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a marvel of its time!, 10 July 2014
7/10

Puppetry master Jim Henson's sui generis puppet movie of a Sci-Fi conquest in a remote planet, spell-bindingly grotesque and darkly cultish. The bizarre figures of the creatures can be fairly startling as a family treat to meet children's eyes, as an adult, watching this 32-year-old film for the first time is a true eye-opener.

In an otherworldly planet Thra, a magic crystal is cracked and the order is sabotaged, hence Thra is ruled by the sinister Skekses, a vulture-like species controls the dark crystal and their benevolent half is the tortoise-shaped wizards called Mystics, when the Skeksis emperor dies, the equivalent senior Mystic master vanishes in the thin air simultaneously, presently there are 9 Skekses and 9 Mystics left.

There is a also the prophecy, a Gelfing (a species looks like a minuscule elf) will end the reign of Skekses before the time when 3 suns meet (aka. the conjunction) by acquiring the crystal shard, otherwise Skekses will acquire immortality. Jen, is a young Gelfing raised by the Mystic master, believed he is the only Gelfing left, he is on a predestined conquest to retrieve the shard from Aughra, a one-eyed female seer of an unidentified species and reinstate the order before the conjunction. En route to the Skekses' castle, he meets a female Gelfing Kira and her pet dog Fizzgig, in tandem they fearlessly fights their way through the siege from Garthim, Skekeses' crab-like minions. In parallel, the nine Mystics are edging to the castle as well to partake in an in-time emergence, coalescing with Skekses and putting an end to the dualistic instability.

The film is a marvel of its time, which cannot be imitated, although it is a banal adventure with predictable and toe-curling plot twist, nevertheless, it is the pure artistry that we do admire and revel in (thinking of the dining sequence of Skekses, , Jim Henson and co-director Frank Oz create the fantastical kingdom based on illustrator Brian Froud's concept, an offbeat exploration into the invention of the weirdest creatures in puppetry, and it works on an intricate level of scale which is a hallmark of its own genre, although puppetry movie is an ebbing breed in the cutting-edge digital era, no one would ever try to cook up such an elaborate piece of craftsmanship any longer.

an outstanding piece of cinema, by all means, 8 July 2014
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Catching up on Oscar-caliber films which I have yet to watch, I stumble upon this Argentinian crime-drama, a fair upsetter won BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM over more critically acclaimed THE WHITE RIBBON (2009, 8/10) and A PROPHET (2009, 9/10), in its own strength, THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES is a powerful and near-perfect dissection on how people are stuck in the prison of their own memories, "you will end up with only memories" is a vital sentence imprinted deeply in audience's mind.

In 1999, a retired legal counselor Benjamín Esposito (Darín) visits his former chief Irene (Villamil), with whom he is secretly in love for over 20 years, Benjamín tells her that he decides to write a novel about the horrendous rape-and-murder case of Liliana Coloto (Quevedo) in 1974, which would subsequently prompt him to leave both his job and Irene, in parallel, the film recounts how Benjamín and his drunkard parter Pablo Sandoval (Francella) traced down the suspect Isidoro Gómez (Godino), but thanks to the iniquitous loophole in the law system, the murderer got away with life sentence and became a threat to Benjamín's personal safety; alternately, it narratives the latest updates of the rekindled romance between Benjamín and Irene, until a final unforeseen discovery of Isidoro's whereabout, it is never easy to acquire a closure in regard to one's troubled past.

Majestically directed by Argentinian director Juan José Campanella, who studied film in New York University and is a regular hand in TV series (HOUSE M.D., LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, and HALT AND CATCH FIRE), this film is his 5th feature, Campanella fabricates a slow-paced, reality-and-imagination entwined narrative under a retro palette, patiently builds up personae with rigid framing-compositions and intricate editing, often collates the two time-lines with subtle indications which intrigue multiple viewings. He and the DP Félix Monti have accomplished a brilliant long take (with superbly imperceptible editing sleight of hand) which starts from a hovering airborne shot of the stadium and authentically records the entire activity, from Benjamín and Pablo spot Isidoro among a full-packed stadium during an ongoing football match, to the subsequent cat-and-mouse chase until the suspect is captured, it exemplifies the fly-on-the-wall intensity and altogether it runs more than 5 minutes, which can blow any cinephile's mind.

