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The backgrounds in CHICO & RITA are like laboriously crafted big-band jazz arrangements. Everything is there but it is intentionally a little skewed. The neon signs are misspelled or wrongly composed; the familiar landmarks are a little misshapen. The major characters stand out in their unadorned sketchiness, like semi-improvised jazz solos. There may be also be an intentional tribute to Picasso in the way their faces are drawn. It doesn't always work; the inconsistency in the faces depending on angle and distance is a little distracting, and there seems to be a problem with the shadows under their noses; but the movie is not selling itself on the strength of its character animation. The strong points are the visual atmosphere and of course the music. The plot is a creaky melodrama that live actors might not have got away with, but the music makes us want to suspend disbelief and the distancing effect of the artwork makes it possible. Not a movie for everyone, but maybe the next best thing to a trip to Havana.
A top Israeli actor, Moshe Ivgy made both his writing debut and his
directing review with this film. Two other writers are credited with
him, but all together they did stumble a little. This is one of those
movies where a number of stories start out separately and then turn out
to intertwine. The device is legitimate; generally nobody says "what an
unreasonable coincidence" when the characters we've seen separately run
into one another, because we all understand that's why they were all in
the movie in the first place. But once the click of connection has
occurred, additional scenes where chance establishes additional
connections are a thing of comedy and this movie tries to set them in a
drama. Dickens could get away with such stuff, but today's movies try
to downplay it even when adapting Dickens.
Introducing a bunch of initially independent plot lines is a challenge that Ivgy handles pretty well. The actors are for the most part reasonably difficult to confuse with one another, and we don't spend time waiting to see whether anything will happen. On the other hand, we do have to wait to find out who, if anyone, is a character who deserves our sympathy. Perhaps intentionally, the movie starts out looking quite misanthropic, as if the scene-- Tel Aviv-- has fundamentally deteriorated into dog-eat-dog misery; but as the movie proceeds, some of the characters are shown to have sympathetic facets and to be capable of worthy acts. Maybe that's the point of the movie-- that goodness endures-- but it doesn't easily carry the weight of the whole movie; though individually each scene holds interest, you can wind up wondering what you watched it all for and the answer may be that it was Moshe Ivgy's first exercise in movie-making.
From descriptions by other people, I had the impression that the setting for this movie was in some way post-apocalyptic or at least post- ruination in some way, but it is only exaggerated, as if a lot of common everyday pleasure has been filtered away and a lot of common everyday roughness and sadness has been injected to take its place.
I'll tell you what I liked about the movie, because what's not to like has been pretty well covered. Old Wyatt Earp says, "You have to understand the War Between the States. The war formed us, made us who we are. After killing your own cousins, your own brothers, killing strangers meant nothing. Lawless times followed those long dark years." It's not a new thought, but it's well developed. Out in the countryside the movie presents people who describe themselves as Christian, as if Christianity were driven to take refuge away from the cities and the evil would have to burn itself out before Christianity could return. A parallel could be drawn with modern times in which Christian values seem to be retreating from the great American cities. Along with this idea, we have a bit of the observation that we heard in A Few Good Men, and before that in The Caine Mutiny, about how the kind of warriors we look down upon are the ones who protect our innocence. Val Kilmer hams it up a little, but some behavior that looks unforgivably strange on his part at the beginning is explained at the end. Another pivotal role is played by Diana Degarmo. If you can't believe she is a unique 19th- century stage performer whom men fall head over heels in love with-- even a sober man like Wyatt Earp-- then you don't have a movie here. But she pulls it off. You'd never guess she came off American Idol, although she did. (You'd think the guy playing Bat Masterson did, although he didn't.)
A man walks into his own apartment in the middle of the day while his wife is napping there, and it seems he is intrigued by the chance to see the components of his life and not to affect them. The ghostliness of his presence prompts him to experiment with the contrast of a limited, manageable impact-- pushing a napkin-holder off a table. More and more, he withdraws from interaction with his everyday world. Sometimes he hides and observes, other times he just hides. Sometimes he makes noise where there is no one to hear. Is this exciting cinema? Is it relevant? Will it draw audiences? Being an Israeli-German coproduction, maybe THE EXCHANGE, with its emphasis on alienation and inaction, will go over better in Germany, since Israelis are a rather busy and involved population. You need to be willing, to some extent, to enjoy observation as a substitute for action, the way the protagonist does. But the bottom line is that with so little happening, and not all of it clearly motivated, I doubt that the script would have been shot at all if the creator weren't recently responsible for the beloved film THE BAND'S VISIT, and I consider myself lucky to have caught the film on its commercial opening night because I'm not sure it will last out the week.
Having seen the preview and admired the cityscapes, I was disappointed to see that here in Israel the movie was strictly a matinée feature and dubbed into Hebrew. No showings for us folks who work during the day and would prefer subtitled French. I picked up a pirated copy, which turned out to be dubbed into English. I found the opening tribute to early French cinema a little tiresome, but I have no problem being patient while a well-deserved tribute is made. Then as the archetypal Parisian characters were introduced, I found the portraiture amusing. There was a long wait before the title character appeared and before the first song, and I found the first song less interesting than the later ones (although that may be intentional). The dance movements were nicely animated although a little sexy for a children's movie; overall I think the movie seems to have been conceived under the philosophy of "something for everyone" rather than "everything for kids." After a while, the stereotyped characterizations wore thin and there seemed to be less compensation for those of us missing 3D. I actually fell asleep during the big chase sequence near the end, which I suppose was some kind of a roller-coaster ride for the 3D audience. By the time it was over, the movie had evidently achieved everything it wanted although not always a lot of it at the same time.
