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Good in its way, but not authentic Agatha Christie by a long shot
27 April 2018
It was a mistake to advertise this version as a return to Agatha Christie's original short story. The script does jettison at least one memorable addition that was not in the original, but it also adds a great deal of extra material. Some of the material harmonizes very well with the story, and it has to do with a look, from here in the future, back at things that, during the period in which Christie was writing, were taken for granted. The indelible trauma of the First World War, the yawning gap between the haves and have-nots. The actors help sell the point that these are not just reminders of history but also reminders of human nature. The fleshing-out draws the viewer into the story more deeply than many playful or even mechanical Christie-inspired movies have done, but ultimately it wanders into territory that Christie herself, I suspect, wouldn't have entered and perhaps wouldn't even have endorsed.
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Wounded Land (2015)
Good script, with surprising changes of direction
7 April 2018
You know the cliche where the distraught woman or child feebly punches at the big guy before falling into his embrace? That's the one thing wrong with this movie. I just wanted to get that complaint off my chest. Otherwise, the script is admirably creative. There's more incident and characterization than is necessary just to compel the main plot, and the main plot turns out not even to be what we might originally think it is. The actors are believable and help nourish the script's apparent message that our arguments are not with purely and obviously malevolent people but with fellow citizens of a wounded land. The same writing/directing team made a similar point in their next film, Homeport, which is about the world of the dock workers. In that microcosm, the script makes it a little easier to point at the flaws in the system; in Wounded Land it's harder.
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Ben Zaken (2014)
A good production, but bleak
5 April 2018
Eliraz Sade (sa-DEH) was best known for reality TV at the time, and here he chose a job of acting that could get him taken seriously and maybe even win him high standing in the acting profession. A role without a fun side, the role of a failed man who is the weakest link in a miserable family. The problem, apparently, is that the movie doesn't have a fun side either and despite good responses from critics and at festivals, it didn't attract big crowds. It moves very slowly, it is beautifully photographed but with beige and grey predominating, and the characters have all had their major bad luck and made their major mistakes before the movie even begins. There are some plot threads I couldn't quite follow, about the dissolution of a curse and about a woman in love with the protagonist's brother, but mostly the movie focuses on his woebegone daughter. She's vivid and believable, as are all the characters. Watch for the use of water as a recurring symbol in the movie. It's well worth watching if you don't mind the bleakness.
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It's only improved with age
1 April 2018
I saw this one when it was new, in the 1960s, and with age it's only got better. The simple, lovable people of an idealized Parisian neighborhood have an additional layer of nostalgia value as we recall a country that appears to have found its feet again after wartime but has not yet been overwhelmed by globalization. The threat is certainly there, but in comical form. There's a hapless, primitive espresso machine. There's a lo-tech manufacturing machine that's replaced with a hi-tech one-- involving, by the way, a gag I remember from the 1960s version that wasn't in the version I downloaded from the web. And there's the Belle Américaine itself, a huge luxury convertible that is admired by all but something of a mixed blessing. Anyway, the script presents a charming little world and the story is full of well-scripted and well-performed comical episodes any one of which, if you put it into a comedy of the last couple of decades, would be the highlight of the movie.
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Hasn't aged well
14 March 2018
"Fishke Goes to War" (or "Fishke in the Reserves," to translate its Hebrew title) is a comedy by George Obadiah, who was better known for his melodramas and criticized for their lack of subtlety. There is nothing subtle about "Fishke" either. It is a vehicle for comic actor Moshe Solo, whose wide-eyed naif prefigures Andy Kaufman's. He follows his friend Shmil into the army and proves that behind his meek exterior, he has what takes. Shmil is played by Paul L. Smith, a serious actor later famous as the villain in Midnight Express, and Smith helped direct this movie, but the script provides little to work with and indeed the script is the main problem, belaboring one lame joke after another (with minor characters laughing in case we haven't noticed the humor) and stumbling along through lapses of logic. The film was made at a time when Israel's Arab enemies were routinely laughed off (between the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War), and in retrospect the movie's treatment of Arabs as ciphers is a little embarrassing. There are times when shots are drawn out to the point where you could wonder whether Obadiah was having trouble stretching the movie to full length. But at the time, there were very few Israeli movies at all and the bar was not set very high.
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Hershele (1977)
Inoffensive pro-brotherhood comedy with forgettable music
3 March 2018
Hershele of Ostropol was a legendary Ukrainian Jewish jester. Here we have a fictitious descendant of his arriving among the immigrants to Israel from the USSR. He appears naive, and his proletarian neighbors dismiss him as a representative of the privileged class, but he learns to stand up against manipulation and champions social equality. All this is played out in comedy and music, although the music is not Dov Seltzer's best and its presentation is hopelessly dated. Mike Burstyn, the lead actor, is one of the world's most talented and accomplished all-around performers, but unfortunately in this film he's called upon to pretend he is a clarinetist and he obviously isn't. The theme of conflict and reconciliation between the social classes was very common in Israeli comedies of the time, and here the grievances are presented quite frankly, so the movie can't be blamed if the happy ending rings a little false. In the end, it's just a pleasant fantasy.
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Shelter (VI) (2017)
Life is an island, rocks are its desires
30 January 2018
The film opens with a quotation from Kahlil Gibran. "Life is an island, rocks are its desires, trees its dreams, and flowers its loneliness, and it is in the middle of an ocean of solitude and seclusion." I'm not sure whether that's the exact translation used in the movie. Anyway, the movie shows us two women secluded in a lonely apartment for a good cinematic reason-- one is an agent assigned to keep the other one safe from the bad guys-- while each of them is intent on not only on surviving but on the goal of pursuing a purposeful parental relationship-- nurturing an island of life-- in the face of the ocean of nihilism symbolized by the betrayals and assassinations accompanying international espionage and terrorism.

