Reviews written by registered user

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114 reviews in total 
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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Lies about Lies about Lies, 19 March 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As practically any political documentary these days, this one isn't interesting because of the "facts" it reveals, but rather because of what it chooses to omit and how information is manipulated to pass for a chain of events. The most interesting observation can be summarized in an axiom: the broader (not just) a documentary's subject is, the more likely it substitutes hard facts with the film maker's personal beliefs.

One very obvious omission is that Salafism isn't even mentioned once. Salafism has been taught at Sunni theological schools at least since the 1920s, Salafism is the backbone of al-Quaida, all 9/11 attackers were Salafists, Daesh is Salafist, all individual terrorists in Europe had Salafist connections. To claim that the source of modern terrorism is Syria's Shia dictator Assad is definitely a lie. I don't know whether this means that this is a propaganda effort( the Saudis and their dirty war in Yemen are suspiciously omitted), or whether the author is simply going for the ultimate "everything-is-connected" effect - that would be very BBC. Either way, this causality construction presents a deliberate manipulation of facts that can be easily counter-checked.

Another prominent claim of this film is that Ghaddafi was never a real threat to the Western world and merely set up as a stooge to cover up terrorist bombings actually committed by Syria or Hezbollah. There is no convincing argument delivered why this should be the case. The film maker argues that the US wanted to somehow cooperate with Syria, when all the hard facts point to the opposite. If you're into conspiracy theory, one might argue that the Ghaddafi's fall intensified the refugee crisis in the EU, which would then be the ultimate target of everything the US messes up. If you're not a conspiracy fan, you might as well go with "if nobody knows anything, you gotta do something, so that it seems you know everything".

Another claim is that Assad used Hezbollah for suicide attacks against soft targets as a revenge for Kissinger's obstruction of a unified Arab world. That concept, however, originated with Egypt's Nasser in the 1950s, and the first organized terror attack in the Western world was the PLO's assassination of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich in 1972. It was the Sunni PLO that Shia Hezbollah learned terror from, not Hamas from Hezbollah after the Sabra/Shatila massacres of 1982. Just look at the sequence of events, people. The OPEC siege, Entebbe, Mogadischu, all that happened before and had multiple causes.

What is true, however, is the assessment that the failure of the Arab Spring and the failure of Occupy can be traced to what I hold to be the only profound statement made in this film: that the internet may have the power to bring people together against something, but cannot substitute an alternative idea. Today's protest movements all fail because they are not based on an underlying concept. Curtis should have added that, as a consequence, their failure cannot be ascribed to Islam. It's rather the incapability of an internet image culture to formulate strategy and organize leadership - just look at the Pirate Party, or #Black Lives Matter's strategic error not to reach out to Hispanics, which would multiply their base.

Another interesting bit is the piece on Russian media manipulation by Putin's confidant Surkov, supporting both protest groups and right-wing nationalists in an attempt to rile them up against each other - inspired by absurdist theater - which is fascinating. This is, alas, only mentioned in passing - the focus drifts to Trump's campaign and culminates in the common theme of keeping the public in a disorganized state of uncertainty in the face of an ever changing narrative. However, this is not a new idea as this film may make you think, but in fact a cornerstone of postmodern philosophy and media theory (just google Postman).

So watch this with caution. There are some good points to take home with, but the alternative reality this film constructs is just as unconvincing as the official story. The simple truth to a slightly older academic like me is that today nobody knows anything anymore because they're constantly overloaded with useless info. The film maker walked right into this trap himself, by coming up with his specific "what if" scenario, and then eliminating every fact that doesn't work with his interpretation from his film.

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Exceptional German films are like cicadas..., 29 December 2016

... they hatch once a decade or less. In the 1980s, there was "Das Boot". In the 1990s, there was "Run Lola Run". In the 2000s, for most people "The Lives of Others" (which East Germans consider fake), and for others "Goodbye Lenin". And now, "Toni Erdmann", easily the best German film of the 2010s (so far).

