Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Makom be-gan eden (2013)
Madmony swings hard, and connects
Because all Israeli movies must contend with low budgets, Israeli cinema tends to tell stories on a small scale. In contrast, A PLACE IN HEAVEN tries to attain a mythic scope in telling a modern story with Biblical echoes (rather like EAST OF EDEN), and surprisingly it succeeds. It can't incorporate a whole battlefront, but it manages to make one tank suffice. It uses vistas of open country to great advantage. It uses a generous roster of minor characters to suggest a richly conceived universe in which the story resonates. It shows action that spills past the edges of the screen. It has a script that unashamedly tackles big themes of generational continuity and karma, and actors who can sell the script. Madmony makes it all work without seeming affected, except maybe when he toys with turning the picture upside down.
Ehad Mishelanu (1989)
The tension is better than the resolution
This movie is about a conflict between friends who previously went through long, grueling military training together. Evidently for the sake of improving the audience's understanding and empathy, it takes us through quite a lengthy depiction of that training. And evidently because it suspects that the training itself may not give the film a lot of momentum, the whole thing starts with a flash-forward into the movie to show us who will be confronting whom later on. When the confrontation comes about-- and it's the irresistible force of a dedicated criminal investigator meeting the immovable object of the investigator's personal bond with a suspect-- it is played for all it's worth and the long wait is justified. Of course the premise is a bit unlikely. What are the odds that as a military policeman you'll have to investigate your own friend from your training days? But Israel is a small country, and Israelis of only a narrow age range are in the army at the same time, so while unlikely it's less unlikely than elsewhere. And of course the investigator should recuse himself, but the movie supplies him with a reason not to. Like the scenes of training, the scenes of interpersonal tension go on and on, but unfortunately the payoff is rather understated instead of cathartic.
Mivtza Hamaniya (2014)
Nice, but the suspense sputters
This is the first movie I ever saw that bills a member of its screen writing team not just pseudonymously, but anonymously. "An anonymous screenwriter," it says, along with Avraham Kushnir. I wonder if the anonymous screenwriter was responsible for the prologue and epilogue, which the Jerusalem Post's reviewer says seemed quite dispensable.
The prologue presents an urgent crisis related to possible nuclear war in the present or near future, and then the body of the movie presents Israel's original bomb-building program, from several decades ago, in fictionalized form. Did that program contribute to future crises, or to their resolution? Not until the epilogue does the movie take a clear stand on such questions. So maybe the purpose of the prologue and epilogue was to build a bridge of suspense over the story that occupies most of the movie. Or to proclaim a point of view on the nuclear question because the movie could not be released in wishy-washy form.
I can understand the perceived need for extra suspense, because building suspense is a problem in movies about more-or-less known history. It helps to include some fictionalized characters whom the audience cares about and whose fate is up to the screenwriters. In "Sunflower," there are attempts to build suspense over who will or will not join the bomb-building team, but there's no reason for the audience to care which fictionalized character joins a fictionalized team and which doesn't. The characters aren't drawn that strongly. Then it turns out that the team is a dangerous place to be, because there are people around who will stop at nothing. Aha, a little more interesting. But the little suspenseful episodes tend to conclude quickly, leaving the movie without continuous momentum.
Several of the actors are quite familiar to the Israeli public, not because they are necessarily on the A list, but because they appear on TV, not always as actors. It's nice to see them on the big screen, and they acquit themselves well. The movie is amusingly cynical about the personal and national egotism, and the personal relationships, that can wind up driving incidents of international importance, and the period setting looks authentic. Perhaps because those were the days when people had very few photograph records, and one of the records tended to be Dvorak's New World Symphony, snatches of the New World Symphony are used as background music for almost everything.
