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Grand comme le Baobab (2012)
I hated to give this film such a low rating, because the acting is convincing and the photography is well done; both underscore the story nicely. The story is involving and while a little meandering and repetitious at times, it did hold my interest. But...
***Here may be spoilers: ***
But I felt cheated by the end.
It was altogether too depressing, too devastating, having vested so much in the characters and for nothing. It left me wondering why not to just make a short documentary, parading different cases of arranged marriages of young prepubescent girls, whether for 'cultural' or financial reasons, without involving me so deeply. Maybe different possible solutions could have been explored, instead of showing that in the end, the girls are still chattel, no matter their intellectual potential or accomplishments.
It's not that I have illusions about that. When it comes to marrying off young girls, I am aware this happens. I don't condone it. I don't know how to change it, or if the people want such change. But one thing I really don't want, is to have my hopes for a better life dashed so completely, and be left with nothing but questions.
With this depressing ending, in a strange way the film argues for the utter futility of trying to bring education and "Western" values of gender equality and choice to places like that. Why bother? It appears to be cruelty, to give the girls hope for a better future, show them glimpses thereof, only to leave them stuck in their culture, knowing that there is more out there, but not for them. In the end a daughter is still worth less than a skinny cow, and therefore easier to sell into marriage to settle a debt.
It's a Girl! (2012)
This documentary is difficult to review, since while it is an important topic, it is presented in a incredibly oversimplified format, all made worse by the addition of awful drawings to 'tell' the story (as if one needed these graphic representations), 'experts' from various human rights organizations speechifying, and yet, they do NOT add anything new, nor do they suggest real solutions. Just because some man states that "women should be worth as much as a man", that doesn't actually change anything.
I laughed out loud when one of the 'experts' interviewed (a woman) seemed outraged that women were not treated as equal in "those societies", which of course makes me ask, just where on this planet women are treated and seen as equal? (It won't be more than a handful of places, so this morally superior stance just rubbed me the wrong way. I have lived in Germany and the US and can report first-hand that they are a far cry from gender equality there.)
About the only thing I realized from this film was that the women in India that aborted female fetuses or killed their infant girls shortly after birth were really doing their never- or new-born daughters a kindness; having to live and grow up in such a hateful society where all you are worth is your dowry and your uterus' ability to produce a male baby is hell. I ended up coming closer to condoning their 'solution' than what feels morally right and defensible.
The situation in China seemed even more absurd, if the film reported the truth, with families unwilling to have girls, but willing to kidnap them so their son can have a wife.
What complicates the issue is that I did not hear the words 'overpopulation' at all. China's "one-child" policy did not come out of a vacuum, nor was it instated out of spite; it was an attempt to control a runaway overpopulation crisis.
The tone of the film - this morally superior we should treat everyone as equally valuable humans just because - without suggesting real solutions to the underlying (and overwhelming) problems of poverty, starvation/food shortages, overpopulation, lack of education, pollution, and etc., and without even questioning whether one's cultural background and preferences should be imposed on others made me dislike the documentary and question the tone/intent.
The Citizen (2012)
This review contains SPOILERS.
This should have been exactly the type of movie I could love, but sadly it shows great talent only in consistently just missing the mark. The premise of the movie is instantly engaging and thought provoking; a Syrian immigrant arrives in NYC on Sept. 10th 2001. How will he deal and be dealt with after the next day?
As a naturalized citizen myself, I also expected a memory jog, what my first impressions of the US were, how they differed from my expectations, what shocked me, what surprised me, what made me fall in love with the country, and what are its flaws, strengths, etc... Changing one's citizenship (out of conviction) is a profound action, something that is not at all addressed in this movie.
Immediately after arriving in NYC, Ibrahim is on his own; his cousin never shows up at the airport to pick him up. And this is where the film begins to derail. Ibrahim does not take a cab to his cousin's house. He gets a cheap room, and tours the city with a chance acquaintance - the quintessential skinny blonde chick - after giving her shelter in his room. Now after a transatlantic flight, I first need a clean bathroom, then maybe a shower, some food and a bed. But fine, maybe he's made of different stuff. Still, we do not see NYC through his eyes for the first time. There is a phony scene where they encounter an anti-Bush rally, and Ibrahim chants along with the crowd. It doesn't feel true/genuine at all. Visitors tend to be polite on their first day in a new country.
There is a touching 'almost' moment in those first scenes: When he offers the overpriced bottle of water, that he had denied himself. That felt real. But what could have been good insights in a culture clash moment or true chemistry between the leads never develop.
Instead 9-1-1 happens, the lead draws suspicion, is imprisoned, released 6 months later, and reunites with - the blonde chick?! That's a bit difficult to swallow.
His chance encounters with other people lead to a job, more chance encounters, all designed to show that doing good will be rewarded. This Arab Pollyanna stuff is so heavy-handed and implausible that it feels like an after-school special.
