imperfections. Since most of the human characters lack depth and the scenes they take part in, are short of subtlety, the movie becomes, well, the product of a surrogate. Some of you might suggest that this is an action flick and not an Oscar movie to begin with but the depiction of the human characters is crucial not only for the academy awards, it's vital to establish the real life from the programmed ones. Twelve monkeys, the futuristic world ridden by a mysterious plague is filled with the highly pretentious and border line hallucinatory direction of Terry Giliam and is hard to watch at times, but Gilliam's approach is the one that makes the characters jagged and frail inside as well as outside. The only observation one could make about the humans in the post-surrogates era is that they are into sweatpants.
In an interview Bruce Willis gave to Larry King (add your surrogate related snide remark here), he claimed that he's waiting for action films to re-invent themselves before he re-appears in them. If "Surrogates" was suppose to reinvent the genre than quite frankly it didn't but regardless of that, what modern movies are destined to reinvent is not the genre they originate from but the state of mind their viewers should be in. Surrogates provides an entertaining and even semi-intelligent (it is an action flick after all) but like the synthetic world of surrogates, this movie leaves something to be desired.
7.5 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter.
Caótica Ana (2007)
A movie that will leave you wanting to leave the movie theater
You know how sometimes a movie really reminds you of another movie you saw, not because of obvious reasons such as plot similarities, duplicated characters, suspiciously identical quotes etc. but because of another reason, a little less evident but existent nonetheless. I associate Chaotic Ana with "Stealing Beauty", a romantic drama by Bernardo Bertolucci that made Liv Tyler a household name. seemingly one has to be slightly hallucinated to associate Stealing Beauty with a fantasy/occult movie and like I said earlier, the reason is subtle but it still exists. Ana (the mind-blowingly beautiful Manuela Vellés in a good performance) is a painter who lives with her father in a cave (seriously, an actual cave) when one day, she is spotted by an artists' patron (Charlotte Rampling ) who immediately identifies her talent and asks her to join the artists greenhouse she runs in Madrid. Ana who is very close to her father is a little reluctant at first but ultimately decides to cultivate her passion for art, preferably in a modern day dwelling. Ana is acquainted with other artists that share her artistic vision and propensity to avoid coherent statements (I will elaborate about that later on) but one man draws her attention, Said (pronounced Sa-Id), an enigmatic painter who grew up in a rural area of a north African, trauma ridden, country. How he got from there to the artists' house is anyone's guess. Ana and Said fall in love and conduct a passionate and highly explicit romance. One day, though, Said disappears for no reason. At the same time, Ana discovers that her dreamless sleep and peculiar visions originate in a startling fact in her past. To avoid spoilers, I will not elaborate too much on that fact but like I stated earlier, this movie deals with the occult so if you hate the sixth sense because you're too old to believe in ghosts, this movie is probably not your cup of truffles-juice (no tea in this movie, it's way too normal to be consumed)
Ana, aided with the French patron and an American "occult professional" (Asier Newman Who unfortunately, struggled too much with his coarse Spanish to give a good performance), decides to search her destiny in light of these revelations. These revelations are abundant with cultural references, Flashbacks, scenery shots etc. but they all lack one crucial ingredient- sense.
Sense is usually a missing ingredient in the films that deal with the occult but the sense I refer to is not the fact oriented sense. It's the sense of the characters state of mind and disposition that makes them genuine. The endless theories about the nature of men and women might seem offensive to some or ridiculous to others but to me they seem the clear cut symptom of the film's artificiality. Hearing the characters lay out their philosophies, listening to them converse, and watching them react to certain situations, make you wonder in what bizarro world this code of conduct is considered common or even acceptable. And if that's not sufficient enough to depreciate the film's cinematic worth, the blunt and redundant sex scenes as well as the stereotypical background stories deteriorate the film to good guys/bad guys dichotomy usually common in Road runner cartoons. By "stereotypical stories" I mean the stories that are too clichéd and metaphorical to be authentic, for example: Said that was abducted from his family by soldiers, Ana's friend, Linda that was abandoned by her father, the encounter American official who "made" the war (no, I don't know what that means either) and the list goes on and on.
I feel a bit reluctant to criticize a film that was made from such a personal and painful viewpoint (the director made this movie in his deceased sister's memory and incorporated her paintings throughout the film). I can't think of a more difficult task to translate personal loss to the big screen. I have no knowledge or skill to determine whether the character of Ana is based on Hulio Medem's deceased sister but I can say with a great deal of confidence that the world depicted in this movie doesn't fit to the planet we all live in.
If you recall (which I doubt it), I mentioned that this film reminded me of Stealing beauty, Liv Tyler's big breakthrough. That film was highly acclaimed at the time so I rushed to see it and ended up bitterly disappointed. I believe that many critics who wrote in glowing terms of Stealing beauty's behalf, spent the movie mesmerized by Liv's infinite charm and sex appeal and overlooked the film's overall qualities. Manuela Vellés has the same undefinable quality and I can only assume her name will be known to many in the future.
Hopefully in more coherent films.
4 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter.
La sconosciuta (2006)
Film making in its best for the viewers who are willing to be scarred by a story
I need to clarify one thing before I begin this review. I am a man. I enjoy watching muscle cars hurdle through a race track, I could watch Die hard 2 any day of the week and I never had the urge to watch Desperate housewives/Sex and the city or anything else that might give me an insight to the opposite gender (assuming those shows do that). I am not writing this as an apology on behalf of my gender but because the female psyche is a realm that I have yet to fathom and this film not only exposes the abyss of the women's trade atrocities but also to the uncharted territory of one woman's quest for happiness.
That particular woman is Irena (Xenia Rappoport- her performance is beyond describable), Irena is an Italian speaking, Russian-descent woman in her 30's that starts to work as a maid in an affluent house of well to do parents and their little girl. At first, her "curiosity" for her employers' belongings (and since they are in the Diamond business, belongings they have in abundance) leaves the viewer to assume that Irena is a skilled thief that believes in the broader definition of the term "Cleaning". Clearly, the truth is much more complicated.
It is also clear that the past of Irena is riddled with humiliation, violence and degradation committed on her by, well, the lesser people of my specimen but most of all she is haunted not only by what she had to endure but by what she had and lost and more importantly, what she never got the chance to have. I am deliberately enigmatic because the film is too. The peeling of Irena's past is is gradual and seemingly sporadic and her past is gut wrenching and scarring.
While the viewers are getting clearer glimpses of that past, Irena, knowing that the skeletons in her closet are vivid and always present, forms a bond with her employers' daughter, a young and fragile kid that Irena seems determined, far too determined to a stranger's eye, to instill the street-toughness that Irena had to acquire in ways that are anything but pleasant.
The fictitious story of Irena (which is all too real to too many women) could have been a display of sensationalist voyeurism, a self righteous lecture of the trivial and obvious (and let's face it, I didn't need to see the film to find the notion of women trading despicable) or a mere excuse to show a morbid film under a politically correct subject.
This film doesn't have a shred of the above characteristics. The director enhances the horror atmosphere by the chilling musical score, the absolutely flawless acting and script and primarily, by exposing a woman's quest for happiness amidst the live that leaves very little chance of attaining it.
I am usually highly reluctant to discover major plot advancement in movies (even movies I don't recommend to watch) but this film excavates the problem because the deciphering the enigmatic story of Irena is so engrossing and the most valuable asset of the film that disclosing even the smallest of details might weaken the movie's effect. This movie is worth seeing with a companion so you can discuss its qualities and ponder of the true nature of the movie's end (and I used the word "Enigmatic" in this review far too many times already).