The story is deceptively simple: "Estranged father tries to reconnect with his adult daughter" As it is so often the case with great movies, what fascinates is less the story but the way it is told. Director/writer Maren Ade chose to establish the characters through long, hyper-realistic scenes to highlight the contrast between a quirky jester dad and his career-obsessed daughter. The result is dry-as-can-be satire, strongly reminiscent of "Windows on Monday" by Ulrich Köhler (who served as editing consultant on this film).

What elevates "Toni Erdmann" from other European films this year is the use of Bucharest as a setting for corporate business maneuvering. An Eastern European backdrop is usually just a cliché, where the main characters are confronted with various stereotypes. Here, they interact with the locals in a realistic way, creating a number of culture-clash situations. As a Romanian by birth, I would say that Ade is the first foreign film maker to give an accurate idea of what we are like, and what the differences to Westerners are. There are wonderful scenes of Romanian hospitality, naivety, politeness, obstructionism and savoir-vivre. The Germans, in contrast, come across as goal-driven, practical, hollow, yet fragile and creative.

Tom Tykwer, the most famous German director who isn't Werner Herzog, once gave a famous reply to the question: "Why are German films so rarely successful?" His response was: "Because German film makers don't spend enough time developing their stories." That quote came to mind once having watched this film. The many accolades it received, including the European Film Prize, are no doubt due to the careful character development that is apparent in every scene.

Some people here seem disappointed that "Toni Erdmann" is not what they expect from a German film or comedy, I'd say that is precisely its strength: it defies conventional wisdom of what a German film is. To be sure, Ade's previous film "Everyone Else" was unconvincing because it was impossible to care for its protagonists, but if there's one European film maker who has taken a huge step forward, it's her. Cristian Mungiu won Cannes' director prize instead for "Graduation", and one could argue that this is deserved, given how well-written it is. But it also fits the expectation of what a Romanian film is to a tee, so I'm with the majority of critics who consider Ade's film their favorite of the year.

The one weakness "Toni Erdmann" has is that some scenes are not necessary, making the film about 30 minutes too long and weakening its impact. My guess is that the creators were so enchanted with the characters that they could not let go of any material. The film drags at times, it feels as if some shots were not actually intended to be used in the final cut. And it would have been advisable to end the movie with the pivotal scene the poster shows, which may very well be the most beautiful father-daughter reconciliation ever filmed.

Much Loved (2015)
Forget the low rating, this one hits the mark, 23 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When I was much younger and poorer, I used to have a job like the one of the mostly silent gay chauffeur in this film: I drove a group of prostitutes from my Romanian homeland around and checked whether they were safe. Not so rare an occupation for gays, it seems. While watching this, I felt taken back directly to those days in the early 90s, and I still can't believe just how much this film got prostitution right. Every character corresponds to women I've met who did this job, with same goals, same social situation, same characteristics.

The clients are in every detail like the clients I saw; Ayouch doesn't flinch to portray French men as wannabe machos who get deservedly ripped off, and Saudis as rich scum who cannot have sex without degrading the women they're paying, albeit handsomely. That's what may have gotten the film banned in Morocco, but what certainly did it is the scene in which the ladies get a little boy vendor to admit he's "going with the Europeans". The ban is almost ironic because this film is so much more than a portrait of contemporary Moroccan or Arab society; this really can and does happen anywhere.

No film I've ever seen has corresponded so much to the reality of prostitution as I witnessed it, they're usually focusing on family issues to make the issue more palpable. This one doesn't, and Ayouch deserves more viewers and more respect for that.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
In spite of all the awards, this is Holocaust porn, 15 December 2016

So this won the Cannes Grand Prix and the Golden Globe and Oscar for foreign film. So this must be a truly excellent film, especially since so many people here seem to be of that opinion, right? I admit: technically, this is a new approach to the theme, in which the face of the protagonist reflects all what is happening around him, and in which an excellent, well-thought sound design carries over the horrors that remain at the edges of the frame. And yet, I'm one of the handful of reviewers who are rather disappointed.