Indeed, apart from its formalistic artery as a hefty CSI-styled chronicler, another amazingly satisfying deed is the suspense, not all over the place but when it approaches to the crunches, the edge-of-the-seat feeling accumulates and the suspense becomes grippingly pervasive, namely, the two most appalling findings in the film (one abrupt death and another is the revealing of the truth), both grimly under-lit and the effect is soul-crunching.

The picture is also abounding with top-notch performances, Darín and Villamil, bring about strong affinity in-between the 25-years time span, both render their feelings with indelible restraint, the shut-the-door metaphor keeps their unspoken connotations up and running. Guillermo Francella is the scene-stealing sidekick with an offbeat personality, not only he addresses cogently the pinpointed theory about man's invariable passion, his heroic act comes as resounding and pathos-inducing as well, what's more enticing, we don't know whether it is the real happening or the creation of Benjamín's wishful thinking. Pablo Rago, who plays Liliana's grieved husband Ricardo, carries the responsibility of being the linchpin in the plot as another prisoner of a traumatized past, and he also pulls off what Benjamín claims "the purest love he has ever seen", all four are in my top-10 line-up of 2009, although I push Villamil in the supporting group since almost all her scenes are with Darín, her side of story never laid bare and she is mostly absent in Darín's investigation procedure.

From "temo" to "te amo", it is a creatively designed wordplay for Benjamín's life-consuming odyssey to find his missing "a", Juan José Campanella commands a humanized brush to retouch a cautionary tale embedded with harrowing profundity and self-reflected sobriety, an outstanding piece of cinema, by all means.

Benigni is great and the film is an above-average hoot, 7 July 2014
7/10

Before ascending to his insurmountable zenith with LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1997, 8/10), Roberto Benigni's THE MONSTER is a winsome farce about an innocent layabout Loris (Benigni) is wrongly identified as a serial women-slaughterer at large, in order to catch him red-handed, the police force assigns a young policewoman Jessica (Braschi) to go to great lengths to entice him into the irrepressible perpetration (ultimately, a red riding hood costume), therefore, a spate of funny sketches ensure while Loris' resistance is ultra-impenetrable.

Benigni is a superb comedian, a do-it-himself practitioner, skilfully concocts lewd yet never graphically offensive sex-related slapstick in this larger-than-life scenario, individually, each skit is authentically rib-tickling, the opening one which causes the false impression for the entire film, is that Loris confuses a middle-age woman Claudia (Pieri Palombi) for a nymphomaniac, and predictably his overt seduction turns into sexual harassment. It is funny no doubt, but a bit too cheesy to be taken seriously since each laughter is arbitrarily calculated, easily anticipated, and provoked by mere happenstance - this is the key tone of the film, all the antics are in your face, but you cannot complain too much since they are well-crafted.

However, the wholesomeness of the story fail to survive under the barrage of giggling-inducing escapades, there is no credible rationality in finding the whodunit, the chemistry between Loris and Jessica never reach its threshold of romance, but the husband-wife team makes it up by the synchronous walking-like-midgets loveliness, witnessed by a distinguished resident (Girotti) every time. Rest of the cast is uniformly one-dimensional yet fundamentally enjoyable, Michel Blanc is hysterical as the doctor who is determined to diagnose Loris in person, the segment where he and his pills-chomping wife Joland (Lavanant) visit Loris and Jessica for dinner is the high-water mark for paranoid ridicule. Jean-Claude Brialy is the testy proprietor, Ivano Marescotti is Loris' sole business supplier, Laurent Spielvogel is the livid police chief and Franco Mescolini is his amiable Chinese teacher, perhaps one of them is the culprit?

