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Hachi: A Dog's Tale (2009)
Hollywood crap-atization of a really great story
You may be a dog lover (I am), you may love the real story of a real Tokyo Hachiko, but that doesn't excuse 8.0 average vote for a crappy film, a tearjerker that doesn't even succeed in that, a formulaic and just blah movie. Despite all the heartbreak of the story itself and the beautiful dogs that "played" all the right parts well, this bubble gum of a movie failed on so many levels, it lost even the ability to tear-jerk. Richard Gere mentioning "the heart" right before the...moment? All the "see you tonight"'s before he leaves? Please! (just one example)
Maybe the Japanese original film, Hachiko Monogatari (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachik%C5%8D_Monogatari) is better, if it can be found anywhere.
Yaldey Hashemesh (2007)
If I could make such warm, heartfelt, deeply personal - for them - present for my parents as the director of Children of the Sun - himself a "Kibbutz child" - dedicated to his parents, I would be a very happy man, and they would be very lucky parents. Using only archive footage from 1930s to 1970s Kibbutzim with the commentary of aged first-generation kibbutzniks, with a particular focus on communal and practically devoid of parents interaction child rearing, this documentary can be a great eye-opener to people like me - who thought they had some idea of what Kibbutzim were like. In fact those early, particularly ideologically-charged, utopian Kibbutzim were very, very different from their modern remains - in fact, at times the feeling of watching Hitlerjunge or especially Young Pioneers is unnervingly real. But one of the film's great strengths is not trying to serve as an illustration for a Wikipedia article on Kibbutzim, but focusing on the emotional aspects of growing up there as children - and through that alone tells more than enough about the ideology, the promise, the ultimate fading of those ideas. Overall, an interesting and enjoyable documentary.
Art School Confidential (2006)
Exactly what you would expect from Zwigoff - which is also its weakness
Terry Zwigoff made one of my favorite movies - Ghost World. This one can be considered a sequel of sorts. Except, it's backwards: instead of commiserating with the young adult "misfits" in the world of "normal" people, it now laughs and satirizes them in a setting where their greatest concentration can be found - an art school in New York. In a farce-like setup it goes from student to student and ridicules them for all the "non-conformity" clichés that they are, while staying fully aware of being one big cliché itself - and landing the mandatory slaps on the "suburbia" and the "normal world" as well.
But this is where it fails: it lacks any subtlety. What was great about Ghost World, what was its main superiority over Art School Confidential, is that it had enough subtlety to stay an engaging, deep movie, while this comes off more like a flick-for-fun. It's as if Zwigoff decided to do exactly what's expected of him and serve it in a transparent glass box for people like me - who would enjoy the movie tremendously nonetheless, but regret everything it's so obviously missing. Oh - and unfortunately for me, I felt like much of the "art-school" topic has already been depicted very well very recently, in the HBO's Six Feet Under.
Knjiga rekorda Sutke (2005)
Great, funny, and ridiculous (in the good ways!) documentary
What a wonderful, warm, funny, and utterly ridiculous documentary look at the Gypsy town of Shutka in Macedonia! Reminiscent of the great Kusturica's gypsy films, it's filled with even more ridiculous characters - yet, it is no work of fiction; according to the director, everything it depicts is completely true! Shot in a town located outside Skopje in Macedonia that was built right on the former city dump ("shut" = waste in Roma) and populated by seemingly absolutely nutty but life-loving people, it reminded me of both the Soviet towns on the provincial outskirts - in reality, and another great Czech documentary, "Czech Dream" - on celluloid. There must be something about the Czech documentary movie making that's making it more interesting to watch than 90% of fiction movies out there.
It was funny to see a couple of guys - particularly squeamish audience members - walk out of the theater when a cow slaughter, by the old method, knife under the skull, was briefly shown. I guess people prefer to think beef comes from the supermarket shelves...
Hawaii, Oslo (2004)
A big disappointment
I have to agree with those who were disappointed with this movie.
In fact, it was one of the bigger disappointments of many films I've seen at the last SFIFF. I understand, the director (or script writer, for that matter) have the right to borrow from earlier movies and create on the basis of their associations something new, something of their own. But this was just too much. Practically everything that this movie is based on we've already seen. Multiple times - and, made much better, too! (Thinking of "13 Conversations About One Thing", for example.) Unfortunately, this movie said nothing new, and, trying really hard to touch emotionally, only managed to stay clear of actually accomplishing that.
Truly a movie by one person: Miranda July, having obtained a bit of money from the Sundance labs, wrote, directed, and plays the leading role in this movie. And - it's all great! This film - one of the best I've seen at the SFIFF - managed to simultaneously remind me of the boring suburbs and bored, hapless heroes of Garden State and Sideways and all the key Todd Solondz's movies (Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse) - yet at the same time to stay funny and *kind*. The movie is very "Californian" (she grew up in Berkeley), and it did win the main prize at SFIFF.
