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677 reviews in total 
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A quest film that has its funny and tragic moments, 20 July 2016
10/10

The Kind Words (2015) is an Israeli Canadian film written and directed by Shemi Zarhin.

This is a quest film. Three Israeli siblings--each very different from the other two--have just suffered the loss of their mother. Their father had previously divorced their mother, and is now living with his new wife, a beautiful singer. At that point, their father gives them a shocking revelation.

This revelation sends the thee siblings on a quest journey to Paris and then Marseilles. As I noted before, each sibling is different. One brother is married to a highly observant woman from Brooklyn. He's not really a believer, but he loves his wife, and he acts the role of an observant Jew to please her. The other brother is non-observant. He's gay and less intense than the others. The natural leader--and star of the film--is Rotem Zissman-Cohen as Dorona. Dorona is a sharp-tongued misanthrope.

Dorona is married to a man she apparently loves, although, true to her negative behavior, she is driving him away. However, he joins the three on their quest.

The quest itself is fascinating, and many things are learned, or, at least, suspected. Writer Zarhin doesn't force director Zahrin to tie up every loose end when the quest is over. However, all the characters have moved forward from where they were when they left Israel. I think things will be better for them when they return home.

We saw this movie at the Dryden Theatre in The George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY. It was screened as part of the excellent Rochester International Jewish Film Festival. It will work well on the small screen. It will be available on DVD on November 1, 2016.

P.S. The Rochester International Jewish Film Festival always has interesting movies. I'd also like to mention that it's the best managed film festival I've ever attended. Because of the hard work and expertise of the staff and volunteers, programs start on time, stay on time, and end on time. From ticket purchase to the end-of-festival party, everything works. My compliments to director Lori Harter and everyone else involved.

The most mouth-watering film I've ever seen., 19 July 2016
10/10

In Search of Israeli Cuisine (2016) is an Israeli film written and directed by Roger Sherman.

The film follows Israeli-American chef Michael Solomonov as he travels through Israel, sampling cuisines and talking to chefs. Solomonov is the perfect choice for a movie like this. He isn't diffident, but he isn't arrogant either. He has a friendly, open manner, which makes people comfortable when they talk with him. He's appreciative of the food, and he sometimes participates in its preparation. He watches people prepare the food. While they prepare it, they also tell him about their culture, and how it contributes to the Israeli cultural blend.

Some argue that "Israeli cuisine" as such does not exist. At the moment, Israeli cuisine is made up of Palestinian cuisine, and the cuisines brought to Israel by Jews from the lands from which the emigrated.

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is always just beneath the surface in Israel, and people discuss it. However, there's a second cultural conflict--between Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, and Sephardic Jews from the Mediterranean region. Ashkenazi food is what most of us in the U.S. think of as "Jewish food." Sephardic food is what most of us think of as "Middle Eastern Food."

Right now, the two traditions haven't blended. Maybe that's all for the best. Two much blending may mean that these splendid distinct cuisines will be lost. What the film makes clear is that restaurants in Israeli offer many many wonderful cuisines, and, if you have enough time, you could sample them all. (Israel is a small country. It's "The size of New Jersey," as Michael likes to repeat. You can drive from the north to the south in a few hours, and find exactly the food you want.)

We saw this movie at the Dryden Theatre in The George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY. It was screened as part of the excellent Rochester International Jewish Film Festival. It will work well on the small screen. However, as far as I can tell, it's not available on DVD yet.

P.S. The Rochester International Jewish Film Festival always has interesting movies. I'd also like to mention that it's the best managed film festival I've ever attended. Because of the hard work and expertise of the staff and volunteers, programs start on time, stay on time, and end on time. From ticket purchase to the end-of-festival party, everything works. My compliments to director Lori Harter and everyone else involved.

Too many plots, too many characters, 13 July 2016
7/10

The Israeli film Wounded Land (2015) was co-written and directed by Erez Tadmor.

This is a tough movie, about tough people and a tough situation. I had trouble understanding the plots. Probably it would make much more sense to people in Israel.

The plots go in many directions. There are crooked cops and honest cops. Two gangsters keep showing up in odd places. One cop's son cheats another cop's son in an informal judo contest. Because the cheater's father is a high-ranking officer, the younger cop won't give his son the satisfaction of hearing, "Yes, he cheated."