In THE COMMITMENTS, which stands as the gold standard for fictional band movies, the guys are setting up the band to win respect not just for themselves but for their country. At the film's climax, their efforts are weighed in the balance as an important music figure is due to come see and judge them. In VOLCANO JUNCTION, the band members are less deeply committed and the important audition comes at the beginning of the film rather than at the end. Each member of the band has his own problems, but there is no impending and overarching challenge that they face as a group other than merely staying together. The format of the band movie brings with it vulnerability to a common weakness of Israeli cinema, the attempt to focus on a circle of friends rather than on a single protagonist. It's harder for the audience to handle, and it's harder to do well because quantity of characterizations militates against quality. Personally I found it a little difficult to remember who's who. But the movie's real Achilles heel is that the original music the characters are enthusiastic about is not impressive enough to convey sympathetic enthusiasm in the audience and the singer who is remarkably gifted according to the story-- enough to make any audience, and even a pro from the big city, sit up and take notice-- brings nothing special to the screen. As far as I can recall, no songs originating in the movie became popular on the radio. Eran Riklis has gone on to direct better movies, but interestingly his most recent release, about a basketball coach, was criticized because, just as the music in this film isn't as outstanding as the plot demands, his supposedly big-league players in his basketball movie did not play like big-leaguers.
The series was unusual in tackling the issue of original sin, or of free will. Is Samantha born to sin as the sparks fly upward? And the issue was handled with a good comic touch; quite a few good and original lines of dialog. Not surprisingly considering his track record of first-class work, Kevin Dunn managed to satisfactorily fill out an underwritten part-- the series is presented from a woman's point of view and there is little character behind the men's predictability or unpredictability. Maybe the biggest mistake was allowing time to pass at real average rate of a year per year, because the possibilities are greatest when Samantha's awakening is recent. After a while, the series begins to cast her in the same gags as the visitor from space-- Mork, or Alf (who is name-checked in one episode), or Dick Solomon-- who is surprised to be experiencing human life. Also, with time, the rules of behavior keeping the good friend good and the evil friend evil begin to crack a little. But the dynamic with the parents looked like the life raft that might-- who knows?-- have rescued the series for another season.
Maybe the stage would have been a better home for this work than the screen. Or else the visual side of the movie should have been more strongly stylized, so that the heavy-handed material would look less ridiculous in contrast. The movie opens with a bit of dialog taken directly from Hamlet and spoken in an Israeli mental institution where evidently everyone speaks in English. Israelis speaking English to one another would be understandable if it were a consistent convention in the movie, but outside the mental institution they don't seem to. And the English is a struggle for the actors-- although some of the preachy, symbolic proclamations they give forth with would be a struggle for any actor. The movie seems to be telling us that the Israeli nation will be insane until it comes face to face with its guilt and recognizes that its conflict with the Arabs, and indeed its very presence, is nothing but a compulsion born of Holocaust trauma. The movie's Hebrew title MECHILOT can be seen as corresponding to its English title FORGIVENESS, for it implies that the Arabs (shown here as guiltless and quite modern as well) will forgive a repentant, self-abnegating Jew; but the Hebrew title more obviously means BURROWS-- another reference to Hamlet, as it is explained that the Jews arrived in Israel underground and dead like the "old mole" who was the ghost of Hamlet's father.
The script is rich in human relationships, including an unusual number of suspenseful ones where we don't know which direction the character's decision-- even if it's a minor character-- will take the movie in. Much revolves around the hero's best buddy, who is a schoolyard bully and perhaps doesn't deserve his friendship. Who ever heard of a movie hero whose best friend is a bully? Or a movie where ditching your best buddy is an option? But the little hero, Eli, finds that in his upscale neighborhood corruption and intimidation are far from unknown. In fact, maybe his father doesn't exactly deserve to be his father. Maybe Eli doesn't deserve his girlfriend. Things, as Eli says near the start of the movie, are beginning to fall apart, and he's a little young for saving the day; he doesn't even drink coffee yet. I'm surprised that the film wasn't more successful commercially. Maybe the problem is that the worst thing about it is the title. The fact that the father's name is Ben-- which means "son" in Hebrew and evidently is a comment on how he is cornered by his own father, his own son, and his own immaturity-- makes for a spot of confusion, as does the other half of the title, the son's unusual name, which needs extra punctuation to even be pronounced correctly in Hebrew.
Here's the good, the bad, and the disclaimer. First the good. The movie places Alice in Wonderland in proper context, with a prologue featuring Charles Dodgson as an Oxfordian who is inwardly iconoclastic but no firebrand, and who enjoys the company of innocent girls a generation younger. As the Alice story unfolds, we can see how it provides Dodgson an opportunity to satirize his own environment. The movie makers invent some parallels, but the inventions are benign and well within the spirit of the original. Dodgson, for example, has furtively stolen a tart in the prologue. Perhaps the most successful aspect of the movie is the stylized sets through which Alice roams. They are completely believable as stage scenery, while on the other hand they can easily accommodate the stop-motion puppets who play the Wonderland characters, so that they smoothly mediate between the natural and the artificial. What's bad about the movie is that the puppets are mostly crude and offputting in their design and movement. If I hadn't seen the year cited here on IMDb, I would have pegged the movie a good decade and a half earlier-- also because of the badly dated music. But the disclaimer I must provide is that the print I saw may not do justice to the movie. It had no color, the sound was less than perfectly synchronized, and the picture was not very sharp. Maybe a good color print would have looked more pleasant and up-to-date.
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