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Vincent will Meer (2010)
Some wrong turns
First the good: The acting is engaging and the photography is, at times, inspired. The subtitles are very good translations (I am a native German speaker).
Unfortunately, the storyline is trite - "oddball outcasts find strength and friendship during an impromptu road trip" - still, what could have been a new angle on this oft-told tale, or a really engaging film about the struggles of young people who don't quite fit into our 'normal' and are marginalized, is ultimately neither.
For me the most regrettable fail occurs just when I was ready to make an emotional investment in the main character; the protagonist (MINOR SPOILER HERE) chases and hurts some rude kids. This might have been forgivable had the protagonist not been 27 years old, more than twice the age of the kids (who were impudent but no physical threat). The movie continues as if nothing untoward had occurred, which troubled me even more. Even allowing that this was a set up for the road trip, the casual dismissal of violence against children made me uneasy. Worse, later on there is more unjustifiable physical violence.
Similarly the rest of the movie vacillates between humorous lightness and harsh realities, and that, along with the uneven pace and the (for me) awful choice of musical score (except the classical music, which I liked) left me with the impression that I had just watched a glossy 'After School Special' with a confusing message.
I would have given the movie a 6.5, but didn't feel it merits rounding up to 7.
Loved it - just because I really did
I watched this movie on netflix and forgot that I could pause it... I loved every moment of it. So imagine my surprise when I find mostly hate and bad reviews here.
Sure it isn't for everyone... really, no movie is; but surely I am not the only one who thought this was a very engaging film?
I won't post any spoilers, I liked it too much for that. I really enjoyed the movie and will watch it again soon, and delight in picking up more nuances that I might have missed, as well as enjoying my partner's reaction to it. What's not to like? (That's a rhetorical query here, OK?)
It has a great lead, a good 'WTF is going on here' story, a believable resolution, I found the actors convincing, and the photography utterly watchable. Some of the shots were so beautiful in their composition that I will pause the movie there the second time around and just enjoy the image.
I have seen few movies lately that gave me such a complete package. Some movies seem to forget that it is about visual story telling, but this one didn't. The score added to the movie, without getting in the way, or taking me out of the moment, the dialog was just right. And even though I could see the ending coming, I didn't want to hasten it, but let it take its own time, just like reading slower when you draw near the end of a great book: You can't stop reading, but you try to enjoy every last word...
I even loved the final shot... it gave the viewer time to revisit the entire film, and left you with both the sense of anticipation and the knowledge of realization in perfect balance.
Redwood Highway (2013)
All about a selfish old tramp
I tried to like this movie but it simply wasn't working for me. The main character is completely unlikable, self-absorbed, and ungrateful, yet despite that throughout the movie she is treated like royalty. The supporting cast is like the people from a fashion magazine ad: Glossy but flat.
Just about the only one I liked was Reuben; he wasn't any more believable (why would he be attracted to the young woman whose only remarkable feature was a big nose?), but he had little to say and he really could drum. The story is that of an old woman (Marie) who complains about living in a posh senior facility paid for by her son, and the impending wedding of her granddaughter. Because the old tramp disagrees with the granddaughter about marrying, and because she is a contrary person who needs constant attention, the old woman refuses to attend the ceremony and then takes off on foot to walk there. This hike is the main focus of the movie, but is interwoven with dream sequences that should explain the main character or her motivation but do nothing but alienate me.
Apparently she married a sailor and got pregnant (or vice versa), was widowed shortly thereafter, and then slept around a lot, relying on her non-apparent charms for support. All this and a lot of rain dull even the remarkable scenery and decent photography. On the hike she is helped by a lot of people for no good reason.
Possibly the main helpers are alternate futures she might have had; one a woodworking widower who runs a store (what if her husband had lived?), another a hardworking barkeep who puts up with the annoying woman even when she abuses her dog (what if she had worked for a living?). (If anyone did that to my dog, I would kick them out, not cover them with quilts.) Throughout the movie the main character remains self-absorbed and thinks everyone has to care about her and help her without ever giving anything back. There is no development, no growth. She is a user. In the end she manages to interrupt the wedding she was "boycotting" until she was no longer invited.
Further annoying was that at her age she should have known to walk on the left shoulder of a road with oncoming traffic. Instead she endangers a trucker and others with her carelessness and stays on the right. Then (because in her self-important opinion "cats like her") she antagonizes a lion. She is given a fishing pole, although she clearly has no license, no idea how to fish, or clean one. If a protein meal were needed, give her a pack of jerky or slim jims. Her barfly behavior and drunken exploits show beyond a doubt how she spent her life; why her son is so supporting and concerned about his useless mother that he mobilizes a whole search and rescue operation escapes me. Only once she encounters a dangerous situation; I admit I was hoping that the movie would end there, with her collecting her comeuppance, but no such luck.
This isn't one of those 'feisty senior does things her way' movies that make you cheer on the intrepid heroine.
Expected more from tiny
The film follows an overly optimistic guy with little to no construction skills as he builds a tiny house on a trailer base. For most of us tiny houses are a curiosity and escapist 'what if'. For some it is a way of life... but then, some people sleep under bridges. While I didn't quite hate the movie, I also didn't come away with anything new from it.
What could have been interesting - how are tiny houses designed to suit their inhabitants, what features could be applied to 'big' houses, how much stuff or space do you need... wasn't covered in any debt. Some other people talked about their tiny houses, which was a redeeming part of the film, but you never even glimpsed a layout blueprint of the house being built.
What might have been engaging - the person, his struggle to build and furnish a home for himself, to find his place in the world... was a superficial, jittery montage. The mess he made and the trampling through the wheat field actually made me angry; so much for having a small environmental impact. And he never cleaned up... just hauled the thing to his own pristine piece of land. Issues of plumbing and power were not even addressed.
What might have been thought provoking - the idea of home and why we want/need one, where we find home... ended up being lost in trivial musings on where one might want to live.
To me the biggest shock was the price tag. That dinky shed on wheels cost him $26000, and he did all the labor? You can buy a decent travel trailer for that, heck a nice older house trailer with appliances, and be done. I can't see how it is better for the environment to build 'tiny, new', when there is 'small, used' available for much less. He could have used the difference to make his new home more environmentally friendly.
I base my jugement on the fact that I designed and helped build our regular sized home. We re-used, reclaimed, integrated old and new (out of necessity). We also cleaned up, changed our plans, compromised, and most of all we live in our house, and finally made it a home. I got none of the feelings associated with designing/building/living in a home from the guy. None of the pride, the frustration, the love, what he intended, what worked, what didn't, what he would do different had he known...
In truth, I had the feeling that they probably just spent a week in that cabin and then hauled it off and sold it. In the end there seemed to be no connection to the space, no homey feeling.
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.