The exaggeration of physical gestures and the Italian style of uninterrupted monologue may not be appealing to all its audience over the world, some minor goofs (e.g. the stalking video camera is ludicrous enough to only capture Loris' escape route while completely oblivious of the chaser, the antique dealer) are to some extent detrimental to the core of the story.

On the other hand, one should not nitpick a feel-good comedy, which is the most demanding genre for filmmakers because every culture has its unique language of humor, a true universally appreciated one is like a needle in s haystack, and THE MONSTER is almost there, it is among the very rarefied above-average hierarchy to say the very least.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Glazer is returning with his divisive alien tale on earth, for me, it is a big YES!, 6 July 2014
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Substantially an unorthodox extraterrestrial tall-tale from UK nonconformist Jonathan Glazer, UNDER THE SKIN is his long-waited third feature after SEXY BEAST (2000) and BIRTH (2004, 6/10) and it is truly worth the wait. Glazer composes sublime visual accomplishments and accurate location scouting to counterbalance the linear narrative happenings, which almost can be bracketed as a silent film if we can exclude all the pickup chitchat (barely accessible thanks to the thick Scottish accent).

Scarlett Jo is an alien seductress in Scotland, drives a van and selects her quarries - young men entranced by her sex appeal, then lures them into a black liquid when she undresses herself, where their bodies will be digested completely with only skins left, which is deeply unsettling yet eerily intriguing.

Meanwhile, she is like an infant assimilating from the strange environs, she may master the language for communication, but human behavior is still a terra incognita for her, when she is at the beach, accidentally witnesses a drowning accident left an infant baby alone and crying, her stern indifference to the situation is a firm proof that Glazer is genuinely depriving any human emotion from aliens, in the progress, her mindset is gradually altering after the repetitiveness of her job, until she disobeys her role and releases one of her victim, a shy young man with elephantiasis (Adam Pearson) from the black goo, in the second half, the film takes a turn into an expedition for her to experience like a real human being, she abandons her van, tries human food, even starts a friendly coexistence with a goodhearted loner.

Only during the amorous moment, man's basic instinct is a wakeup call for her, all she has is a skin, the imitation game is over, she leaves the man and escapes into a forest, and there, the predator-and-prey roles are fiendishly switched, eventually she meets her demise with a burning flame in a snow land.

Mica Levi's unnervingly experimental score is a killing mood-moderator through and through, against the elusive optical minimalism, her sonic embellishment potently leads audience into the labyrinthine mind of an unknown creature. Scarlett Johansson, after her stunning turns as the bombshell in DON JON (2013, 8/10) and an IOS system in HER (2013, 8/10), this film challenges her to cleanse out all her star charisma and put on a disguised distance, minutely fixes on her unearthly physique and indescribable inner transformation. Her eyeballs are endowed with deepest mysticism and the role is a singular renaissance for her, she should on the trajectory to be the next Matthew McConaughey, and much more deserving for her versatile talent.

UNDER THE SKIN is an alternately misty, nocturnal and surreal gem with unyielding resolve to woo its art-house-prone audience while maintaining strong vigor of originality in the shopworn aliens-are-walking-among-us diegesis.

In & Out (1997)
Bravely out but dated, 4 July 2014
6/10

A commercially successful mainstream out-of-the-closet comedy in the 90s mocking the stereotypical homophobia in the provincial mid western America, directed by the voice-of-Yoda, Frank Oz (THE STEPFORD WIVIES 2004, 4/10), and stars a dapper Kevin Cline as Howard Brackett, a high school English teacher being outed on the 68th Oscar ceremony by his former student Cameron Drake (Dillon) in his BEST ACTOR acceptance speech, in addition to that, he is scheduled to marry his longtime fiancée Emily (Cusack) within three days.

So Howard instantly not only becomes the headline personality at Greenleaf, Indiana, but also attracts Hollywood media, especially from the outed-gay anchorman Peter Malloy (Selleck). In order to quench everyone's worries and inquisitiveness, Howard's denial is ostensibly plausible, he is at most metro-sexual and painstakingly attempt to shatter the hackneyed idea of gay men to be masculine with the collateral damages including Barbra Streisand's not-so-productive filmography and the heterosexual men's privilege to dance.