There are a couple of matters that I do prefer to clarify:
The movie is the reason why people make movies and why people like yours truly enjoy movies so much. Not only there aren't any noticeable flaws in the film, there are also no redundant scenes, tedious dialog lines that could be discarded or disturbing views that can be eliminated without heavily impairing the overall impression of the film.
The disturbing views are usually implied and the ones that are clear appear for a fraction of a second but leaves a far longer impression. Those of you who envision this film as a myriad of scenes of red wine and Lake Maggiore passing through the window of a fiat 500 are in for a major disappointment.
The rest, though, will experience the true effect of a flawless film that leaves an impression that exceeds the limitations of my penmanship.
10 out of 10 in My FilmOmeter
A relatively good movie marred by its attempt not to fall on deaf European ears
Sometimes, it's possible to predict the nature of a film just by its production company. If the production company happens to be, say, Jerry Bruckheimer's, than there's a very good chance you will entail a great deal of explosions and very little dialog; if the production company is Miramax than one of the actors will have a British accent (fake or genuine, doesn't matter) and a love affair that will probably not materialize.
The production company for "Restless", which happens to be an Israeli film shot in Israel and New York is a French-German one (ARTE) which owns a formidable culture TV channel. I'll get back to that a little later on. The fact the film's director, Amos Kollek, is the son of on of the most prominent figures in modern Israeli history is also clearly evident in the film but this too, will have to wait.
Moshe Amar (Moshe Ivgy, the veteran Israeli actor in a great performance) is a once poet and now a "businessman" (a euphemism for "sells whatever crap he's got his hands on") who left his wife with their new born in Israel twenty years ago and spent them in the land of limitless possibilities trying to leave a mark of immortality but, up to that point, only got the marks that frantic debt collectors are more than happy to give. Tsach (Ran Danker, the Israeli heartthrob that gives a surprisingly good performance) is the abandoned son who is now a skilled sniper in the Israeli Army. Tsach resents his father for both abandoning his mother for 21 years and not attending her funeral.
Tsach, like his father, finds himself lost after he mistakenly discharges a bullet and wounds a Palestinian kid, thus ending his illustrious army career. Both Tsach and Moshe, the alienated father and son, need some sort of anchor in their otherwise drifting life. Moshe finds it both in a single-mother waitress with a tough disposition and a good heart (Karen Young in a terrific performance) and in the angry poems that reveal the artist he once was before he succumbed to the greed obsession we usually refer to as "adulthood". Tsach, like his father, will learn to find his anchor after several blank attempts and more importantly, will learn to face his demons so he won't end up the washed out and emotionally crippled man his father.
If you read this whole review (thanks for that, by the way) and wondered why on earth did I drone on and on about the production company for, well, the reason I did it is because even now, three days after watching the film, I still couldn't find a more coherent reason why Moshe, the abandoning father, denounces, time and again, the "occupation" and notes incessantly in his poems that Israel lost its path since 1967 or why Tsach, the disgruntled kid, goes to a drinking binge (as an Israeli soldier, mind you) with several Muslims he never met before (a highly unlikely scenario, even if Alcohol was allowed for Muslims, which it isn't) and most importantly, why all Israeli characters are either lost or cold hearted businessman, devoid of a conscience. The Jewish characters in this film make the Jews in "Passion of the Christ" seem like the Von-Trapp family. I can't determine (and don't know) whether Arte's financial backup really prompted this aspect of the film but I do know that it's redundant to the story development and that it also kinder on European suave ears than on the Israeli ragged ones. On a side note, I always add quotation marks to the word "occupation" because neither the west bank nor Gaza were independent entities, they were always under Jordan and Egypt rule (respectively) prior to the 1967 war so Israel is not anymore an occupier than they were.
The movie's premise that Israel owes an apology for everything it did in the last 40 years can't be acceptable to the average Israeli who, to the best of my knowledge, don't have shares in ARTE.
As a veteran film director, Amos Kollek does a good but not flawless job. The movie is far superior to the amateurish "Happy End" of 2003 but lacks the infinite charm of "fast food, fast women" of 2000. The script is very well written but the climax (can't elaborate, sorry) seems fast forwarded and not well constructed. The acting is all-round superb and the grim life of the disillusioned Israeli in New-York are well depicted by the camera, script and editing. As an Israeli (with political opinions that are not indecipherable, I assume), I went to see a film about my country and wandered if the film (despite it's obvious qualities) was shot in a conveniently located, parallel universe.
7.5 out of 10 in my filmOmeter.
Das Leben der Anderen (2006)
How do you say "Big brother is watching" in German?
Do you believe in time travel? I didn't for a long time until I visited Berlin in 1989. I was in a youth delegation and at that time, the rapidly diminishing Berlin wall was making headlines everywhere thus, becoming a grossly unattractive tourist attraction.
I recall strolling through the affluent, bustling, modern west Berlin and suddenly, I found myself in a city street I only saw at archived pictures. The sidewalks were cracks laden, the houses-charred and the public parks seemed like the headquarters of weed-gone-wild. It was very much like the Berlin immediately after world war two. I know that I didn't have to go to Berlin to see a city which entails neglected areas as well as well maintained ones. Hell, I don't have to go outside the very city I live in (Jerusalem) to see that, but Berlin of 1989 wasn't a city of different economic classes, it was two adjacent cities each located in a different dimensions and one of these dimensions was stagnant.
The stagnant dimension east Berlin is the home of Georg Dreymen, a high renowned author/ playwright and also a strong believer of the socialist ideology. his wife, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck in a flawless performance) is one of the most prominent actresses in East Germany. Dreyman and Sieland are articulate, take pride in their country's ideology and also happen to be talented in their craft and boast many powerful friends. One might think they are the last people to pose a threat to the regime. That is unless one works in the Stazi, the secret police of East Germany. The Stazi, "the shield and sword of the party" as their motto exclaimed, were the embodiment of Orwell's vision of "1984". The "Big brother" in a thick, German accent. One of the Stazi's employees, a bureaucrat called Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe in a wonderful performance) takes charge of the couple's surveillance, waiting to see if the golden boy of the regime plots against it.
Surely enough, Wiesler, the well seasoned Stazi agent, finds out that his instincts were right and that Dreymen is willing to risk his stature in order to reveal the real story of the country that stifles any shred of independent thought and prosecutes its intellectuals to isolation, frustration and, in many cases, to "self inflicted murders" as the regime defines it.
Wiesler knows that this information can guarantee him a lifetime of privileges most East-Germans can only dream of but as he continues his surveillance, a peculiar transformation occurs, Wiesler can no longer see Dreyman and his wife as subjects, or targets to neutralize. he finds himself enchanted by the couple's mutual love and spirit and decides to give precedence to their silent struggle rather than to the interests of the organization he was once so proud of. What happens next is for you to find out and for me to be mesmerized by.
Today it seems way too easy to mock the Communist regimes but what many seem to forget is that Communism (and I am saying this as a capitalist) is probably the most well intentioned ruling system conceived by man. The society of no classes, where everyone gets to live a respectable life is a noble notion. No hidden sarcasm here, I truly mean that. Communism failed not because of the Stazi's ruthlessness or because of Stalin's atrocities (although none of those helped), it failed because of the human nature. Mankind always fought first and foremost, for egotistical purposes. It may not be flattering but it's true all the same. In East Germany, the monetary system was not the universal reward for one's abilities so influence, information and terror became the hard currency. You can consider the methodical diligence and thoroughness of the Stazi as evil but in reality, all Weisler did, at least at first, was just derived of human nature.