So then I briefly hoped that this would be a "is he a terrorist or an innocent?" type thriller. But the movie didn't go there either. Instead it followed a lukewarm middle path, that ultimately led to a "Hollywood" Happy ending - without satisfaction.
Here are some of the things that bothered me: -Ibrahim's English starts out too good. I've been there, and in spite of having had English classes for years - that's not reality. His hard luck case should have been reflected in his accent and mannerisms. -There is never a real explanation why Ibrahim wants to be a US citizen. (Convictions?) -For a business major selling cars in NYC is a real bad plan to success. Why does he stay? -Where oh where is that cousin of his? Why do they never meet? No visits? Ever??? -We see Ibrahim pray once, only. That should be an either/or: either pray the requisite times or don't be religious. I know Muslims of the former and latter kind, but none like Ibrahim. -Not once is he at the unemployment office, social services, etc. -Ibrahim sees girl, proposes. Really?!? Again, there is no chemistry between them. -No good Lebanese food in NY? -Mickey is an accountant... of course. As soon as he tells his life story, you know the ending. Yes, sure, all homeless people have an education in the US. -Ibrahim lives with blonde for what... months, years? Sleeping on the couch. What does she do, anyhow? Why no boyfriend for her? -All the criminals (bureaucrats, robbers, and skinheads) are stereotypes. And the lawyer has a weird British accent? ... and so on.
What I didn't see was: -Any real emotion dealing with 9-1-1, other than Mo's instant fear. Where is the contrast of how citizens versus new arrivals see this? Is there understanding for the terrorists, shame, horror, what? None of this is explored. Not even Blondie says a word about it. -Any discussion between blonde girl and Ibrahim about faith/cultural differences, any attraction/sexual tension, courtship, expectations. Nothing. It's a vacuum. -A reason Ibrahim wanted citizenship, other than avoiding deportation.
I want a do-over; this could have been a good movie.
Losers Take All (2011)
Fun romp, great music
After sitting through a complete train-wreck of a movie (my husband's choice) I figured I couldn't do any worse and picked "Losers take all" on Netflix, even though our musical tastes differ greatly. Amazingly we BOTH loved this movie - a rare occurrence.
I am not a movie critic, I don't care about actors, and I don't need to over-analyze; a movie that tells me a story, keeps me entertained, interested, and emotionally connected to the characters will get an easy 6/10 or higher ranking from me.
'Losers take all' does all of that and more; the acting was genuine and believable; and the trip back to the 1980s brought back memories; the camera was an unobtrusive observer without being unimaginative; but best of all, the movie made my husband and me laugh out loud frequently, and not once was I told to "turn the volume down"... the usual consequence of any music-related movie-watching that I enjoy.
In some films of the genre (a band forms and tries for stardom) the music sucks, or the actors clearly cannot play/sing, or most often... BOTH. This is not the case here. And yes, sure, there were some cliché moments, but they (as with all the funny parts) did not seem trite or artificial at all, but arose with organic authenticity. I especially liked how they integrated the 'on the road' experiences.
Although I was never really into punk and metal at the time, I loved the soundtrack for the film - great stuff! Made me feel 20 years young/er ; )
I stumbled on this engaging little documentary quite by cosmic accident, and against my expectations I was entertained and educated in equal measures. This came as a surprise to me, since I am a.) NOT a Springsteen fan, and b.) NOT particularly interested in life in Former East Germany.
I am however of the target age group, having experienced the summer of 1988 in similar ways - going to concerts, rocking out, and wearing some of the now-decidedly- dorky-looking fashions of the era, and I have a working knowledge of German.
So for me part of the charm of the film was reliving the excitement of scoring concert tickets, of seeing a rock idol on stage, and the whole craziness of being young, which is apparently universal. And then comparing and contrasting my experiences (West of the Wall) with those of an Ossi teenager.
And this is where the film shines, in my opinion, because it is not heavy handed about this contrast. Rather there are little snippets that speak volumes; for example how the stage set up had to be accomplished, because such extravagant things as cable cover mats were not available in the East, or the whole propaganda angle.
There is plenty of old footage to satisfy a fan, interspersed with "where are they now" interviews, and all contained in the unifying narrative of the protagonist.
The World Before Her (2012)
An eyeful and an eye-opener
I watched this movie to pass the time, fully expecting to answer email and play a few games while it was on in the background. However, I was soon so absorbed by the contrast in characters and their world views that I had turned off the computer.
This review may contain spoilers.
There are two 'camps' contrasted in the film: One for future beauty- queens, complete with fashion advisers, make-up artists, publicists, photographers, etc. that prepare contestants for the Miss India contest; and one for girls with 'traditional Hindu values' to prepare them for life... as mothers and terrorists, apparently.