Yet, the crunch arrives in the big wedding day where self-deception can not hold back the truth, Emily indignantly runs away from the alter in her wedding dress and apart from that, everyone else seems quite calm-cool-and-collected. The farce then takes a detour into a self-imposed queer-in-distress scenario for Howard in the third act after his spunky and honest coming-out, when he is fired for his sexuality and waiting hapless for the unanimous succour from his family, students and friends, which righteously secure a feel good ending to bolster the right opinion, one might appreciate the effort and motivation, but honestly speaking the entire grandstanding is very much contrived and cringe-inducing.

The biggest selling point is Joan Cusack's second Oscar nomination for a genre rarely gets the attention of Academy members, and an outstanding feat for a comedienne to replicate her recognition again after WORKING GIRL (1988, 7/10). Cusack never shies away from being an unassuming wallflower and her predicament in the film does lift the awareness of the unethical cost for a closeted gay man to marry an unwitting woman. Kline is quite competent as well, suave but internally is waiting to be swept off his feet by a kiss from a man, pitifully there aren't ample room for the romance between him and Peter, but his dancing routine and spontaneous respondence showcase he is an ingrained comedian on precise tempo.

The story is elicited by the real event of Tom Hanks' Oscar acceptance speech for PHILADELPHIA (1993) where he openly thanked his gay teacher, and the rest is the screenwriter Paul Rudnick's wide fantasy, anyhow, it is pretty impressive to realize how our world-view has evolved towards homosexuality in a measly 17 years purely gaging by how dated this film looks, still, in the much conservative corners of the world, it will be a long expedition to indoctrinate the equality against wrongly-rooted prejudice, religious narrow-mindedness and man's primal fear of wanting virility.

Goldfinger (1964)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Pussy galore honors black man, tell me this is not a double entendre!, 3 July 2014
6/10

This year marks GOLDFINGER's 50th anniversary, the third BOND film after Dr. No. (1962) and FROM Russia WITH LOVE (1963), however, it is my first encounter with Sean Connery's ironic Bond impersonation, but is this the best Bond film ever? Not in a million years, I daresay. Hiring a German actor (Fröbe) to play the kingpin Goldfinger with his Cantonese-babbling henchmen and a Korean muscle-man Oddjob (Sakata), the film's premise is not only politically incorrect and logically peculiar.

Also, initially it might be glad to watch a Bond girl Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) break the glass ceiling as a professional pilot and lead an all-female squad, it is utterly male chauvinistic to believe Bond's irresistible sexual appeal (and the off-screen sex activity) could magically convince her to a be a key turncoat within one day. Only if Bond were bisexual, it would solve more problems in the world. And persistently, Goldfinger would not even think about to kill Bond instantly since he is kept as a captive for most of the time, even in the most logical moment, there is always a morbid need to kill Bond in a fancy way with precisely ticking time.

After 50 years, Aston Martin DB5 slightly loses its luster and the so-called cutting-edge gadgets' allure is also inevitably waning, but after all, it was a big-budget tent-pole at hen, John Barry's inherently engrossing score and Shirley Bassey's stunning theme song are timeless ear-worms. Unfortunately DP Ted Moore's epiphanic creativity (one innovative shot from the reflection of a woman's eyeball) does't find a larger room in the standard studio production line.

Sean Connery is a perfect specimen of masculinity and debonair, and his unethical surrender to every attractive woman he meets panders for the taste of a majority of viewers who think beautiful flowers are either soon picked or just auxiliary for men's voyeurism. Honor Blackman actually reflects a definite amount of dignity and freshness in the earlier procedure, which makes her treachery evens more nonsensical. Gert Fröbe, takes up a considerable screen-time, yet fails to impress as a classic Bond villain not just because his clumsiness and genial appearance, he simply doesn't possess any kookiness to leave any traction.