Humanity is the corner stone of the film and the director (I would have written his name but I have a thousand words limit...) propels the film with the humanity of the characters. The dialogs are not only credible but also vivid. The lively world of those who chose not to stifle their creativity is masterfully accentuated against the Grey buildings of East Germany and the portrayal of Wiesler, the former emotionally crippled agent. It's that contrast between the human spirit and the Government interests that brought the demise of East-Germany. I could go on and on about the masterful direction, the perfect script or the superb acting (Ulrich Muhe's performance of Wiesler is nothing short of captivating. His recent death is a gigantic loss to the Cinematic world, no doubt) but the truth is that this movie leaves such an impression for a different reason altogether. That reason is the perfect blend of talent, passion and diligent film making. Every scene is crucial for the plot or to accentuate the state of mind of the protagonists; Every shot masterfully designed to build up towards the inevitable climax. The two hours of this film are so engrossing that every single viewer transforms to the dreaded East-German citizen, frozen by his own thoughts and the possibility that someone might be aware of them.
10 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter.
P.S. This film is set to be "Hollywoodized". An English language remake is scheduled for 2010. I know some might have trouble with the German language but I also know this: The odds that the hypothetical (as of 2007) remake will achieve the impact of this film is slim to none. I would hate to see this film reduced to a pale, English speaking copy simply because some people can't get used to sub-titles.
Let the world know -Spartan men are really muscular
Atkins diet is a pretty tough diet. Trust me, i'm going through it right now. The Atkins diet, for those of you who don't buy their clothes at linen stores, is a diet that restricts the consumption of carbon hydrates to a bare minimum. You can have a bacon and scrambled eggs but you should steer clear of bread, rice, pasta, sweets and Lollypops. Lollypops are the worst, they are pure carbon hydrates on a stick.
If you wonder why I discuss lolly-pops in an war epic movie comment, an explanation shall be given (hint: It has nothing to do with the title of my comment).
Sparta is probably one of the most fascinating societies to roam the planet. The Spartans had no rules, just a stern ruling system that took every seven year old male from his family and put him through a lifetime of torture-like practice so he can become a flawless fighting machine, devoid of any personal purpose but the purpose of engaging in a bloody battle.
King Leonidas is the man reigning on this theater of absurd that is Sparta. Absurdly enough, the king, a highly respected warrior in his own right, has to report every once in a while to the council of the Ephors who were according to Wikipedia, elected officials that were in charge of the king abiding the law. According to the film, they were also highly unattractive ogres that mediated between the Oracle and Leonidas.
Leonidas wanted to wage war against the Persian army. The biggest and most frightening army the ancient world ever witnessed. The Ephors, after a lengthy consolation with the oracle, decide the king should make major concessions to the Persian king without initiating a war he can't win. Leonidas does the unthinkable and contrary to the Oracle's decision, recruits 300 of his best warriors to face the menace that puts their entire country at danger.
The 300 Spartans are out numbered but they have two advantages:1) They can maneuvers the battle to a narrow road where the Persian advantage will be a marginal one. 2) They have the best warriors the world has ever known and certainly with the most muscular abdomen.
I don't know that much about Spartan culture but according to the film, the Spartan warriors had no shirts, just a cape tilted backwards, leaving their fat-free and well shaped abdomens to be highly visible during the war scenes.
The Atkins diet wasn't in high demand in that particular group.
At the absence of Leonidas, the queen had her fair share of verbal battles with the subversive Theron, the hate monger who tries to belittle Leonidas' bravery and the queens credibility to maintain control on the house of commons. That notion is a source to a feud (in full clothing, by the way) between Theron and the queen.
In case you are wondering whether this film is the "Lord of the ring" with an actual historical background or a version of "Gladiator" in the Greek empire setting, rest assured it's neither. This movie is a well paced, well written and superbly acted action movie that is ensconced in violence and a very twisted perception of heroism.
One of the myths of Sparta, omitted from the film is the ritual where one year old babies who were deemed unhealthy, unwell or disabled, were tossed of a hill to their early demise. According to the film, there was no greater honor for the common Spartan than to die at battle. The Spartan history was determined by the fear of Sparans of becoming slaves to one of their neighboring countries. This fear dominated the country to such an extent that the Spartan rule devised a mechanism that made every Spartan citizen a slave of his own country. Spartan became a synonym for rigidness and frugality. It should have been a synonym for irony.
The movie's historical take is opposite to mine but historical aspects are not the core of the film, they are used as some sort of rational for the gory, bloody and violent fighting scenes that the film consists of. Jack Snyder who wrote and directed the film, assembled a main course of cinematic violence with a historic background and witty script as side dishes.
Which brings me back to the beginning of my review. As a person on an Atkins diet, Lollypops, containing 97% carbon hydrates which makes them off-limits even if they have a nutritional value (which they don't). If a person detests the excessive violence in movies, there is no chance he will find the film compelling the same way I will not be able to watch Polanski's "Bitter moon" despite it's qualities because of its highly frequent and needlessly graphic sex scenes.
For those of you who can endure violent films, bare in mind that this film is fun to watch but don't be fooled to think it's a masterpiece. It has the The script, acting and editing to make it an engrossing film but it's the violence and the blind admiration to one of the most warped-minded societies in history that prevents it from being the extraordinary tale it might seem to be.
For those of you who wonder why I don't mind excessive violence but can't stand excessive sex scenes, I'm afraid I can't answer that. I've got enough concerns to deal with, what with the Atkins and all.
7.5 in my FilmOmeter.
Fast Food Nation (2006)
They shoot Tofu, don't they?
Of all the peculiar choices of family entertainment attractions, the following one is probably the most bizarre I've ever encountered. I have a friend that grew up in a vegetarian family. When he was four years old, he was taken to a slaughterhouse where he witnessed the "demise" of cattle. One doesn't have to visit a slaughterhouse to know that the beef we consume is not originated from cows who died from old age but a series of disturbing images of a slaughterhouse might not be the suitable mental dressing for a fat, juicy steak.
As for my friend, well, the experience mentioned above proved to be highly effective. He never ate meat again.
Fortunately for "Mickey", a lucrative fast food chain, there are more than plenty of people who are more than happy to pay 4.98$ for "The big one", a super sized burger that passes the pallid test of key demographics in flying colors. A test that the burger fails miserably in is a E.coli test. Put it in laymen's terms, some burgers contain, well, there is no subtle way to write this, cattle excrement.
Don Henderson (Greg Kinnear in a very good performance), a marketing manager in "Mickey" is called to scrutinize UMP, Mickey's meat packing plant. Don discovers, along with the viewers, the dark side of the mass produced fast food. The story of the Mexican Illegal immigrants who are smuggled to the states by dubious characters; The story of densely populated cow farms and the story of a factory that worships the Dollaer and nothing rlse. If the plot sounds a little familiar, maybe it's because you stumbled across "Traffic", Steven Soderbergh masterpiece that depicts the different aspects of the narcotic industry. This movie is, quite simply, the Traffic of the fast food industry and like "Traffic" the Mexican stories are much more compelling than the American ones.