As a man, I felt that it was easy to tell that this movie is filmed by a young, dreaming woman.
Of the phrases I particularly liked: "Yes, I just gave my new neighbor the biggest discount on that pair of shoes. Sure, I worked on earning some karma points. You know what that means, right - that she'll owe me one now."
Did not expect this from Spielberg
This movie made me very, very angry.
Only an ardent supporter of Israel, who knows all the facts and past history, will not see this movie as sharply anti-Israel. For an *average* person this film is a pinnacle of irresponsible movie making.
There is something Spielberg and many other liberal Americans (and I am a liberal person myself) don't understand: some guys are just violent freaks! No amount of reasoning and dialog would've changed Hitler, Stalin, or Saddam. Showing a Palestinian terrorist with agony on his face - almost driven to tears! - as he was executing five hostages by an automatic weapon epitomizes this dangerous misconception.
The bulk of the movie is spent showing in details the Palestinian assassinations carried out by the Mossad team. The well-paid mysterious source of their names and whereabouts (a fictional character) is a "black box" which hides away most other details, allowing good two hours of the movie to focus solely on the killings. The very first target sets the tone: a very pleasant and courteous gray-haired man who was just applauded by his Italian audience in a streetside café in Rome after speaking about his translation of 1001 Arabian Nights into Italian, who is killed with a bag of groceries in his hands - milk, wine, bread he just bought at a corner store. Milk flows on the marble foyer floor, followed by blood, as the Mossad agents run away out on the street like children who have just done some booboo.
One of the more poignant speeches comes from a young Palestinian fighter, later killed, an actor with beautiful, expressive eyes, saying that home and land mean everything, even if it will take hundreds of years to take them back. "How long did the Jews wait to get their country? We'll wait, make children, children will make children, and we'll get it back." He sounds prophetic; Avner, the team leader, has nothing to reply to that.
Throughout the movie periods between the killings are punctuated by TV newsreels about new Palestinian terrorist acts, highlighting the main point of the movie: violence begets violence; vengeance like this for an unspeakable atrocity of Munich massacre is NOT an acceptable answer. Even more irresponsibly, the movie implies that there is no solid evidence, the kind a liberal Western person expects - especially in this era of political lies and intelligence lapses about Iraq - linking most of the assassination targets to the Munich massacre. That's untrue - and dangerous.
Avner's torment results in the ultimate anti-Israel statement of the movie: from the initial sentiment, expressed by his wife, that "Israel is his mother", he travels the whole path to basically the rejection of Israel by immigrating to Brooklyn at the end of the movie.
As for the cinematic quality of the movie itself (which is too long for what it does with most of its time) - when Avner passionately screws his wife while having flashbacks - rather, fantasies, since he couldn't have witnessed it himself - of the Munich hostages being killed, all I wanted to ask was, "How was sex - good?" If this is the roof of Spielberg's "artistic symbolism", he really should stay with "Jaws", I'm sorry...
Simon Magus (1999)
A beautiful fairy-tale of the long-lost world
This is a fairy tale about Jews and Christians in an Eastern European shtetl of the XIX century - a world that completely disappeared, which adds to the movie's sentimental value. A fairy tale about a "holy fool" that is generally charming, sometimes scary, brilliantly filmed, and visually arresting.
Unfortunately, it didn't quite do it for me - didn't fully step the line from reality into visual absurdity, but stayed at the threshold, which was somewhat irritating because I am generally not a fan of watching fairy tales on screen. Despite that, it left the best impression on me.
The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz (2000)
A great mind-trip
This movie defies description, categorization, genre placement. There is simply almost nothing like it - a clever mind trip that relentlessly weaves the plot in a neck-breaking-paced surreal, absurdest, postmodern apocalyptic story with a great soundtrack, trippiest image sequences, great sense of humor, and deep paranoia and darkness. Despite using seemingly gimmicky effects and tricks, very low budget and mostly black-and-white shooting, this movie feels so well done and so well narrated, they don't hinder it at all as they would many other movies - instead, as if on the height of its "genre", this movie absolutely flourishes with them, as the very best silent movies do on their own unhindered by the absence of sound. A must see, but also definitely a "not-for-everyone-er".
Match Point (2005)
Brilliant and emotional film
More often than not, I dislike Woody Allen's movies. Match Point, however, is a brilliant film. The "un-Woody-Allenness" of it that many notice in fact suits it very well. On some level, it's a serious - even disturbing - movie, considering what I felt is one of its main themes -- the unhappiness that lies ahead no matter what the life choice may be. Its somewhat stifling dialogs and acting are possibly intentional and therefore can be "forgiven". It's really made up of two films - the lust and affair drama, followed by a Dostoevsky roller-coaster - but it's remarkably consistent, as the deep emotional connection with the characters switches its focus, but does not wane.