I admit this is because of my partial Romani heritage. At this point, especially with what's been going on in Europe (and particularly Hungary) over the past years, a film that manages to give passing reference to gay and Soviet Auschwitz inmates - and STILL ignores the presence of Sinti and Roma - isn't just unconsciously overseeing the issue. Romani organizations weren't happy with "Schindler's List" back in the day, pointing out that the realistic approach Spielberg chose eradicated an essential part of Romani history. I thought that critique too harsh - "Schindler's List" is a masterpiece of storytelling and it would not have been part of the story to include references to Birkenau II. This film, however, could have easily avoided this negligence, and if you find it hard to understand why anyone should be mad about that, I suggest you watch another Hungarian film, "Just the Wind" (2012). That one gives you an idea of the perpetual hell of Romani existence.

Yet like a number of German critics also pointed out, what really gives me the creeps about "Son of Saul" is the frame composition, with ample use of naked bodies out of focus, and an extensive use of nudity as a symbol of helplessness. I cannot help but agree that this constitutes Holocaust pornography. The images are carefully constructed to elicit shock, yet do not contribute to the story - as was the case in "Schindler's List". The film is carried by the structural idea, which is not at all an original one, but reminiscent of classic Hungarian cinema - particularly "Red Psalm" (1972) by Miklós Jancsó and the work of Béla Tarr, whom this director assisted.

The story, simple as it is, is in fact unrealistic if you go by the memoirs of Roman Frister or Lucie Adelsberger (to name just a few) since there was no freedom of movement corresponding to what you see in this film. The pointlessness of the protagonist's actions, clear to all around him as well as himself, also run contrary to what I've read from survivors, who very clearly describe what animated them and what the dynamics within the inmates were. So if you've not read any books and haven't watched any testimonials or documentaries, I'm afraid this film can easily misguide your perceptions of what the Holocaust was, and deliver and imprint so strong that it may be hard to challenge by more factual depictions. Yet this is of course an extremely important work in the negative sense, in that it shows just how easily content can be styled to elicit a specific response and garner an avalanche of awards.

Perhaps my judgment would not be this harsh if this wouldn't ring so close, and if Hungary wouldn't have the human rights record it has under Orbán. But considering the film culminates in an uprising - if you've devoted some time to the study of Auschwitz, you may understand why I cannot help but wonder when, finally, will there be a film about May 16th, 1944 in Birkenau II. It's very much needed, and the story is so powerful that it wouldn't require as much technical finesse.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Predictable but not that awful, 2 December 2016

I only write a review for this because the other review here is unfair, and I'm ticked off by racist slurs like "gypsy criminal music" for Manele, which doesn't appear that much in the film. And there isn't much profanity, don't get your hopes up. My guess is the reviewer was outraged at the "gypsy sweet-talks stupid girl and then dumps her like garbage" plot element. It doesn't really matter though that the guy is a Rom, and there's a more vicious scumbag later in the film who is not of that ethnicity.

It's true that this is a very predictable "rebellious teenage girl's descent into hell" story, a genre Romanian film deals with a lot because it works well with film festivals. And indeed, this won best debut feature at the two main Romanian festivals, which means some people think the director might be the next Porumboiu or Puiu. I hope not because of the cliché water symbolism and weak script, but all these new Cinema Verité guys started out with stories like this.

In short, this is not a disturbingly misogynist teen girl film like, for instance "WebSiteStory", and not a careful portrait like "American Honey". It's boring standard Romanian realist film festival fare.

Brasslands (2013)
Truth vs Fiction, 27 October 2016

I was at the same 50th installment of the festival, and unfortunately this documentary fazes out a few very obvious facts.

Guča is the biggest event in Serbia and therefore a showcase of Serbian culture. That also means revisionist T-Shirts and items glorifying the ill-fated wars of the 90s. And lots of folklore in the early hours program. Nothing really wrong with that, the Serbs do have a right to feel wronged by a process that wound up leaving them isolated. But the film fails to mention nationalism all but in passing, even though it's a huge presence in Guča.

The REALLY good bands that year performed at a hillside restaurant a short walk from the village center, because at that period the festival was dominated by Serbian bands. Not that those were bad, but the Romani bands struggling to survive played for pay among the crowds. The film team chose to interview just a few of them, ignoring the huge tent village at the river bed. They decided to focus on a competing US band, which makes this film an exploitative piece of an "exotic" setting, when the team had all the history of the region at their disposal.