Raul and Sylvia (Wilmer Valderrama and Catalina Moreno in excellent performances) as the couple who are about to find out the hard way what UMP considers them to be are much more compelling than the story of Amber, the teenage student who befriends some anti-whatever group that is set to undermine the ruthlessness of UMP. The Mexicans that go by foot and are smuggled across the border to work and live like the cattle they handle garners more sympathy than the confession of Amber's uncle, Pete (Ethan Hawke) that for ten minutes transforms the film into a "before sunrise" blabber-fest that isn't suitable to this film at all.
Richard Linklater, the director (that also directed "Before sunrise" which featured Ethan Hawke) who exposes us to both the American and Mexican aspects of this industry, leads the viewer slowly to the big climax that I will not reveal but I feel compelled to tell you, includes the disturbing footage that made my above-mentioned friend the avid vegetarian he is today.
This footage is highly disturbing, even for a veteran viewer of fight club, clockwork orange and silence of the lambs such as yours truly.
The most disturbing part of the movie though is how inflammatory and low-on-reasoning it is. Cows died in inclement ways long before the fast food era and slaughterhouses were rinsed with the red blood of cattle and poultry long before they were incorporated. If Eric schlosser, the author of the book this film is based on, tried to get me off meat (Fat chance of that happening) than his take on the fast food industry is irrelevant. If he is criticizing the fast food industry treatment of its employees, he ignores the privately owned sweatshops who, for some obscure reason, get immunity for mistreating their work force by the subversive groups of the new Millennium.
This film makes you think about it long after the end credits. A trait well appreciated in films. The problem with this film is that the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. If this website was a court drama and I was Ernie Becker from L.A. LAW (I'm a little behind on American TV) I would call the disturbing footage to be inflammatory and prejudicial. the climax footage shocked me (and everybody else in screening I attended) but it had no real conviction. Nor did the activists that their rationale seemed less of Don Quixote fighting windmills and more of the windmills.
Add your hot air metaphor here.
I guess a movie that makes you think as this film does can't be all bad, and this film is anything but bad. The script, direction and acting are wonderful and the behind the curtain look of this industry is riveting and from a basic internet research, is not far fetched, either (Let's just say that 1993 was not a positive year for the Washington branch of "Jack in the box". search it if you have the stomach for it). This film is powerful and well made but it is not suitable for the faint of heart (stomach, really) among us. Also, bare in mind that as intelligent beings, it's your responsibility not to eat every crap people might try to feed you. Regardless whether they make hamburgers or movies.
8 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter
Quand la mer monte... (2004)
The sea rises. The movie-does not
Have you ever felt angry, and I mean infuriated over a movie just because it was lousy? I did. Several times. I was furious at the Waschawski brothers after viewing the incomprehensible Matrix reloaded. I was disdained of Mel Gibson after realizing that Lethal Weapon 4 turned out to be a miserable piece of cinematic, hmmm, bodily secretion. In the past I used to believe that my anger was derived from the fact that I wasted a share of my residual income to watch it. after watching this film I believe I figured out the real reason. I'll get back to that later.
Irene (Yolande Moreau in a Terrific performance) is a comedian doing a one-woman comedy act that runs well all over France. In every show Irene's character,a Middle aged, mask wearing woman chooses a volunteer from the audience to "fall in love with" and to establish a stable future until the end of times or at least until the show is over.
At a certain point, one of the volunteers, a Flemmic guy named Dries (Wim Willaert in a superb performance as well) who, it seems, has a big heart and a not a matching cerebrum, forms a friendship with Irene who, at that point in time, seeks a friendly companion in a lonely business where the vast majority of the conversations with one's loved ones, are done over the phone.
Time goes on and the evolved friendship continues. Irene tours in some other location and continues her fling with Dries, finding comfort in their childish behavior and conversations that are comprised of life altering declarations like "Life with you is nice".
If you want to get the hang of the film, read the last paragraph about six more times. Consecutively.
Throughout the film a thought had entered my mind: Why this film was made in the first place? The script has a few good moments but no climax of any kind, the plot is close to non-existent, the romance between Irene and Dries stagnates on most parts and even the seemingly funny comedy act of Irene doesn't garner any laughs from those who are located outside the movie.
That's what I find to be so insulting. Bad movies were made and will continue to be made, I know that every time I purchase a ticket. What I DO expect to see in every movie made is a story, a detailed turn of events designed to leave the viewer awe inspired or at least entertained. I'm sure there was a reason why Yolande Moreau chose this film to be her directorial debut but I just haven't figured out what that reason might be.
This film has its perks, though, and a major plus of this film, aside from the great acting, is the look on the french quaint little cities that are not part of the France tourist guide. 70 million tourists visit this country every year and they leave thinking that France is either Suave-Paris or sun Laden Riviera. This movie shows, and shows well, the France beyond the postcards.
This portrait of France for some reason, left quite the impression that the main story failed to leave. If you ever came out of a restaurant feeling that the good dressing was wasted on a poorly made steak, than you know how I felt at the end of this movie.
4 out of 10 in My FilmOmeter.
Viva Cuba (2005)
A personal film in a country on the verge of change
If you are planning a trip to Cuba any time soon, here are complimentary tips:
1) Avoid this Island in July. unless you lived in a steam bath your whole life.
2) Expand the trip to the country side. Cuba is much more than cigars and salsa bars.
3) Whatever happens, never drive at night in the A1 freeway. it's wide and has no traffic but it has potholes big enough to have their own zip codes
Why am I telling you all this, you wonder? Well Cuba is an Island ensconced in revolutionary romanticism but shadowed by the stagnant leader who brought his country to the brink of bankruptcy. The U.S. embargo might be an inhibitor (and not a very justified one, I might add) but it's not the cause. There are plenty of reasons why there are hordes of Cubans wishing to go 98 miles north from Havana to the Miami border and leave the "revolution" for the enchanted tourists.
One of those people is Divorced middle aged woman who, after a short grieving period over her mother's death, decides that her future will not be on Cuban soil. Unfortunately, her daughter Malu is a close friend with Jorgito who's mother and Malu's mother are arch-enemies, mainly because Jorhito's mother is a devout communist and Malu's mother is a "burgois" (in Cuban terms) Christian (Christianity is a legitimate practice of faith in Cuba since 1989).
The disgruntled kids, Malu and Jorhito, know that once Malu's father will sign the exit authorization papers for his ex-wife, they will never see each other again. In a desperate attempt to save a deep bond that grown ups simply cannot attain, Malu and Jorhito go through a clandestine and perilous journey all the way from Havana in the North to Camaguay in the south. When I did this journey with my friend in a rental car, it took us 12 hours, 2 flat tires and the better part of 300$ so you can expect these 12 year old kids to stumble on a few obstacles of their own.
The voyage to the bottom of the last communist nation on this planet (and no, China is not even remotely communist these days) is a test of the friendship its meant to save but its also a unifier between the alienated mothers who find out that they have more in common than they thought or should is say, cared to believe.
The viewers get to find something else as well. They get to see Cuba outside the myth, away from the cigar factories, Hoze Marti's monuments and the colonialist architecture. Cuba is not only the one of Ernest Hemingway and Che's legacy of revolution, it's also the rural island of good natured people it always was. Even before Castro emerged from the Siera Madre and replaced a reign of tyranny with another.