Srak Srak (2010)
A competent drama, although it doesn't quite grasp the nettle
In this little-seen movie (I'm not sure it played more than a week anywhere), Israel's security services are worried about a possible assassination attempt against Ariel Sharon; they whittle their list of potential assassins down to a handful, each with a different political or psychological motive; and the movie follows those suspects. Of course there is little expectation that the movie will actually depart from history and present the assassination of Ariel Sharon. But as the film depicts the suspects and their personal lives, we are drawn into their stories and we experience suspense as we hope that none of them is really going to try something so destructive. (The film seems to have the least political sympathy for the Orthodox Jewish suspect, but it elicits personal sympathy for him by contrasting him with his stubborn father.) The shortness of the short list of suspects is surely a little unrealistic (out of millions of Israelis) and the relationships that happen to link some of them with some of the security men are ridiculously coincidental, but I'd say suspension of disbelief is achieved thanks to cinematic professionalism. What may have sunk the movie into obscurity is the lack of a firm editorial statement among all the political dilemmas presented. I'm not sure I would have liked the statement had it been made, but at least I would have felt that someone had a better reason for raising political issues than simply keeping me alert for an hour and a half.
The Great Pretender (2012)
Delivers on a difficult topic
Can a person have bigger teeth offstage than on stage? It seems Freddie Mercury gave very few interviews, and this documentary keeps going back to the same one. In it, Mercury's accent, gestures, and even face are scarcely reminiscent of the character he played on stage. But that's the main point of the movie, and of its title. Like most such documentaries, this one doesn't include complete songs; but it reminds us how many well- remembered hits Mercury accomplished while-- according to the film-- caring less for them than for the constant pursuit of the next, more ambitious project. It is insistent in its understanding of Mercury's behavior as a child of his times, reminding us that the idea of free love without consequences did not give up to the fear of AIDS without a strong fight. I'd say you don't have to be a fan of Mercury's music (I'm not) in order to be impressed by this tribute.
Yi'ihiyeh Tov Salmonico (1975)
A look at the unfulfilled promise of Reuven Bar-Yotam
"It Will Work Out, Salmonico" was a quickly produced sequel to the original "Salmonico," also co-written by lead actor Reuven Bar-Yotam and Eli Tavor. The sequel formulaically presents the conflict between the morally grounded and self-sacrificing but slightly buffoonish immigrant Sephardic generation and their ungrateful, materialist progeny, with a glimpse of the prototypical Ashkenazi villain in the person of Yossi Graber. The production trusts Bar-Yotam to carry the movie, and he does. A couple of years later, he would give up his place as a big frog in the small pond of Israeli cinema and metamorphose into a small frog in the USA. I use the word advisedly; as Shlomo in the "Frogger" episode of Seinfeld, he was told "You look like a frog." Everyone's entitled to make his own decisions in life, but if he'd stayed in Israel, Bar-Yotam could have made his way from this third-hand King Lear knockoff to the real King Lear, whereas Hollywood has been ignoring and wasting his abilities for the most part.
White Panther (2013)
Our hero's pals daub swastikas on a synagogue?
Writer/director Danni Reisfeld wrote that while there are plenty of movies about how the non-European Jews in Israel suffer discrimination, nobody points out that where they're a majority, these folks are just as closed and arrogant a community as anybody else. So he's provided a Romeo and Juliet story in which the male outsider pursuing a forbidden love is one of Israel's many Russian immigrants whose Jewish ancestry has been rendered nominal by generations of assimilation. We're supposed to sympathize with this fellow, ill-treated as he is by the prevailing community of Tiberias (with ancestry largely from Morocco and thereabouts). The problem with the movie is that what makes him a character worth sympathizing with is not any virtues that he draws from his Russian background but the fact that he is unlike all his Russian friends. They're a violent lot. They shake down storekeepers and daub swastikas on synagogues. So when somebody says, "Why don't you just go back to Russia?" the audience may well think, "Why not indeed?"
The movie holds a mirror-- could it be deliberately?-- up to 2012's GOD'S NEIGHBORS. The latter movie began with a gang of atheistic Russian immigrants provocatively violating the Sabbath and scuffling with observant Jewish youths, including the protagonist, who is a musician and proceeds to fall in love with a woman who turns him away from violence. Those scuffling atheistic Russians are the community our hero belongs to in WHITE PANTHER, and he too falls in love with a woman who turns him away from violence. In both movies, when the hero needs to connect with his deepest values, he takes off all his clothes and walks into the sea. But while the man in GOD'S NEIGHBORS has values rooted in religion (and indeed in Judaism water is a symbol of the Torah, the Jewish system of values), the man in WHITE PANTHER can think only of his father, a champion boxer from Moscow who met with hard luck in Israel. His father was a good guy, his mother is a good woman, but the rest of the Russians in the movie all seem to be the dregs of society. Nobody carries the tradition of great Russian literature or music (although the hero's brother is a rapper), and everyone is on the wrong side of the law. It can't be the portrait that Reisfeld intended to paint, but it's a distortion by omission.