Director Guy Hamilton (EVIL UNDER THE SUN 1982, 7/10) would be a regular journeyman for Bond franchise (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER 1971 and LIVE AND LET DIE 1973), and GOLDFINGER ultimately prompts the appreciation that what a boon SKYFALL (2012, 8/10) is, we have a Bond belongs to our own era, and we can witness the paradigm shift of the progress, days for cinephiles are getting better and better! If this is the highest achievement of a critic-acclaimed blockbuster 50 years ago could be, we should stop whining over most of our brainless equivalents with nostalgia, merely because the past is not so glamorous either.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Wes Anderson is going strong!, 1 July 2014
8/10

Wes Anderson has been steadfastly honing his finesse since the outset of his career starting from BOTTLE ROCKET (1996) when he was only 27, from then, this wunderkind's filmography has flourished healthily, presently he is among the most successful auteur in US indie ground and internationally his fame also balloons with his audience, his eighth feature THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, this year Berlin International Film Festival's opening film (and Grand Jury Prize winner) and a genuine box-office triumph, indicates he is not slowing down in any aspect.

Distinctively utilising 3 aspect ratios for three different time-lines, the predominant storyline in the 30s is in the standard academy ratio, Anderson marshals a bevy of distinguished actors to offer his die-hard devotees a resplendent banquet inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig.

In a fictional Republic of Zubrowska, located in middle Europe's alpine state, there is the titular hotel, on the cusp of WWII, the concierge Gustave H (Fiennes) and the lobby boy Zero (Revolori) experience a smörgåsbord of incidents fluctuate from an inheritance tumult to a painting theft and to wacky murder cases, from an off-the-wall prison break to a catch-and-chase escapade in a snowfield and finally to a vis-a-vis confrontation in the hotel, it is as kooky as one could ever anticipate in a fashion of Anderson's childlike sophistication, at the same time, the narrative unwinds with absorbing élan in the same class as in MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012, 8/10).

Anderson's one-of-a-kind varicolored miniatures, opulent design and ingenious compositions again leave his audience in a state of awe and elation, although frequently his back screen projections let the cat out of the reality bag, which vastly has the hallmarks of the standard Hollywood productions, a studio setting grafts on an unconvincing outdoor background.

Fiennes is superbly foppish and demonstrates a dynamic interplay with the wide-eyed neophyte Revolori. The pair's friendship is alternately self-consciously comical and heroically heartfelt, Fiennes knows perfectly the timing to deliver his sermon under diverse circumstances, as a dowager-charmer, his lovable goofiness trumps any moral judgment simply because everybody deserves to be happy.

Among the massive supporting group, F. Murray Abraham deserves more credits for his compassionate hospitality as the elder Zero in the 1960s and the impassioned narrator (nevertheless how come an Indian boy has metamorphosed into an Arabian grown-up is beyond any explanation); Tilda Swinton is strikingly overshadowed by her old-age make-up although she is always a scene-stealer (even when her character is dead); Saoirse Ronan plays Agatha, the love-interest of Zero, an apprentice of the Mendel bakery who has a Mexico-shaped birthmark on her face, she a plucky girl with a sense of righteousness, a symbol of virtue which falls victim of the impending war; last but not the least, Willem Dafoe spices up his menacing goon with equally-dosed grimness and caricature.

Principally Anderson underlays a tale of woe with sufficient verve and vibrant palette, more incredibly, he is perfecting his story-telling technique, as a whole, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is his most mature film to date and rosily beckons that the zenith of Wes Anderson school is manifestly on the horizon now.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
a solid summer comedy, 29 June 2014
6/10

A torrid weekend, the best recreation is a cinema getaway in the local multiplex, the options are paltry, having no slightest interest in the fourth TRANSFORMERS juggernaut, I have to choose between two sequels, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 or this one, it is a tough choice, I enjoyed HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (2010, 8/10) thoroughly, but due to a recent impassivity towards animations, eventually I opt for the latter albeit I have yet watched its predecessor, a Hollywood comedy might be the elixir to quench the summer lethargy.