Those who get to know Cubans, know that the fledgling economy, dilapidating buildings and obsolete infrastructure diminished Castro's appeal and although no one misses Batista, it's more than obvious that after Ilcommendante passes on, Cuba will go through a very profound metamorphosis. That is not to suggest that Cuba will become corporation-land like its northern neighbor but the winds of change are breezing into the mujitos. This film, although doesn't criticize Castro and even depicts an overly complimenting view of Havana, adds little hints that Che's Ideology is not immunized from mortality anymore than Che himself was.
Don't let my tedious manifest to make you believe this film is a history lesson or a camouflaged propaganda. This film is personal, it deals with the friendship of two 12 year old that are reluctant to succumb to the petty ways of the adult world. It's a story about two kids that rock their parents look on life simply by doing what they passionately believe in. The director, Juan Malberti knows that the appeal of the film is the genuineness of it's protagonists and he wisely let their acting talent (which they have in abundance) dictate the emotional scenes and set the tone of the film in general.
This film didn't make me put a "Hasta la Victoria siempre" (Che's motto meaning: always until triumph) sticker on my car but than again, that isn't its goal. This film is about the triumph of friendship over hardship and, aided with a great cast, wonderful writing and almost-flawless direction, this film is one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences I had in a very long while.I assume this movie can appeal to anyone, regardless of one's opinions about communism. The only Ideology endorsed in this film is that adult cynicism is never a match of the children's benevolent outlook.
Of course, if you are into movies, you know that already.
9 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter.
Paradise Now (2005)
A pro-Palestinian statement is legitimate. The downgrading of human lives, isn't
Well, I did have to watch it. After all, one cannot form a position on an issue (film related or otherwise) without confronting it face to face. I had to see whether Hanny Abu Assad made a film that shows the other side of the conflict or a film that gives a "stamp of approval" to suicide bombings I have reached my conclusion.
Said (pronounced:Sa-id)and Khaled are frustrated, hateful, desperate mechanics (no quotation marks in sight) that are recruited to a massive suicide mission in retaliation for the assassination of a terrorist. Of course, neither Said Nor Khaled see him as a terrorist, but as a hero who sacrificed his life against the Zionist Occupation, their immediate consent shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.
Khaled, knowing that his hours are numbered (the suicide bombing in question, takes place the very next day in Tel-Aviv), needs to get some sort of validation to his decision, and who is better to provide with such a validation than Suha, the graceful, movie lover and daughter of Abu Azam, a famous Shahid.
Khaled is about to find out that Suha prefers her father to be alive and well than dead and idolized and Khaled soon looks for another source that will help him accept the decision, surely enough there is one source, the immutable rationalization. The Israelis.
According to the film, it's all the Israelis fault, Palestinians believe that settlers poison their water (fanatics believed in that idea as early as 1350, the days of the bubonic plague), the Rivoli theater in Nablus is burned down by the Palestinians because the Israelis significantly reduced the number of Palestininians with permits to work in Israel itself. The list goes on and on.
This notion is not just an anecdote. When there is an archenemy, a Nemesis that is regarded as responsible for all wrong doing, than all arguments are belittled against it. The clearest, plain view arguments of all are, why play into the Israelis hands? Why send Terrorist so the Israelis will have to build fences to stop them. Why send bombers on innocent civilians if those bombings themselves are the ones that diminished the number of Palestinians who are allowed to work in Israeli territories? The truth is that these arguments, regardless whether you believe them or not, are null and void when everything (and I do mean everything) is to blame by the Israelis. Even the collaborators that are tortured and killed by Palestinian Terrorist groups as well as by army units (called Muhabarat) should point their fingers towards the Israeli end for using their fragile state of mind.
The most disturbing ingredients in this film are the missing ones. At no point during the film, does anyone even ponder of the repercussions of killing Israeli people in a coffee shop, a Bus or a crowded center. This is where this blind fueled rage of Khaled and his friend and suicide mission colleague are the embodiment of, and they show, quite plainly, how this loathing (whether justified or not) easily makes them believe that the misery of the other side is preferable to peace of mind to their own.
Hatred, it seems, is too hard to live with and too easy to die for.
. When Said recites his statement before his departure, he says that Israel refused to a two-state solution despite this solution to be unfair to the Palestinians. This argument is not only bluntly false but is also non-genuine. The REAL Bombers never lamented over the Israeli reluctance to accept the solution, nor they contended that they are fighting because they exhausted any mean of peaceful solutions. The Bombers always proclaimed in those farewell recordings that Israel is denied of the right to exist and the Zionist enemy must be fought until it is demolished.
As I said, it doesn't matter to Said or Khaled, their lives are doomed by, according to them, the "Occupation" (although neither the west bank nor Gaza were independent territories before the 67 war- hence the quotation marks) and their will to kill themselves for what they sincerely believe to be a worthy cause (Earning eternity in paradise and killing some Jews while they're at it) is stronger than any debate, they will continue to Tel Aviv, aided by a Jewish driver (the director's way of saying "Hell, even the Jews don't care about the loss of lives of their people, why should we care?") and without revealing too much, I'll note the audience might feel feel indifferent to any Israeli lives lost. At least the audience who don't know anyone that his life were shattered to pieces by one of those atrocious bombings, the audience that never walked the streets, dreading which one of the by passers will end their lives. Audience abroad.
That is the moral of the film I cannot accept. The Israeli Arab conflict is so embedded in this region that no discussion will solve it, but rationalizing the death of innocent civilians is not heroic, candid nor compelling. When the recruiter says that the attack is an attempt to break free of the jungle law of "the strong survives" that reduces them to animals, one cannot help but think that killing innocent people (even if they do wear uniforms, not that children casualties ever deterred bombers, anyway) downgrades the bombers and those who sent them lower than any animal could ever go.
Well, I assume that my opinion of this film is pretty clear. I feel infuriated by this film for its intention to make the loss of Israeli lives a marginal sacrifice for a worthy cause.
Do I have to be an Israeli to think that human life is the worthiest cause of them all?
1 out of 10 in my filmOmeter
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
A sadly-gay film
I'll be honest here, gay-kissing scenes make me squirm a little. I know that a relationship between any two people (as long as thy are consenting adults) is just as noble and worthy as the next and I despise all the hate ridden mongrels who proclaim "God hates fagots". I believe that if god hates humans, he hates those who are dispersing hatred, bigotry and narrow mindedness. I sincerely believe all those things. The problem is, no one had bothered to notify my stomach about it. If my stomach would have written the review, it would seem like a Jerry Falwell manifest. Thank god my stomach's only job these days is to make my jeans feel like spandex.
In 1963, my stomach's opinions were pretty common. Gays were ridiculed and scorned. Those who were unfortunate enough to be recognized as gays were severely punished, not by the law but certainly without repercussions from law enforcers. 1963 was also the year that the lives of Anis del mar (Heath Ledger in a wonderful performance) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal in an equally great performance)
were conjoined and altered forever. Anis and Jack were assigned to lead a herd of sheep for a week for mountain grazing. The two young men, each one with his aspirations and his southern roots deeply embedded in them, found in each other their soul mates.
It goes without saying that in 1963 Wyoming (and let's face it, also everywhere in 2005) gay relationships were, to say the least, frowned upon and the two men had to build a life in the rural, southern states, start a family and go through the process that had no room for two gay man to materialize their love. Anis turned to the cattle business, Jack was a rodeo rider and later, a sleek salesman. Both living out the lives society deemed them to have.