Writer/director Eran Riklis compares the film to Bergman's Persona because of the intimacy and tension of the relationship between the two women, but I think a closer comparison might be with Coppola's The Rain People, where a woman unsure of herself as a future mother picks up a hitchhiker and finds herself receiving practice in the task of caring for another person.

When the movie ended, a woman in the theater asked me to take one side or the other in a debate with her friend over what actually had happened during the final minutes. The audience is indeed left with some bits to figure out, but I didn't feel seriously cheated. The production was professional, suspense was maintained continuously, and the music-- even if composer Yehonatan Riklis is, one might guess, some kind of relative of the director-- makes a fine, tasteful, enhancement.
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The Cakemaker (2017)
Who needs characters?
23 January 2018
Here we have a beautiful movie about a woman who apparently has given up religious observance (why?) and opened a cafe although she's not particularly good in the kitchen (why?) and a couple of men who fall in love with each other (why?) but although they're extremely underwritten characters, you don't notice because you're carried along by the pacing and the photography and the architecture and the music and some nice cakes and cookies. ("What cafe would serve such a big slice of cake?" my wife says.) It doesn't hurt that the actors are well chosen, including one of Israel's top actresses, Sara Adler, who seems to specialize in strong but quietly uncertain women. Any movie featuring her is worth seeing, even if there isn't much else to it (as in, for example, 2012's "Aya").
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A New Spirit (2017)
Aggressively message-driven
3 January 2018
This is an "I once was lost, but now I'm found" based-on-fact story about a Jewish problem child in Israel who grows up to be a preacher for Jesus. The Israeli filmmakers seem to give it their all on a restrictively modest budget. (The movie's "making of" shows the filming of a couple of fire scenes that-- I can only guess-- had to be abbreviated a bit in the release because they didn't produce enough good-quality footage.) The acting is fine, although a kindly New Yorker from a Catholic family has a suspiciously sun-lined face and odd accent; it's no surprise that the actor is actually Israeli. The script unsurprisingly presents the proposition that Christianity is not a violation of true Judaism but a fulfillment of true Judaism. What did surprise me is that rather than concentrating entirely on the positive message, the script also takes a smack or two at contemporary Orthodox Judaism, specifically the bidding of money for synagogue honors and the rigorous prescriptions for mourners' prayers. I guess it's not afraid of alienating the more committed members of the Jewish public. In contrast, although the protagonist is believably flawed, the film's Christian characters are utterly saintly, with nothing to distinguish among them, making the film look more like a propaganda fest than it had to look (even if it is). Other glitches in the script are occasional melodramatic timing of events and an unexplained major jump of location within Israel (Kiryat Shmona to Jaffa - non-Israelis may not notice). Biographically true, but a line or two of dialogue could have covered it helpfully. The film was quite well advertised, but when I attended a weekday matinee during the first week of release, the only people in the audience were my wife and I and two elderly women who had wandered into the wrong movie.
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Ga'agua (2017)
The Hebrew title makes me wonder
28 November 2017