After their debut animation CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (2009), director duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller went in for revive the popular 80s undercover policemen series 21 JUMP STREET (1987-1991) on the big screen, and it was a box-office hoot in 2012, two years later, the sequel arrives, the odd pair Hill and Tatum go to college this time!

School days are mostly stupid in retrospect, drugs, parties, sports and hormone-driven sex adventures, one must be glad to finally get over with them, thus, understandably the main arc of the story is the à la mode bromance between Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum), conceivably an impending fissure is magnified by Jenko's jock popularity in the fraternity and Schmidt's contrasting nerdy awkwardness. The investigation to unearth the WhyPhy (a new campus- permeating drug) dealer are considerably short-circuited by incessant japes and bro-bonding- or-clashing set pieces which are functionally devised without resorting to the low-end and cringe-worthy lavatorial jokes. A time-tested one is the classic unintentionally sleeping with your boss' daughter and the romance benefit falls upon on Schmidt, he meets the art student Maya (Stevens) and competently justifies "nerds are the new sexy", until a raging Ice Cube stereotypically break them up. Meanwhile Jenko has a more conventional male-bonding with fellow football jock Zook (Russell) with an unspecified undertone comes close to a fantasy for more trendy interest, along with many bold gay-related insinuations.

It is scintillating to witness a not-over-stagy let-go-and-reunite plot mingles with two partners certainly care for each other where sexuality is irrelevant. The natural bond is authentic, which is the only thing matters. Tatum grandstands in the mandatory action sequences with Hill's rib- tickling unwieldiness, but villains are carelessly characterized, up to the moment when they fall prey to utter triviality and deprive of any sense of being other than their default duty.

During the ending-credits, a deluge of mock-sequels pokes fun of industry's franchise over- exploitation, and this year earlier, the Lord-Miller pair has already stunned the world with their money-making bulldozer THE LEGO MOVIE (2014), a new profitable product-line awaits a follow-up, so with two smash golden bowls in their hands, 23 JUMP STREET might come to its fruition behind the usual two-year schedule, or perhaps 22 is also a wonderful number to leave our perky memory unsoiled.

an appealing nostalgia of the Northeastern China's industrial life in early 1990s, 25 June 2014
7/10

THE PIANO IN A FACTORY, is the second film from the young Chinese writer-director Meng Zhang, and had made a splash when its leading actor Qianyuan Wang won a coveted BEST ACTOR AWARD at Tokyo International Film Festival in 2010, but delayed for half a year until its theater release, it crashed and burned in the box office which stimulated another shouting diatribe on the unhealthy status quo which bars art-house films from seizing a sizable piece of cake in the prosperous mainland cinema market. Without a booming front-loaded attendance, these movies will be replaced by more popular fares merely within a few days of release thanks to cinema managers' money-seeking priority.

Four years have passed, the situation may not ameliorate too much, Meng's follow-up THE UNCLE VICTORY (2014) has just won Grand Jury Prize in this year's Shanghai International Film Festival and soon will be pushed to test the water. However, in retrospect and after finally watched his 2010 output in a sub-par DVD copy, the film does has its own unique demographic target, and relies heavily on our generation's nostalgia.

The story is set in the early 90s, an industrial town in northeast China, a former steel factory employee Guilin (Qianyuan Wang) decides to make a steel piano from scratch (with the help from his blue-collar fellows and a retired scientist as the brain) in order to keep his daughter Xiaoyuan (Xingyu Liu) from choosing her gold-digging mother after the divorce. The premise itself sounds both self-deceptive and self-motivating, as his girlfriend Shuxian (Hailu Qin) pierces to the truth with her pertinent remark, there is no guarantee he can win Xiaoyan's custody even they could complete the piano. Indeed, it is exactly what Meng intends to tell his audience, to build a piano is not a solution but a means to evoke us to feel sympathetic to a disappeared era, as overtly exhibited in the smokestacks-demolishing scenes with the tableaux reminds us of Mao's time.