Early in the movie there's a suicide bombing in the city. Sadly, suicide bombings are not extraordinarily rare in Israel. However, the response by both the nearest hospital and the police is pathetic. Surely, the hospital has drills for mass casualty situations. One of the plot threads--about racism--hinges on the shortage of doctors. Israel is a small country. Dozens of doctors from other hospitals--in or outside the city--would arrive within minutes.

The honest police officer is supposed to keep order in the hospital with just a handful of officers. Yet he refuses any assistance, and then leaves his post, without calling for backup.

I know that we have to suspend disbelief when we watch a movie, but I couldn't suspend it that far. As I write this review, Wounded Land has a low, but respectable, IMDb rating of 6.8. I agreed with the other reviewers, and gave it a seven.

We saw this film at The Little Theatre as part of the excellent Rochester Jewish Film Festival. It will work well on the small screen. However, as far as I can tell, it's not available on DVD yet.

P.S. The Rochester International Jewish Film Festival always has interesting movies. I'd also like to mention that it's the best managed film festival I've ever attended.

Because of the hard work and expertise of the staff and volunteers, programs start on time, stay on time, and end on time. From ticket purchase to the end-of-festival party, everything works. My compliments to director Lori Harter and everyone else involved.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Quirky and funny thriller, 13 July 2016
9/10

The Argentinian movie Cómo ganar enemigos, was shown in the U.S. with the translated title of How to Win Enemies (2014). It was written and directed by Gabriel Lichtmann.

A young lawyer, Lucas, meets Barbara. She's an intelligent, interesting, beautiful woman. They end up in his home together, and, the next morning, she is gone and so is his money. (It's quite a bit of money, because, from context, in Argentina large amounts of money change hands in cash, rather than bank teller's notes. Lucas has withdrawn all his savings for a payment on his new home. Now it's gone.)

Lucas is no fool. He realizes that he's not the first man to be seduced and then robbed by a clever woman. However, he keeps saying, "She's not a thief." What I think he means is, "This was no ordinary seduce and run." Barbara knows about his interests and they match her interests completely. How could she know this, if it wasn't a setup?

Lucas sets about using his brains, honed by his reading of mystery stories. Whether Lucas can find Barbara and get his money back is the plot of this film. It's a fascinating journey, in a dark sort of way.

We saw this film at The Little Theatre, as part of the excellent Rochester Jewish Film Festival. Lucas and his family are Jewish, but this really isn't a "Jewish film." They just happen to be Jewish, but the story would work as well if they were not.

As far as I can tell, the film isn't available on DVD. I always feel strange reviewing a movie that other IMDb members can't see. Maybe it will come to a festival in your area, or maybe it will eventually be available for the small screen

I enjoyed this movie, which currently has a dismal 6.4 rating on IMDb. I think it deserves better. See it if you can.

Powerful docudrama, 13 July 2016
9/10

The French movie Les héritiers was shown in the U.S. with the title Once in a Lifetime (2014) It was co-written and directed by Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar. Her co-writer was Ahmed Dramé, who co-stars in the film as the student Malik. (The film is based on Ahmed's own experiences.)

Ariane Ascaride plays Anne Gueguen, a dedicated and skillful high-school teacher. She teaches students from a poor, culturally mixed neighborhood. Most people have given up on these students, and they have given up on themselves.

Rather than just throwing facts at them, Gueguen engages the students in fascinating but difficult project. She wants them to enter a national competition to produce a work about French children in the Holocaust.

France is notorious for the manner in which the French police helped the Germans find and deport Jews. One of the students tells the incredulous class that the French Fascist, Pierre Laval, insisted on deporting French children to the concentration camps, although the Germans hadn't demanded that.

What happens next is somewhat predictable. The principal and the students themselves don't believe that they can accomplish something of this magnitude. Even when enthusiasm for the project starts to emerge, it's difficult for the students to work together for the common good.

Anne Gueguen is quite a teacher. Her students learned things they never would have learned otherwise, because she helped them go after the information themselves. She got them to want to learn. She made learning about the French Holocaust a personal quest for each student.

I don't know how accurately Ariane Ascaride portrays Anne Gueguen, but for me, her portrayal appeared to be perfect. She's the high school teacher you wish you could have had. Ahmed Dramé, as Malik, is already a skilled actor, and he makes his character come alive. The other young actors do well. Although all the scenes are recreated, I got the sense that this was probably a reasonably accurate portrayal of the actual events.

We saw this film at The Little Theatre, as part of the excellent Rochester International Jewish Film Festival. It's available on DVD, and will work well on the small screen. Find it and see it.