The personalities encountered are engaging and quickly move beyond the stereotype; one learns about the young women's families, backgrounds, ambitions, dreams, and fears, whether they be the beauty or the beast... OK, "beast" is a harsh description of the homely camp counselor who thrives on the fear she instills in her charges, and who doesn't want to become a wife and mother, thus defying the very traditions she espouses, but wants to further the cause of traditional Hindu culture by making sure other females will; but she is no beauty, not inside nor out.
Watching her view the Miss India contest on television, with her abusive father (he branded her for lying as a child and cheerfully admits to beating her often), I saw an envious woman, wishing she could compete with the westernized culture. If she were born beautiful, which culture would she choose?
But then you listen to the beauty-queen contestant, whose mother saved her life, when her father wanted her killed for being a female baby - and nothing is simple anymore. A culture where female life is valued only for the production of male offspring, and as a domestic servant, versus a culture where a female is only worth something when she is beautiful; neither is desirable.
I have been fascinated by India since childhood, and a trip there was on my 'bucket list'. After viewing this film, I have removed this item.
One Day on Earth (2012)
A complete miss
The concept sounds interesting, I like seeing how people around the world live, and even the frame (it all happens during October 10th 2010) makes for an interesting gimmick, one would think. I expected to come away from this viewing (on netflix) entertained and a little wiser. Perfect material for a miserable November day, one would think.
Sadly, I found the film unwatchable. I lasted 23 minutes.
During that time I was bombarded by sometimes interesting images, identified briefly by country of origin, but not clarified what I was looking at (and some of these images would have been helped by an explanation, while others - like a few blades of grass - were so banal as to feel like a waste of time). I was puzzled that while Mt Everest was given as a place/location, other images were identified by 'countries' (like Trinidad and Tobago, which is two places, isn't it?) So why was Everest not labeled either China or Nepal, or both (if it was the summit)? Then it got worse; the fast paced scenery was interspersed with awful video taken by amateurs with cell phones about stuff that wouldn't have made it into the family photo album, when such things still existed. It was beyond boring, it was poorly done, shaky, blurry, without a guiding theme or outline (go from midnight to midnight, following the sunrise, stages of human life, meals, something, anything) with the occasional interruption of factoids (flashes of white print on black background) that had little to do with anything. I know it is my personal bias, but some of these extended scenes showed children that were without any photogenic appeal.
And then there was the score... if there really were thousands of kinds of music in existence, why did I have to listen to the worst stuff, again thematically unrelated? Why did it matter that a woman was going to "listen and then attempt to play" some Irish thing? Could I not just listen to someone in Ireland making music, who already knew how to play the tune?
I expected more from this film. Based on what I saw - that either was the wrong day for a movie, or the planet is really not interesting enough for a feature. Or - and that is the choice I'm going with - this film was poorly put together.
I must have seen a different movie than most reviewers. It is a quiet little film, with too much piled on at the ending, so the pacing is a little off. My copy has atrocious sound, the conversations are almost impossible to understand.
Yes, it begins with a documentary filmmaker working on a film about body preservation, taxidermy, mummification, cryopreservation etc. An ace taxidermist (Sam) is traced by the film's maker and interviewed. Sam lives with Iris as recluses in the woods, where the couple enact a strange play with taxidermied animals and marionettes. The woman plays the score on cello. When the play is finished, so is her life. Into this strange setting the documentary filmmaker stumbles...
Clearly there were no Nazis hiding in the woods. The woman cellist has a concentration camp number tattooed on her arm. That pretty much excludes her from having been a Nazi. The man recounts that he was a marionette maker who was conscripted by Nazis to make prosthetics. He then made an artificial foot/leg for a Jewish boy (brought to him for unknown reasons by a SS officer). Somehow he escaped with the boy and the woman to the US. There the boy was taunted by neighbors and pushed off a cliff into a pond. The boy pulled one of his attackers over the edge with him, and both boys drowned. The other boy was imprisoned, to return decades later as the redneck living in the RV near the couple's home.
The townspeople are sympathetic to the couple, which they wouldn't be if they were simply Nazi hideouts or weirdos.
I wish the central story of the couple's life and loss, their pact etc., would have been the focus of the film, not the filmmaker or his inane piece on taxidermy.
The Naturalized (2010)
Watch it twice
The Naturalized introduces you to a variety of people who become naturalized citizens of the US.
They explain their decision to make the US their new home country, they give insight in the process, the frustration and bureaucracy, and throughout the film, their love for their new home shows through. They try to explain their attachment with sincerity, with humor, and portray the best of America in their stories. Everyone should watch this show, native and naturalized alike.
I sniffled throughout the whole film, touched by these people, reminded by them of the courage it takes to follow your convictions, your dreams, and what the US means for so many - land of opportunity - freedom for all. We can all use this reminder and lesson in citizenship.