The screenplay (which won the so-called Israeli Oscar, the Ophir award) proceeds a little like a detective story. A father's inquiries about the dead son he never met reveal surprise after interconnected surprise. Certainly the father develops a "longing" for his son, so the movie's English-language title is appropriate, but the Hebrew title, Ga'agua, is a strange word to use in reference to someone you never met. It's more appropriate for someone you once knew or somewhere you once frequented. I wonder whether it isn't indicating that the son is merely a symbol for the long-past relationship that produced him. In any case, it appears that as the father learns about his son, he also learns about himself, and although there is a dreamlike congruence about the elements of the movie-- a young girl is in love with a boy too old for her, the boy is in love with his teacher-- nothing is embarrassingly artificial except a coincidental meeting (in the graveyard) with just the right person to propel the plot forward.

The film takes place in Akko (Acre), for whatever reason. The mother remarks at one point that she doesn't have to worry about money (and that's why she never approached the father regarding the son), but I'm not sure that if you don't have to worry about money you live in Akko. Be that as it may, it's good for a movie to have a specific location and Akko is an unusual one. We get to see a little of it, and more would have been welcome.

Besides winning the award for best screenplay, the movie was nominated across the board for acting-- best actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, and for that matter casting.
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The Burglar (2016)
Sometimes picturesque, sometimes a bit confusing, nicely suspenseful
21 November 2017
The Dead Sea is one of Israel's biggest tourist attractions and the surrounding desert is immensely picturesque. It's nice to see some of that in a movie, although we don't get much because burglary and the wilderness don't exactly mix. That's one of the problems for the protagonist; even in what passes for a town by desert standards, she doesn't enjoy the anonymity a big city would give her.

The protagonist-- the burglar-- is flawed and apparently not entirely sane. She breaks the rules, but not in a charismatic, rebellious, Thelma-and-Louise way. She breaks rules we don't like to see broken. Not an easy person to sympathize with, but we can sympathize regarding the problem she faces, which is how to keep body and soul together when her mother suddenly disappears.

Besides the handful of desert shots, the movie boasts artsy close- ups of the kind that aid suspense by assuming unexpected points of view. Once, for a second, I didn't even know what I was looking at at all. And I wasn't always sure what was happening and why. But the heroine's risky break-ins are consistently suspenseful and there is a fine little gallery of actors on hand for the anti-heroine to be alienated from.
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One of Us (IV) (2017)
Cinematically, it's a hatchet job
16 November 2017
Without challenging the truth of the sad stories the movie tells, I still think it went overboard in the cinematic tricks that make the Hassidim look an alien peril-- photographing them from the back or in far-off groups as if they are too frightening to be approached, or showing fractions of their faces, or showing them moving quickly while the soundtrack plays slow, ominous music. The movie could have made its point-- to the extent that its point is legitimate-- without such techniques of audience manipulation. And the manipulation would be less distressing if the documentary were merely one among a large number of competing sympathetic and unsympathetic portrayals of Hassidism. As is, this is likely to be the only view of Hassidism many people receive, at least this year, and it will leave them with an imbalanced impression. Who would guess, after seeing these stories, that there are also people who willingly join the Hassidic movement without being born or brainwashed into it?
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Foxtrot (II) (2017)
Acts one and two very good, act three not so good
15 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Neither side behaved well in the Israeli controversy over Foxtrot. The Minister of Culture condemned the movie without seeing it, and the filmmakers tried to weasel out by claiming surrealism as a form of artistic license. The film isn't surrealistic, although it's expressionistic.