Hill Start (2014)
Sometimes, your father is right, 12 July 2016
9/10

The Israeli comedy Zinuk BaAlia was shown in the U.S. with the title Hill Start (2014), It was co-written and directed by Oren Shtern.

This film begins with a serious accident within the first five minutes. Schlomo Bar-Aba portrays Micha Geva, a tough hard-bitten plastic surgeon. (I've known many plastic surgeons, and that's what they're like.) He's driving when the family is involved in a car accident, which leaves Micha's wife in a coma. It doesn't sound very comedic, and it isn't. However, the family pulls together and visits the mother in in the hospital, and this gives director Shtern the opportunity for family interactions at bedside.

Micha has two children. His daughter, Schlomit, played by Mali Levi, is a teacher who spends most of her time dreaming about a singer/actor who stars in Palestinian-oriented (I think) soap operas. At one point, someone tells Schlomit that she is beautiful and sexy, and she seems genuinely surprised. You have to suspend disbelief at this point, because Mali Levi is impossibly beautiful--sort of an Israeli Angelina Jolie. But, that's the plot.

Another plot revolves around Micha's son, Ari, played by Itay Tiran. Ari is also a plastic surgeon, but he's an anomaly. He's diffident, and under his father's thumb. The film is almost a coming of age movie for his character. However, coming of age for him means getting married to Reli, played by Rotem Zissman-Cohen. Reli is startlingly beautiful, but, unlike Schlomit, she's well aware of her beauty. She's also highly sexual, and that is clearly the only aspect about her that would make Ari want to marry her.

Director Shtern does his best to give her some sort of positive personality and intelligence, but he fails. She's wrong, wrong, wrong for Ari. In this case, Micha is correct. It's too bad that Ari's method of moving out from under his father's thumb is to insist on marrying Reli. But, that's the plot.

There's also a sub-plot. From context, Israeli law requires someone involved in a serious accident to take driving lessons and then be tested. Romi Aboulafia plays Liat, the driving teacher. She's also a yoga instructor. (Don't ask.) There's definitely a certain chemistry between Liat and Micha, but that plot gets in the way of the other plots. (I assume the title "Hill Start" refers to one of the requirements of passing the driving test. If this was mentioned in the film, I missed it.)

We saw this film at Rochester's Little Theatre, as part of the excellent Rochester Jewish Film Festival. It will work well on the small screen. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, it's not available on DVD. If it becomes available, or if it screens at another festival, it's worth watching. If you want a humorous, lightweight Israeli comedy, that's what you'll get. Why not?

Can rockets drown out the music?, 11 July 2016
9/10

Rock in the Red Zone (2014) is an Israeli documentary written, produced, and directed by Laura Bialis. Most of the footage comes from the small city of Sderot.

Sderot is located on the border of Gaza, which basically means that it's in a combat zone. Rocket attacks on Sderot are a constant aspect of life there. It's not my place in an IMDb movie review to even suggest that there's an easy answer to why Hamas sends rockets against Sderot, or why the Israeli Defense Forces bomb and invade Gaza. The attacks against Sderot are a reality. Two rockets hit Sderot on July 1, 2016, 10 days before I wrote this review.

As a psychiatrist tells us in the film, she's seeing PTSD in a majority of children in Sderot. However, as she says, it's not really Post Traumatic, because there's no Post. The trauma continues.

What makes Sderot particularly interesting is that almost all of its population are Sephardic Jews, primarily from Morocco. These Jewish immigrants have brought their Sephardic culture to Sderot, and their music is spreading throughout Israel.

One musician in Sdertot--Avi Vaknin--is one of the musicians helping to spread the music. He's gifted, dynamic, and highly articulate. Director Bialis knows that he will be the centerpiece of her documentary. Actually, he becomes more than that, but you'll have to see the movie to find out what happens.

We saw the film in the Dryden Theatre in the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY. It was shown as part of the excellent Rochester Jewish Film Festival. Congratulations to the RJFF for bringing Avi Vaknin to Rochester to perform onstage at the Festival.

This film is worth seeing, but how you can see it poses a problem. As far as I can tell, it's not available on DVD. So, unless you are lucky enough to see it at another film festival, you'll have to wait for it to become available for the the small screen. Let's hope that happens.

Baba Joon (2015)
A coming-of-age film about a young Israeli boy, 11 July 2016
10/10

Baba Joon (2015) is an Israeli film written and directed by Yuval Delshad. The movie is set in an Iranian-Israeli community on the edge of the Negev Desert. (Sometimes the characters speak Farsi, and sometimes Hebrew.) Although many films from Israel depict conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, this film doesn't. There's no sense of outward conflict. The conflict is between generations.