The most familiar actor in the movie is Zeev Revah. His recent performances seem effortless; all he needs to do is let the camera play over his jowly porridge of wrinkles and he's credible. The other actors are also believable; more so than the script, which is often predictable without always making perfect sense.
A lot can be forgiven because the intended message is a good one: minorities deserve respect, even from other minorities.
Jobriath A.D. (2012)
Truth is stranger than fiction
Coincidentally, I was reading in the paper today that Ringo Starr says he'll never write an autobiography because eight years of his life are all that interest the public, whereas he'd already lived enough for five volumes of autobiography even before he joined the Beatles. In the case of Jobriath, you'd expect even a shorter interesting period. If the public remembers him at all, it's as a failed novelty act, and his career was over almost before it began. But this documentary makes his earlier life, and his later life, just as interesting as his brief publicity splash if not more so. First of all, he wasn't just a nobody who met a Svengali; he was an unusually talented composer, and we hear flashes of originality, sadly enough, not in the music of his that was promoted but in other compositions that happen to have been picked up on home recordings. And surprisingly, although dispirited by his commercial failure, he managed afterward to open a chapter 2 of his life. The movie presents the whole arc in an elegantly structured way, and if it were a novel you might here and there complain that the story is just too good to be believable. I did catch myself wondering whether the movie was part fact and part hoax. But I guess it's just that truth is stranger than fiction.
It's too good at concealing what's going on
Kidon starts with an intriguing premise: Suppose that the 2010 assassination of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh (if you've forgotten it, check Wikipedia) took Israel's General Security Service, the Mossad, completely by surprise, but the assassination team has escaped to Israel and the Mossad is rounding them up and finding out how the hit was accomplished. The script has a problem handling this situation, though. The audience-- a well-informed audience, at least-- knows more or less how the hit was accomplished, so there's no suspense in the retelling. Nor is there any great adventure in capturing the assassination team; that seems to go relatively smoothly. So aside from a few offhand jokes about current events, there is nothing much to keep the audience interested for the first hour or so. There is an abundance of characters introduced-- too many to easily keep straight-- but although the actors are competent (and many, in Israel at least, are familiar and well liked) the characters are not well rounded enough to engage the audience. It's only after an hour's wait that plot twists begin to develop, giving new significance to what the audience has already seen. And from that point the plot twists never stop, progressively revealing what previously hadn't been apparent as we watched, but they can't turn the one-hour wait interesting in retrospect when it wasn't interesting at the time, and they don't involve us any more deeply in the characters.
Spring 1941 (2008)
It's all fine, although it's partly like a filmed stageplay
The filmmakers went to the trouble of shooting much of this movie in Poland, and maybe they benefited from something invisible in the atmosphere but there is rather little happening outdoors in the movie and I couldn't have told whether it was shot in Poland or in Poughkeepsie. Because so much of the film occurs in the small space of a peasant's hut, you could mistake it for a stage play with a few cinematic scenes tacked on. And the screenwriter, Motti Lerner, does in fact write mostly for the stage. It could be that audiences were surprised by the relative weight of the indoor part of the story, where everything depends on the interaction of the actors and their movement in a space no bigger than a stage; and by the relative weight of the interplay between the characters living in fear of the Nazis, as opposed to actual encounters with the Nazis themselves. But if you accept that the emphasis lies where it does, then you'll certainly be glad that for once Uri Barbash directed a script by an independently successful playwright rather than by his brother Benny (no offense intended). The actors do a great job of selling the story, and the script does a great job of showing a human dilemma of conflicting priorities with life and death at stake.