They also continued to see each other, having a clandestine affair where they basically, reenacted that week they spent together in the scenic location that the film bares its name. At some point, suspicion was bound to rise and that unfulfilled love and loveless marriages are never without a heavy toll. This toll is the recurring motive in the characters' lives and the thread that binds the movie.
That thread is a subtle one, it reflects on the characters' weaknesses. Don't expect to find the "Queer as folk" plot lines, this movie is about regular people, not overly sensitive men, not inspiring visionaries, just two guys that fell in love with each other in time and place that left them very little chance to pursue their common personal aspirations.
Unfortunately for the film, the same thread that makes it a subtle, atmosphere oriented feature is also the thread that stretches for 130 minutes that I (and not just my stomach) found to be partially redundant.
Than it dawned on me. Jack and Anis, written, acted and directed almost flawlessly, are too dominant in the film. The supporting roles (Excellent performance all round, especially Michelle Williams and Anna Faris) were wrongfully remained a background setting while the ongoing endless struggle of Jack and Anis between their love and their obligations seems repetitive and is drained of new angles somewhere toward the end of the movie.
In what the movie succeeds beyond expectations and will prompt me to evaluate it more now than I did when I exited the movie theater is the notion that keeps running in my head. Have we evolved since then? Oh, sure we all accept gay relationships, I have gay fiends and I couldn't care less who they choose as their life partners. We all heard of actors and performers living for a very long time with same-gender partners and we wink to each other and we genuinely know there is nothing morally wrong in this scenario. Where we made little progress, though is in our tendency to hush it, many times we rationalize that many people are still not openly gay by their will to avoid unnecessary hassle while secretly knowing that the gay issue remains uncomfortable.
This movie, though low on plot and pacing and sometimes sluggishly dialogued, leaves a mark of impression and raises issues in 130 minutes screening that a generation of well mannered debates never managed to raise. The rarest of achievements.
9.5 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter.
p.s. It was today, 4/2/06, when a gay bar was smashed and brutalized by ignorant hate mongers. Those are still out there but that's not the reason why I bring this up. The reason is thee are many gay bars that are not the sign of progress but, rather, the indication of how little we changed since 1963. The straight bars are still not welcoming the gay community and those gay men and women have to wonder off on carefully marked, highly distinguished places that are nothing but the indication of how little our society had assimilated them. Unfortunately, not one movie, even this one, will make the difference.
Muchrachim Lehiyot Same'ach (2005)
A movie that will age well about people who clearly didn't
Come to think of it, it's all Sean Connery's fault. It's his time-proof grace and his long lasting abundance of charisma and sex appeal that made us all believe that getting old has nothing but nobility and wisdom and that it doesn't encompass the various physical and mental problems we were all told are the side effect of longevity. It goes without saying that contemporary society doesn't believe in "People are like wine, they get better with age".
Levin family has learned that lesson the hard way. Simcha (Sigalit Fuchs in a superb performance) is a 35-year-old overweight woman, living alone, in financial and mental destitute. The closest thing she has to a romantic relationship is a fling with a married salesman who gives her the caring and attention one would give to life partners that are, how shall I put it, Inflatable.
To make matters worse, Simcha has to watch her withering parents, living right next to the airport and losing every shred of respect and mutual fondness after 35 years of marriage. To add salt to injury, the father, Yitzhak (Yossi Polak) is betrayed not only by his friends from the past but by his own aging body from the present. His wife, Chaya (Rivka Michaeli) who grew to be a cynical and bitter person, spends the best part of her days listening to the Flight arrivals and departures from the Ben Gurion Airport. Even Gil, the "prodigy" son of the family, finds himself "let go" from the High-Tech company he works in. For various reasons, Gil can't find it in his heart to reveal that neither to his sexually frustrated and childless wife nor to his family that, for the lack of a better candidate, put Gil on pedestal.
Definitely not the kind of movies that Sean Connery stars in.
This nightmare-like routine lingers until Simcha sees in a reality do-good type of show, the opportunity to set things right for her family and maybe for herself. Her scheme is to use the TV show to reunite her parents with their estranged friends (over an incident we are oblivious to, most of the film). In the meantime, Simcha finds in an eccentric mime the soul mate to share her loneliness with.
Eccentricity is the defining characteristic of the film. By "eccentricity", I don't mean the little quirkiness we all hone in one degree or another, I mean the out of whack fringe people you see normally at Todd Solondz films. This quirkiness benefits some of the scenes by exposing the human frailty of Simcha and Gil but in other scenes, that very same quirkiness alienates the story from those who watch it.
That, as well as the slightly inconclusive ending, are the only drawbacks of the film and they barely tarnish the resonance of the film and its added value. Added value that is attained by the high nuance acting by all parties involved, the well constructed (although not perfect) script and mostly, by the skilled direction of Julie Shles. Shles shows us the human side of the characters not by embellishing their harsh reality but by demonstrating that its their love of life that elevates them above the unfortunate circumstances of existence. The existence of living a life that are a far cry from the ones imagined which most of the time is not as tragic as it sounds but in times, let's face it, it is.
9 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter.
One final remark. The names of the characters (Yitzhak, Simcha, Gil etc.) are all Hebrew names meaning Joy, Happiness and other "gaily" words, in complete contrast to the state of mind of the characters themselves. This choice was deliberate, according to the director and it what helps to accentuate their contradictory nature. I hope that the translated versions of the film will be allowed the liberty of name altering so the irony won't be lost in the screenings abroad.
Tza'ad Katan (2003)
The best Israeli movie you will, probably, never get to see
No doubt about it, the make a wish foundation (and its equivalents) are truly a blessing. I'm not being cynical here, I truly believe their mission is god's work. Making dreams come true for little kids who are less than fortunate (putting it VERY mildly) is really the best thing we could do for them. Of course, for every kid it's a different wish, sometimes they want to meet the president, sometimes they want to be a doctor for one day, sometimes the just wish to be on board an aircraft etc.
The wish of Eyal, a 14-year-old kid with leukemia, is a vague desire not to die a virgin. Not your usual "make-a-wish" material which I find very bewildering since dying a virgin is the biggest fear among most teenagers (in severe cases, that fear thrives even when they are in their 20's and writing movie reviews on the Internet but that's irrelevant).
Fortunately, Eyal's friends are devoid of political correctness and adult prude and followed by the warped conscious of the nightmare-buddy Duba (The wonderful Adam Hirch) the dream of finding Eyal a mating partner becomes the mission of Eyal's teen-aged friends.
One of them, Sahar, has his own demons too face, his father, being fired from the Israeli aircraft industries, works on his own project and becomes even more distant and out-of-it loon than before, his mother is having clandestine discussions on the phone with a doctor. Discussions that aren't of a medicinal nature. His best friend is the mentioned above, Duba and on top of it all, Sahar falls in love with a jubilant girl who is a walking almanac, citing every survey that was ever done on the subject at hand.
Sahar's story is the story of every testosterone crazed, insecure, teenager and the search for the, hmmm, professional "wish maker" woman is exactly what accentuates the naiveness of its protagonists. That's where the movie pushes the right buttons for the viewer. The more the teenagers are in search of the prostitute, the more the story becomes a tribute to the lost era where friendships were carved in iron and feeling passionate about something, anything (other than money) was a common practice.