Navid Negahban plays Itzhak, who has learned how to be a successful turkey farmer from his father. (His father is alive and, although frail, still has the energy to be the "head of the household.") Itzhak is very good at raising turkeys, although he hates the endless work and drudgery.

Despite his own hatred of the work, Itzhak expects his young son, Moti to follow in his footsteps. Moti is played by Asher Avrahami, who had never acted before. He is superb in this role. There's not a single moment when he slips out of character. Moti hates turkey farming, and he dares to do what his father did not. He decides to leave the trade and follow his own interests and talents.

Moti's uncle (his father's brother) has left Israel and made a new life for himself in the U.S. He returns to visit the family, and that visit triggers off resentments that have been simmering for years.

This isn't an action-packed thriller. All of the scenes take place in the small, hot, dusty, farming region. The conflicts we see are family conflicts. In this sense, the story is universal. Should a young man decide on his own career and his own life, or should he follow the wishes of his father and grandfather? The greatness of this film is how the basic conflict plays itself out during the course of the movie.

We saw this film at the Dryden Theatre in the Eastman House Museum in Rochester, NY. It was shown as part of the excellent Rochester Jewish Film Festival. The movie carries an IMDb rating of 7.1, which is lower than it deserves, but not outrageously so. (See my review of "To Life.") It will work very well on the small screen. The DVD can be pre-ordered now (July, 2016). Find it and see the movie. (Just watching Asher Avrahami in the role of Moti will reward your viewing.)

To Life (2014)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
You are never fully liberated from Auschwitz, 11 July 2016
10/10

The French movie "À la vie" was shown in the U.S. with the translated title "To Life (2014)." It was written and directed by Jean-Jacques Zilbermann. The film is a Post-Holocaust saga, although it opens with scenes in Auschwitz that are truly horrific.

Hélène (Julie Depardieu) and Lily (Johanna ter Steege) were friends in Auschwitz, and they managed to survive the death march from Auschwitz to Louslau together. A third friend, Rose (Suzanne Clément) was unable to walk, so they were forced to leave her behind. As it turned out, Rose survived until the liberation of Auschwitz. The three did not see each other again until 1962, when they come together for a reunion at a beachside resort in Northern France.

We learn early in the movie that Lily divorced her husband after the war, and is living as a "free soul," with no permanent partner. Hélène and Rose both married concentration camp survivors.

The plot of the film--based on the lives of three actual friends--revolves around their interactions during the reunion. No matter how much ice cream they eat, and how they display their new bathing suits, thoughts keep circling back to Auschwitz.

They quarrel about tiny details which they remember differently. They revive horrible memories. It's clear that the reunion will change their lives, but whether the change will be for the better or for the worse is an open question.

For reasons I don't understand, "To Life" caries a terrible IMDb rating of 6.1. Fortunately, we saw it as part of the excellent Rochester Jewish Film Festival. If we hadn't had "All-Event" tickets, we probably would have stayed home. This is a movie to be seen, not missed. Ignore the rating and seek it out. It's available on DVD, and it will work well on the small screen. See it!

The classic "Little Women", 9 July 2016
10/10

Little Women (1933) was directed by George Cukor. The movie is based on the novel written by Louisa May Alcott. The story takes place during the Civil War, but the action is set in Concord, Massachusetts. The film is semi-autobiographical.

The book and the film follow the adolescent and young adult lives of the four March sisters: Jo (Katherine Hepburn), Amy (Joan Bennett), Beth (Jean Parker) ad Meg (Frances Dee.) Spring Byington plays their mother, and Paul Lukas plays Professor Bhaer. Jo is the sister who represents Louisa May Alcott. The plot involves her struggle to become a writer, in parallel with Alcott's own struggle to become a successful novelist.

George Cukor knew how to bring great performances out of these talented actors. And, of course, his professional relationship with Katherine Hepburn was extraordinary for them both. Little Women was the first of the eight films they made together.

Hepburn was only 26 when she starred in Little Women. However, her extraordinary acting ability and her unbelievable beauty were already evident. Her talent was unique, and Cukor knew just how to put that talent onto the screen. If you're a Katherine Hepburn fan--as most of us are--you can't miss Little Women.

All films made for the big screen look better on the big screen. However, we saw the movie on DVD, and it worked very well.


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