In recent years, fortunately, there has been a renaissance of Romani players in the competition. That has brought some of the fantastic spirit of this festival back, which it had lost at the time owing to its rapid growth. So instead of watching this film, which is a missed opportunity, go and experience Guča for yourself.

Your Name. (2016)
6 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
if you know your anime, don't expect too much, 18 October 2016

To be sure, "Your Name" is now at a domestic B.O. of $140 million among the 50 most successful traditionally animated films of all time, it establishes Makoto Shinkai firmly as the new great hope of animated film, and it does feature the most brilliant lighting effects ever produced. If you don't know any previous works by Shinkai and his company Comics Wave, chances are you'll be blown away. If you are, however, familiar with his work, you may catch yourself wondering what all the fuss is about.

There isn't anything new here - the intertwined time-lines were the main feat of his "5 Centimeters per Second" (2007), and the asteroids and fantastic themes dominated his debut feature "The Place promised in our early Days" (2004), which I personally hold to be his best work.

Why then this sudden enormous success? Well, Miyazaki has stopped directing, and Ghibli has been on hiatus for two years. The equally brilliant Mamoru Hosoda's films have topics more domestic to Japan, and because of this his latest film "The Boy and the Beast" had only a limited US release. I'd still say that his "Wolf Children" (2012) and "The Girl who leapt through Time" (2006) are far superior to Shinkai because of their complex story lines, and because you can watch those over and over again. His style is also more reminiscent of Miyazaki.

But right now, it's Shinkai's hour, and to be sure, it's well deserved that he finally gets so much international exposure. Only I very much doubt that he will be able to replicate this success, because the novelty first-time viewers may experience now will surely wear off if he sticks to his well-established themes.

51 out of 121 people found the following review useful:
Lacks everything that made the original a cult movie, 7 October 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Just watch the movie. It's usually a sound advice, but in this case it's essential. You'll totally ruin the experience for yourselves if you subject yourself to this dull, tepid, dragging adaptation of one of SciFi's most beloved cult classics.

For starters, the principal appeal of the original "Westworld" is Yul Brynner's enigmatic performance as the black-clad cowboy. It was one of his last appearances and remains one of his most memorable ones. He acts almost entirely without dialogue, yet manages to inspire absolute terror through small gestures and close-ups. Ed Harris in the series talks too much. He never gets a chance to interpret the character on his own terms. He is made to be a chatty psychopath, which is utterly boring, because this has been done a thousand times.

Also, the whole point of the menace of the cowboy in black is that he is not human, but a machine. The "Bug" which makes him flip is never explained - and that's the whole point of the film, that's where the horror resides. Here, nobody ever stops explaining, which is most irritating and completely pointless. Horror can only happen when you don't know what's going on. Where is the scare in announcing that, at some point in 3, 4 episodes, when everybody will have stopped caring, there is going to be payback? Finally, the movie featured three story lines, the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages and the Wild West. Opting only for the last makes for some very dull sets compared to the original, and looks cheap. It feels like the producers spent all the budget on humanoid CGI, as if that wouldn't get boring to look at after five minutes. The variety of settings in the original provides a deeply upsetting disruption of different types of fantasy worlds. The series dumbs that down to one lawless zone, making the wait for any action ever more agonizing.

It's almost as if the writers of this show never bothered to watch the original movie. Instead, they opted for technobabble and "deep" conversations which drag the story endlessly and nowhere. Just don't do this to yourselves and watch the movie.

9 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Moore takes the ideological fact management too far this time, 6 October 2016

I usually like Michael Moore's films for taking a human interest approach to well established problems, and thereby bringing these closer to the viewer. That routinely invites criticism over his lack of factual basis, but when it's an American topic he's dealing with, the framework checks out. So "Bowling for Columbine", "Fahrenheit 9/11", "Capitalism - A Love Story" are all great films, because they make a case for a clear message.

What's problematic, though, is when Moore travels the world, because he picks certain elements out of a different culture and presents that as a better way that America could easily adapt. In "Sicko", he focused on Cuban health care being free and pulled the stunt to get US 9/11 firefighters treatment they were not granted in the States. That ignored the reality that a great deal of people wanted to get out for lack of perspective, and that free health care is an effective tool to rally public support for an otherwise unpopular political system.