Given all that, it's no surprise that the teen-aged actors are the ones who give the superb script the genuineness it deserves. The "grown-ups" in the film give pretty lukewarm performances. I feel a little uncomfortable criticizing Avi Nesher, One of the most prominent and gifted Israeli directors but in this film, Nesher (Who directed my all time favorite Israeli film "Halehaka" and portrays Sahar's father in this movie) found himself on the wrong side of the camera. There is nothing less compelling than watching a character that doesn't have character.
I won't reveal how the movie turns out but I will note that this movie, aided with gifted child actors, a masterful script and a very reserved direction is a delight to watch and to ponder of. I expected the film to be much more emotionally draining than it was but despite that, it's still a wonderful treat if only for the slightest of rekindling of the little kid inside that was missing- presumed dead. I'm pretty sure that if there was a make as wish foundation for adults that's exactly what most of them would have wished for.
8.5 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter.
In case you were wondering why I suggested that this film is the best Israeli movie you will never get to see, well, this movie had a horrific incomprehensible trailer that made it look like something David Lynch had directed (which is not a compliment by any means). As a result the public steered clear of it and the movie was a colossal commercial failure. So odds are that you will see it aired on television or stranded in the far corner of the video library, disregard it and watch something else instead.
A post-modern Post traumatic film (that just got a postmortem review)
I remember a certain Tuesday, the morning of 18/6/02 to be exact. I was dozed off, trying to convince myself to get out of bed when a horrific explosion was heard. I went to the kitchen where I have a view of several neighborhoods in the southern Jerusalem and saw a pillar of smoke rising from a distant point, the sight of the smoke was followed a minute later by the waling of sirens. I remember rushing to my bedroom, taking out my binoculars, racing back to the kitchen and spotting the image of a glass shattered bus. The bus was still near the pick up station where a terrorist boarded on it and with a single click on a TNT device, murdered 25 passengers, many of whom were on their way to school. The wife of a good friend of mine, sat on the bus at the back row, a seemingly arbitrary and meaningless decision that saved her life.
I'm sure that every Israeli has at least one terror-related memory he wishes he never would have had and it was only a matter of time before someone made a film about it. As it turned out, the movie was about to become a repressed memory of its own.
The film is about a play-write on a dry run, Haim Buzaglo (portrayed by, hmmm, Haim Buzaglo who also wrote and directed the film) that spends the better part of his day conducting staring contests with his blank word processor page. In the meantime, his girlfriend, a field reporter for the Israeli commercial channel, decides to make a piece about a debt ridden ex-army officer. Buzaglo, bored and a bit paranoid due what is medically known as the "what on earth this hot babe is dating me" syndrome, asks a private eye to conduct a stakeout on his girlfriend.
As the detective progresses in his investigation, his observations are permeating into the play and later on, to the lives of its actors. In the meantime, the play metamorphoses from a comic play into an indictment against the aloofness of the Israeli society. As for the movie, well, the movie becomes an exercise in frenzy editing, ensconced in its petty cardboard characters and unreliable dialogs while drifting miles away from the subject it was supposed to deal with in the first place.
When I say "cardboard characters" I refer to the characters that under the writer/director's obsession for a "meaningful" film, were devoid of any genuine dialogs and any shred of reliability. I won't elaborate too much about it. Suffice to say that I'm sure that homeless barefoot male prostitutes rarely go the theater. With the intention to see a play, that is.
This movie, according to Haim Buzaglo himself is the first part of a current agenda trilogy. I sincerely hope that the other two films will be derived from the experiences like the one I wrote about in the beginning of my review as opposed to the secluded world of characters that are anything but existent and a plot that is anything but compelling.
4 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter.
P.S. This movie was a landmark in austerity. It was shot in ten days, all the cast worked for free and the entire cost of the film was about 12,000$ (no, I didn't omit a zero or two, twelve thousand dollars). Makes you wonder why it took 34,000$ to complete Blair witch project.
Melinda and Melinda (2004)
A very mediocre film
I want to ask you a question. I need you to be honest, here. If you're cheating, you only cheat yourself. Have you ever heard the word "Obsequious"?
I'll rephrase, have you ever heard the word "Obsequious" in anything that was written after Strom Thurmond (1902-2003) was born?
Well, I didn't. Not until I saw the latest attempt of a film by Woody Allen. this highly anticipated film starts with a pleasant enough scenario. Two writers sit in a restaurant and pontificate as to the nature of the human life. One writer claims that life is a tragic play with a bitter and inevitable end. The other, however, sees the life as a hothouse for comic subtleties. The attempt to solve the dispute is, basically, the essence of the film where a story about a girl that crashes to a dinner party is divided to a tragic story of a woman that doesn't seem to get a break and a comedy about a woman who is looking for a true love when the one who loves her is a non employed actor who talks uncannily like Woody himself (Will Ferrel in an excellent and unmatched performance).
I must admit that the plot led me to believe that Woody Ellen had struck gold. I still believe that is true. The problem is that Woody Ellen sat down and wrote the script before he had a chance to recover enough shiny chunks of metal and stirred it with whatever he dug with his verbal shovel.
In the tragic version, Melinda, an ex-con, talks to her delicate-soul pianist boyfriend, Ellis (Chiwetel Ejiofor which I remember fondly from his wonderful performance in "Dirty pretty things") as though she had spent her entire life inside ARTE (a French-German art and Jazz TV Channel). At one point, I felt like screaming at the screen that nobody talks like that outside Woody's Bizarro world of bored suave people but I restrained myself.
After all, it would be highly non-obsequious of me.
Somewhere during the film it dawned on me that the great performance of Will Ferrel whose character is the only well-written and superbly acted one in the film, accentuates the major flaw of the film. Woody uses obsolete music, writes superficial smug characters that no man can relate to and worst of all, ignores the fact that the tragedy isn't shot nor written like one and neither does the comedy and halfway through the film it becomes impossible to tell them apart.
All these factors and few others turn the film into the "Sliding doors" where Gwyneth Paltrow is replaced with Radha Mitchell, London's west end is replaced with Manhattan and the ingenious script of Peter Howitt is replaced with the least believable, pseudo intellectual, gut wrenching yammering that only bored yuppies could utter without getting convulsions.
Woody Ellen made great films in the past (Annie hall, Sleeper) and even in the not so distant past (Mighty Aphrodite, Sweet and Lowdown) but in this film it seems that Woody had let his guard down and lowered his own bar of perfectionism. This striving for a flawless script is what made him the most Oscar nominated screenwriter in film history and, in my opinion, the only approach to write a comedy (or anything else, for that matter).
I liked the agile ending, though.
5 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter.
The Syrian Bride (2004)
A border line comedy-drama
Of all the movies I ever saw, this one reminded me of the sixth sense.
In the sixth sense (which, let me state right now, has nothing to do with this film in any way, shape or form) one must ponder of serious holes in the plot. Holes that if considered, make the movie completely incoherent. I won't get into detail because I don't want to spoil the movie for the three remaining people who hadn't seen it yet.
The Syrian bride revolves around Amal, a Druze woman in Majd Alshams, a pro-Syrian village that is located in the Golan heights (I'll get into the pro-Syrian and pro-Israeli Druze villages later on). Amal is about to marry a local Syrian celebrity, whom she saw only in the soap-comedy he stars in. This wedding is more than just a plain wedding, it's the last time she will see her family because once she crosses the border and receives the Syrian citizenship, she will never see her family again (unless they meet on a neutral turf such as abroad- Hole No.1). It goes without saying that this fact makes the event a bittersweet one. To make matters worse, the family, already morose over parting with Amal for good (if you disregard the plot hole) has to deal with the feud between the father, a conservative man who brushed with the wrong side of the law (for ideological reasons I couldn't fathom) and his son who was banned by the village elderly for marrying a Russian foreigner.