One devoted characteristic is the miscellany of 90s Chinese pop melodies, Soviet folk songs and even jingles from the vintage Nintendo video games, which is profusely grafted on various scenarios (from funeral to wedding ceremony, as Guilin forms an amateurish band to make ends meet), and perilously borders on over-exploitation; the cinematography is constantly panning horizontally, conjures up some fluid mobility which heartily generated from everyday drollness under the perpetually murky and melancholy light and derelict settings.

Qianyuan Wang and Hailu Qin are convincingly submerging into their characters and efficiently reveal their inner sentiments with certain verve. The remainders are mostly non-pro actors in aid of the project due to its measly budget, all bathe with real-life authenticity except one grating presence of South Korean actress Shin-yeong Jang (apparently a casting proviso from the film's Korean executive producer, Jae-young Kwak), who plays Guilin's ex-wife and is utterly devoid of credibility as an ex-worker and an illiterate, there are nuances to tell Chinese from South Koreans, although through a westerners' eyes, it would not be so conspicuous.

So in a nutshell, Meng greatly encapsulates the zeitgeist of the time and it is a sound step for him to emerge as a bona-fide sculptor of a bygone time, only if he could minus a shade of the overblown sentimentality and tone down all the fanfare to meet the eyes and bombard the ears, this picture would connect more audience out of the millions middle-age nostaglist originate from Northeastern region in China.

A winsome and poised gem from Middle East, 24 June 2014
8/10

Out of the context of Egypt and Israel's historical feud, this succinct awards-winning film (87 minutes) debut from Eran Kolirin may seem to be a prosaic essay about an unfulfilled romance with a few light touches on the quotidian lives in a rural Israeli town through the eyes of a band composed of members of the Egyptian Police Force from Alexandria, who are invited for a cultural event in Petah Tiqva.

The richness in both country's cultures is cleverly eschewed as well as the usual political slants, the film strands the band in a plain cultural desert, a town named Beit Hatikva due to a heedless mistake made by the young musician Haled (Bakri in his career debut). The leader of the band Tawfiq (Gabai) is a stern but decorous widower, his second-in-command Simon (Natour) is more obliging, and Haled is a small discordance here.

As they have been hemmed in the town for one day, the team has been taken in by the hospitable local eatery owner Dina (Elkabetz) and her friend Itzik (Moskovitz), soon a little spark is kindled between Tawfiq and Dina, who happens to be unmarried as well. Without any forced affectation, the film develops its ultra-simplistic storyline with competent camera movements, naturalistic performances and impactful tableaux, subtly evokes a comedic connection with its viewers and stays afloat with the laughter in the face value, so its grand appeal can reach a more international demography.

There are endearing sequences when Dina and Tawfiq slowly reveals their emotion and past scarred memories, which cogently leads us expect something would happen between them, but realistically, there is more than personal barrier in-between, as Tawfiq says earlier, he represents their country, so it is paramount for him to stand his ground, not in the least for himself, there have been too many troubled histories behind these two countries and he balks at a final move. Meanwhile in the house of Itzik, being the uninvited guest and an awkward onlooker of Itzik's fractured marriage life, Simon unintentionally finds out a meaningful finale for his unfinished concerto.

Considerably the viewpoint is different in the younger generation, for Haled, courtship for an attractive woman is more a natural instinct than a calculated tactic, even in Israel, he is spontaneous and one most amusing set piece is that his hands-on instructions for a timid virgin Papi (Avraham) to kiss an unappealing girl Yula (Matatov), a magic moment vividly glistens with an unassuming warmth.

Ronit Elkabetz and Saleh Bakri are laudable for the well-crafted allure imbued from their spot- on acting, both squeeze into my top 10 lists while Sasson Gabai is very close for the crammed Leading Actor race. Almost inclusively confined in one-day span, the film is full of witty and tongue-in-cheek episodes and finally a Middle-East film under an apolitical surrounding when the most basic and genuine connections among people dominate the show, as the day passes by, like the tag-line says: once a small Egyptian police band arrived in Israel, not many remember this... and it wasn't that important. A shout-out to Eran Kolirin for this winsome and poised gem.


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