In "Where to invade next", Moore presents a potpourri of European social systems, and being from there, it is extremely obvious that he randomly picks out certain aspects while ignoring where these come from. So Italy has a two-hour lunch break and the highest number of public holidays. However, the companies he shows are family run. Also, Italy has a high home ownership and a low mobility rate, so there is a more local business which allows generous lunch breaks and free time - there is less commute. Italy also has no industrial growth, bankrupt banks, a huge deficit, political instability and the highest exposure to the refugee crisis.

Some of Moore's points are good, like when he interviews the father of one of Breivik's victims in Norway who does not argue for the death penalty, because it is a proved fact that the death penalty does not lower crime. As is his point in regard to Finland that no homework actually elevates the grades of pupils. But in Slovenia, he focuses on free university education including foreigners - which is an exception, in most European countries foreign students ARE charged, while domestic students are not.

In Tunisia, he drives a far fetched angle from legal abortion to the Arab Spring, and while the argument of women's rights effecting positive social change is a good one, what happened to the Arab Spring? In Egypt, as in most of the Middle East, women's issues are far worse now, and Tunisia is the one small country where a fragile stability has taken hold. Everywhere else, the end of dictatorship means the rise of religious fanatics.

In Iceland, he chooses the example of the first female head of state, and a bank run by women which did not go bankrupt in 2008, to argue that female quota and leadership would reduce conflict and increase efficiency. Yet Margaret Thatcher was a woman, and that didn't make her leadership more peaceful or popular. Carly Fiorina is a woman, and that didn't make her more successful at Hewlett-Packard. It's the economic and political culture that determines the outcome, not gender, and the case for equality could be made without choosing random examples.

In France, he claims with a diagram without numbers that effective taxation in the US would be much higher, because many things for which Americans pay extra are covered through taxes. In France, 1 in 5 people are state-employed, so there are exemptions and funds for them, but not for others. Gentrification has driven rents so high in Paris that people with low-paying jobs are forced to sleep in parks or cars, and young French view their future the most negatively in Europe. While Moore was filming there, there was a movement against unemployment and government standstill, which he must have been aware of.

His most inaccurate comments concern Germany, however. He claims from visiting one factory that there is a 36-hour week, and that health care allows spa vacations, and that Germany makes an active effort to confront the demons of its past, making it a more open-minded society. In reality, manufacturing jobs may have 36 hours, but the much larger service sector hasn't. Germany has the highest effective taxation in the Eurozone owing to exploding health care costs - you face premium hikes of 10-15% a year, because the 0%-interest rate of our Central Bank eliminates insurer's and pension fund's profits. The memory culture is highly selective and symbolic, and the refugee crisis has led to a massive resurgence of xenophobia.

One Tunisian interview partner mentions that Americans tend to think they are the greatest country, which eliminates their curiosity about the rest of the world - that's a very good point. However, it doesn't help Americans to travel the world just in order to see what they want to see. Instead of looking for randomly selected points abroad, he should have focused on the problems back home.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
most famous Japanese propaganda film, 17 August 2016

Just some info because no one else bothered to write a review - surprisingly so, as this is the most famous "national-policy-film" (kokusaku eiga). It's a recreation of the Pearl Harbor attack released on its 1st anniversary. It follows the life of a pilot recruit from being drafted until the attack in mock documentary style. At a budget of about ten times customary for the time, Toho had a scale model of Pearl Harbor constructed, with precise models of the warships present there. The attack was sequenced by Eiji Tsuburaya, using the mixture of light and editing effects that he would later work to perfection in the "Godzilla" movies. Famously, this footage was considered authentic by the US occupation forces, and hence confiscated and screened in newsreels back in the USA. That's what makes the film interesting to watch even today, while the rest is standard propaganda. Setsuko Hara makes an appearance before her rise to Ozu fame. Director Kajiro Yamamoto, who is mostly known for being Kurosawa's mentor at Toho, made the much better and critically acclaimed "Horse" (uma) just a year before. Rating 6.5/10

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