The wedding brings together the family of the estranged son, his hot-shot, teeth-gapped (a crucial fact in the film) womanizing brother, Marwan and his sister, Mona (Klara khouri in a great performance) a strong willed woman that fights for her independence as well as the one of her teenage daughter. A fight amidst a conservative society that still attributes female independence with male incompetence.
The family's inner "demons" cease to be its major problem when upon escorting the bride to the border, the family faces the weenie Israeli bureaucrat and the ridiculously stubborn Syrian bureaucrat preventing the bride from crossing the border and uniting with her future husband.
The story is essentially a personal one when the political atmosphere plays as an intensifier. The Pro-Syrian Druze who are protesting against the Israeli occupation and for Bashar Elasad (who occupies Lebanon till today, Plot hole No. 2) are in a constant conflict between the country they feel they belong to and the country they currently reside in (as opposed to the Pro-Israeli Druze who serve in the Israeli army and show a remarkable awe-inspiring loyalty to Israel that I rarely witness).
Conflicted emotions, both political and personal, dictate the entire film and with a sometimes over simplified but altogether credible script and with a subtle direction that depicts very authentically (or at least seemingly authentic to the Jewish viewer such as yours truly), the movie creates the emotional effect that transcends the political agenda its based on.
As another reviewer pointed out, this film is the example of the drastic improvement that Israeli films went through the last couple of years when the personal movies became top priority and not the political ones. This movie is a completion of the process by combining the two ganres successfully (once you disregard the holes) to make a film that people can isolate themselves from its ideology and enjoy its overall undeniable,qualities which is, as you probably have guessed, what I did.
9 out of 10 in FilmOmeter.
Medurat Hashevet (2004)
Gut wrenching occasionally, biased consistently but altogether impressive
The first question that popped in my head once the ending credits appeared, was- should I be offended?
This movie, after all, deals with religious-Zionists and I am a movie-buff secular so maybe the depiction of this much maligned (for no justifiable reason, in my humble opinion) sector was credible and not a slanderous attack. I believe I have reached a conclusion.
Today, when a new rift in Israel is emerging over the implementation of the disengagement program lead by prime minister, Ariel Sharon, it's easy to relate to the 1981 struggle against the evacuation of the Sinai peninsula after the signing of the historical peace accord with Egypt.
1981 found Tammy Gerlik (Hani Furstenberg in a wonderful performance) in a Jerusalemite neighborhood with her older sister and widowed mom who decides to move to a new settlement in the occupied territories with her circle of the religious, patriotic and unified but also hypocrite and mistrusting circle of friends. It also finds Tammy in her teenage years when romantic feelings and self-defining questioning begin to emerge. Her generally cheerful personality suffers a major setback when Tammy is nearly raped by a violent teenager with the cheering of his dubious "buddies". With a mother too self-absorbed, and "friends" that tag her as a promiscuous girl, she finds a soul mate in her rebellious sister that is alienated to her mother for abolishing her chance of privacy in a very boisterously funny scene that involves a hammer (can't elaborate, sorry).
In the meantime, the mother, Rachel (Micaela Eshet, in a reasonably good but not much more, performance), is a 42 year old strong woman who had married too early and went through life without falling in love. While shunning as delicately as possible the courting of a highly renowned and severely boring, cantor, she forms a friendship with, Yossi, a bachelor bus driver/ultimate loser who has lost hope of ever conjugating (let alone, wed) an actual woman.
With Yossi as a refuge from the pretense of a strong willed woman, Rachel realizes the true nature of her friends, the frailty of their loyalty and worst of all, their obsession of sweeping unflattering phenomena under the carpet, even at the grave price of perpetuating it for posterity.
The movie is well acted, credibly written and even manages to give the audience the atmosphere of the early 80's when Israelis had one TV channel to watch, one telephone company and a strong sense of patriotism that is disparaged and demonetized by too many these days.
Which brings me to my question in the beginning of this review, should I, the secular guy (who identifies with Yossi the bus driver more than he wishes), should be offended when the religious society is presented in a very critical manner.
The answer to that question is simple: when you are offended on behalf of a grown up group for being disparaged, you might be disparaging it yourself by deciding for them how they should feel.
I feel, personally, that the director, Yosef Cedar (who grew up in a religious background but is pretty estranged to it, according to his own testimony) decided to "indict" his origins. As a result, the viewer is deprived from an unbiased impression of one of the most enigmatic, controversial and riveting sector in contemporary Israeli society.
The movie won as best film in the Israeli Oscar competition and its victory was outshone by the fact that the movie "sof haolam smola" which was one of the most popular films in Israeli history, wasn't even nominated in any of the major categories.
Unfair representation of "Sof haolam smola" in the Israeli Oscar robbed the movie of the buzz it could have generated. Also, the film's unfair representation of a certain sector in the Israeli society left me questioning its antagonism, rather than enjoy its undeniable qualities. Qualities it hones in abundance.
8.5 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter.
Russkiy kovcheg (2002)
Not intriguing by the longest shot
I have some very bad news. Cinema, it seems, is dangerously close to it's technical barriers. Once, directors like Hitchcock could put audiences in a state of panic with a 10 second scene of Janet Leigh stabbed in the shower by Anthony Perkins. Today, however, a director can blow the planet and we will barely blink, let alone, panick (and as far as 'Psycho' goes, well the shower scene can be aired on 'Nickelodeon' and no one will be shocked).
The big studios are in a constant battle of elaborating the final product with lavish computer graphics and special effects but no matter how awe inspiring their next movie will be, technically-wise, we'll always applaud for a while, than cry for something better. The pleasing of our rising threshold is always a losing battle.
Some directors tried to push the envelope, Mike Figgis did a movie called "Timecode" that depicts four different scenes simultaneously (The screen is divided to four screens the whole movie) the result- complete disaster.A German director made a film that is aided with odor emitting devices in relevant scenes. Enter your 'stinker' reference here (as Dave Barry would say).
Russian ark (which is the movie I review, in case you forgot) pushes that envelope by being shot in one single take, 96 minutes of continuous filming of the Hermitage museum and all the elaborate scenes that take place in it.
Logistically it's a nightmare, considering that the movie is embedded with massive dancing scenes, containing hundreds of participants and is confined to one location.
I wish I could elaborate on the plot but I can't because the entire movie revolves around a man that is accompanied to a European nobleman (an English term meaning: Weirdo) and visits the vast museum and, well get caught up with the old Russia. I think that's what happened there.
The film has some disturbing flaws, it's overly narrated, it dwells too long on certain art exhibits and in certain parts, it's outright incomprehensible. The movie's biggest shortcoming, though, is the fact that editing and cutting, the conventional tools that were "courageously" discarded, turn out to be the missing ingredient in the stew. They are the corner stone of the cinematic narrative and once they are out the door, so is the film's pace and the viewer's chance to get caught up in it.
The only notable pluses of the film is the wonderful depiction of 18th century Europe and the enchanting music that makes the dancing scenes a true delight, than, and only than, the movie is not only appreciated for it's boldness but rather enjoyed.
Call me old fashioned but I think that's what movies are meant to do in the first place. Make us enjoy. In order to achieve greatness, the director must harness the tools we hone today to create something new rather than disregarding these tools altogether.
6 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter.