13 Reviews
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6 July 2015
Drags on and on and onnnnn. No reason for this to have been a three hour movie. The storyline of the tragic fate of Menshevik/White Army prisoners during the 1920 Red Terror is diminished by the lead character's recurring, saccharine reminiscences of a one night stand in 1907. That plot line could have been reduced to three short memory flashbacks and been just as effective. The war plot line suffered, as it was not given enough depth; unless you really know your Russian history, the nuances of who the prisoners are, what this mixed group of officers, soldiers and Cossacks represents is otherwise lost on the viewer. A single poignant gesture by one of the Bolshevik characters has no meaning, based on how this story has been told, alone. Three hours. Three hours of predictability. And Sunstroke? Yes, we get it - you did Burnt by the Sun. Bravo. Too bad about this latest effort, Nikita.
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Worst film I've seen in years
20 June 2015
I'm convinced that only the most pretentious film snobs see anything of value or comedy in this boring, slow film. The sad old salesmen got tiresome in seconds, and were predictable in any case. The time travelling king and army went too long to be funny. The barmaid giving out drinks for kisses isn't shocking or delightful - at least not to Euro sensibilities. The latter scenes cross so many lines, I can't see how they're reflections on life or human nature or our world - they're horrid. Disconnected, tedious, amorphous and pointless all apply to this over-hyped waste of time. A comedy, this is definitely not. How it got awards can only be explained as Emperor's New Clothes syndrome.
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Amour (2012)
Mr. Lazarescu, Meet the Laurents...
29 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I can't believe the hype this film is getting. It reminded me how everyone was raving about what a 'great comedy, great social commentary' the "Death of Mr. Lazarescu" was - when in fact it was the sad tale of a voiceless man who, lacking nobody to advocate for him, dies alone.

Anyone who has cared for a stroke victim or frankly any loved one whose health was in decline, elderly or not, would be advised to think twice before seeing this film. It will dredge up all of the memories. All of them. I have a feeling all the people hailing this film as great art or visionary cinema have not been exposed to that kind of challenge or loss in their own lives. To them I say, your time will come. Watch "Amour" again then, and see that Haneke is rubbing our faces in misery. If his goal was to, like Anne, get us to seek out a way to end it all - well, bravo.

The acting is excellent. The film, visually, is simple. But excruciatingly long scenes of their struggle is, to me, sadistic. Beyond voyeuristic. People should be outraged over this, and not the torture blah-blah in Zero Dark Thirty, frankly.

Haneke at least has a clear goal here: to make you feel miserable. Because we all know that ageing, illness and dying are horrible... so let's not pretend that unveiling that to us was his goal. Do the elderly pair love one another? Clearly. But the conclusion of this film is not about love, in my opinion; it's about defeat. Thanks for giving us all a dose of what lies ahead for us, Haneke. My only consolation is that you'll face it sooner than I will. And at least this film didn't leave me with a trail of "wtf's" wider than the Danube like "White Ribbon" did.
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Taras Bulba (2009)
Unabashedly patriotic.
19 February 2010
.... And I guess that's the problem. Unabashed patriotism is OK for some, not for others. The Zaporozhians' battles in defence of Orthodoxy, when it was being attacked on two fronts, is a story that must not be forgotten. The film is impressive in its historical detail, costumes, etc.... the music (and some of the acting) is a little melodramatic, but I think it's a fitting thing for a rousing film. The scene of cossacks writing a letter to the Ottoman Sultan (an actual event from 1675) is reminiscent of the famous Repin painting depicting it. A grittier, less glam/swashbuckling version than the Yul Brynner classic, but that's what this story needs. It will never get wide theatrical release in North America because it is too honest, and not politically correct enough. Who cares. It's in my video collection, and it is becoming a favourite quickly.
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Horrible film.
22 August 2007
Dull, demeaning, even if it is realistic. I can't believe this is marketed as a comedy, or reviewed as 'art', or even poetic and kafkaesque. I was actually given this DVD as a gift, and for the first time ever, I actually threw out a DVD. You can only find this funny if you have not been in that situation. If you have, it's tragic, and not in the least entertaining. As much as it is a reality that "we all have to bite the dust some time", dignity should be part of that ending of our lives. Watching a man die in agony, alone, was not an example of the inevitability of our mortality; I could not just shrug and press stop. An embarrassment to Romania, a disappointment to my friends and I, and a waste of time for anyone.
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Guca! (2006)
Gucha! had me dancing in my seat.
22 August 2007
What a light-hearted and sweet (albeit somewhat predictable) film. I am glad to see another film in which the Romany language is heard, and a first film where the Gucha Trumpet Festival is highlighted. The cinematography and editing of this movie are outstanding - the hills and orchards of the region are a sumptuous backdrop to a very sweet, and encouraging, story. And the music - unforgettable! I have the soundtrack already, thanks to friends in Belgrade. Y'know, it's best not to overthink things sometimes.... Sometimes ya gotta just sit back and enjoy a feast for the eyes, ears, and heart. It's a contender for TIFF 2007... hope it makes the programme!
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Volver (I) (2006)
To Return, To Feel, To Live.
10 September 2006
What an amazing movie about second chances, making things right, and being true to yourself. Visually seductive at all the right moments (what Almodovar can do with a kitchen paper towel, nobody can), "Volver" has many moments that elicit genuine laughter, even while dealing with some heavy topics. Despite only a brief appearance in the film, Tia Paola is a great character, and the two lead characters, the sisters Raimunda and Soledad, are played by the actresses very convincingly. Penelope Cruz is great in this film - so down-to-earth, and evoking great empathy from the audience when her character sings for the first time in many, many years. Her song, sung to a duet of Castilian guitars, sums up in its lyrics the message of the movie: Volver, Sentir, Vivir - To Return, To Feel, To Live.
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Great spin on a classic tale
10 September 2006
A very heart-warming and kid-friendly film, brought up-to-date in terms of some of the plot twists and humour. When Ratso, a slick city rat, sees Ugly (yep, that's his real name), all he can imagine is dollar signs. He plans on exploiting the duckling at carnival sideshows. But, "the best-laid plans of rats and ducks" don't always work out the way we originally want them to. At the Toronto Festival, this was part of the pilot "Family First" series, an outreach of the "Sprockets" Children's Film Festival, so it was unusual but very refreshing to have so many kids in the audience. Their laughter was genuine, and the rest of us had plenty to laugh about as well (Got a teenager in your life? you'll love the scenes of Ugly's very rapid-onset 'puberty'). The animation is crisp and inviting, and the voices in the English language version were excellent.
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Babel (I) (2006)
Visually stunning cinematography, but still crap.
10 September 2006
Just saw this at Toronto's festival, where it's been highly anticipated... the city's plastered with "Babel" posters. The cinematography is sumptuous, as it the editing, and there are some great performances from the cast. But the story telling.... meh, not so much. Although it will be praised and fawned over, and doubtless get a whack of Oscar nominations, this is a tedious film that never really succeeds in linking the disparate stories in an adequate way. (especially the Tokyo story - could've lost it entirely, and saved 45 minutes of my time). Smart move for Gael Garcia Bernal to do a flick with Pitt and Blanchett... it'll propel him further into the spotlight in North American cinema. The only messages I got from this movie is that we are apparently supposed to feel sorry for the tragedies that result when people do stupid, stupid things; and, that destroying the lives of many is alright, so long as it works out for few.
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Ivkova slava (2005)
A vivid picture of Serbian customs & habits.... for better or worse.
15 January 2006
"Ivkova Slava" was featured at the recent Festival of New Serbian Film, in Toronto. It was eagerly anticipated, as memories of "Zona Zamfirova" are still fresh here. As with Zona, director Sotra takes us back to times past with colour and exacting detail: the sets, the costumes, the use of regional dialect, the feeling for a time when Serbia was reemerging from centuries of Ottoman subjugation, and notably the accurate portrayals of the ancient customs of the 'slava', or 'patron saint's day feast'.

In Southern Serbia, there are long standing traditions of hospitality. There is also a long standing tradition of going to emotional extremes, as we see with Ivko's three best friends (four, if you count "what's-his-name" the uninvited Shakespeare-quoting stranger). Reacting to a perceived slight from their host, they set out to publicly embarrass him, and majorly overstay their welcome at Ivko's saint's day, leading to all sorts of mishaps, frustrations, and comic moments. I can say that the actors who portrayed Kurjak, Smuk and Kalcha very effectively got under my skin.... they brought to mind an old Serbian proverb that says, "Both fish and guests stink after they've been sitting around for three days" (in the original, "I gost i riba posle tri dana smrde"). Poor Ivko just can't get a break.

An excellent cast was selected, especially for the lead roles. The musical score was disappointing, relying on somewhat modern sounds for both incidental music and one spotlight number, "Insomnia" ("Nesanica"). The musical heritage of that region is so intoxicatingly rich, there was plenty to choose from that would have kept the mood captivating and authentic.
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Guerreros (2002)
How thin is the veneer of civilization?
8 January 2006
We often watch world conflicts on TV and think they could never occur in our own country: we're too civilized to surrender ourselves to such brutal behaviour. This thought is one of many that haunts a group of Spanish peacekeepers in the embattled Serbian province of Kosovo. The troops represent a spectrum of personalities: the pacifist, the trigger happy, the professional soldier, the UN translator with conflicting loyalties, the soldier who wants no part of somebody else's conflict and who just wants to go home. As they undertake their duties - rebuilding a Church, restoring electricity to a town - the conflict becomes their reality. They are swept into it, and far from being the placid observers & peacekeepers they think they ought to be, they now must fight for their own survival. They slowly begin to lose that veneer of civilization that they though only they possessed, the same patina these embattled locals once had, but lost long ago. The director based many of the stories on actual events as told to him by Spanish soldiers returning from the region. It is filmed in a very gripping and heavy way - drawing you into it all, along with the lost soldiers. It drew great acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival, 2002. For those who followed (or survived) the events of the last decade in the Balkans, it is a stark and honest portrayal that will leave many re-thinking the versions they may have formulated in their own minds, reading newspapers and watching TV, comfortable, in their own very civilized, and very insular, homes
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Sjaj u ocima (2003)
Finally a warm film from the Balkans!
18 July 2004
After a decade of really heavy, dark films, reflecting the turmoil of the breakup of Yugoslavia ("Lepa Sela", "Rane", "Bure Baruta aka Balkan Express", and "Tockovi"), FINALLY a reasonably light take on the aftermath of some of these events. As you follow Labud, a Serbian refugee from Krajina, in his attempts to find his girlfriend Vida, and as he gradually grows to love Romana, the girl he meets due to a mix up at the "Happy Millennium" dating agency, you get the idea that life needs to go on. No matter how politics and events have caught you up, like it or not, in their whirlwind, eventually you land.... not always on your feet, but you land. And then you have to get up, and get on with it. This isn't easy, and we see Labud and Romana both struggling with their new reality as refugees, and also with their memories and consciences, which Karanovic represents in humorous, tongue-in-cheek, and sometimes touching flashbacks of their thoughts: Labud's mom, always working on crossword puzzles; Romana's uptight sister, always critical; the hairdresser girlfriend Vida, almost always washing the same poor extra's hair... It was extremely well received at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival, as evidenced by the long applause and audience comments during Q/A with Karanovic. One thing stands out from its Toronto screening: When I was able to thank Karanovic for showing something positive (even uplifting), he smiled and said, "I want to show the world that we [the various peoples of ex-yugoslavia] all have lives, too". Easy to forget that if all you have to go by are oversimplified headlines and CNN reports. Creative casting, creative approach, and just something that should leave you feeling hopeful.
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A well done period movie
18 July 2004
Zona Zamfirova was shown at a special screening in Toronto, in 2003. There are some bugs to work out, my main pet peeve being the subtitles. I have yet to see a well subtitled film from anywhere in the Balkans, and although using unusual contractions in English words may be a reflection of the particular dialect of the setting, if you don't speak the language (which you don't, because you're reading the subtitles, right?) then you don't appreciate it. Frankly, even for people who speak literary Serbian, the dialect is a stumper... the DVD even gives you non-dialect Serbian subtitles (which are good). Seeing the film made me go back to read the book by Stevan Sremac once again. It is very true to the book. Zona is beautiful, and she is initially snobby - it's a little much to compare her to Paris Hilton, but I think we've all met Zona in high school. If you remember that film and stage require you to 'suspend your disbelief', then you forget that the actress isn't quite 18, and that the lead actor isn't '90210 Pretty' (if you read more literature from the period, and look at some of the art, the male lead conforms to all expectations). You are willing to overlook these things, in order to immerse yourself in the visual beauty of the film. The director was fortunate to be able to film in some historic buildings and locations, and the details are dead on. The costumes are correct, down to the last stitch (sorry about Zona wearing red, but, check the book....), the hills and vineyards and cobblestone streets - it all draws you in, if you let it. Sometimes it's best to just enjoy a movie for what it is - an entertaining escape.
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