The first section is the most expressionistic, packed with overhead shots that feature a weirdly patterned floor. For a while, you wonder whether master actor Lior Ashkenazi has been handed the challenge of playing his part with no lines at all as his character receives and absorbs the notification that his son has fallen in the line of duty. That turns out not to be the case, but to an extent he does remain, throughout this section, a kind of Everyman defined by his situation rather than by any specific background we're aware of.

The second section is what made the Minister of Culture grumpy. It shows a soldier making an error of split-second judgment with terrible consequences, followed by a cover-up. The accusation against the movie was that such things don't happen in the Israeli army. I was less disturbed by the soldier's error (people are people), and even by the cover-up (bureaucracies are bureaucracies) than by the coverer-up, an officer made to look like a boulder- bodied ogre. He seems to taint everyone with evil, and coincidentally or not, his appearance marks the point where the movie-- in my opinion-- loses its footing.

The first and second sections hinted at intriguing parallels between the generations, as well as a sense of recurring themes, but the third section invests in effortfully tying together what didn't need any such effort and in driving the plot forward past where it could have gracefully ended. It was a little like hearing a joke explained after you've already laughed at it, although Foxtrot certainly doesn't abound in laughs. It's a well-acted, philosophically contemplative film that just goes on for a little too long.
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Scaffolding (2017)
Lacks nothing, except a little breadth
12 November 2017
Like Arlo Guthrie in Alice's Restaurant, Asher Lax plays a character based somewhat on himself. A fellow who works for his father in the scaffolding business. There's cinematic potential there, and I wouldn't have minded coming out of the movie knowing a little about scaffolding, but that aspect is nowhere near thoroughly exploited. Nor is there a firm sense of place inside Israel. It seems that if a particular municipality isn't helping to fund the film, Israeli filmmakers are unaware of the advantage of making the location specific anyway. What we do get is the story of a young man with conflicting loyalties to two father figures-- the one he's intended to inherit the business from, who considers book learning superfluous to their lives, and his high-school English teacher, who wants to give him and his fellow low-scoring students a chance at intellectual development.

Asher's real-life teacher wrote and directed the movie, and maybe that's the reason it strays so little from the main characters into their surroundings or into the lives and personalities of supporting characters. In a TV interview, the teacher/writer/director pointed out that the teacher character is another person, like the Asher character, whose potential is unfulfilled and even unnoticed.

The Asher character is an unlikely protagonist, impatient and impulsive. It takes a while to wake up to the idea that this really is the fellow who's supposed to deserve the full measure of our attention, and even longer to warm to the idea. But the Asher actor performs at award level (one win, one major nomination) and he's supported by a top professional actor in the role of his father. The teacher is also played well, but the demands of the script make him an iceberg-- something that's mostly below the surface.

I imagine we haven't seen the last of Asher Lax the actor. Unlike his father in the movie, his real-life father says that if Asher wants to leave the scaffolding business, that's okay.
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It reaches Pinteresque heights
2 November 2017
My favorite part is when two policemen appear as if straight out of Pinter-- authoritative, confusing, and scary. For a while, unsettlingly, one of them speaks from outside the frame while the face of the other reflects the tenor of the words. We can identify with the protagonist's confusion, because it's the confusion of Everyman in a situation of weakness.

Already, though, the protagonist is not just a tabula rasa but has begun to exhibit behavior that limits the audience's identification with her. Maybe for that reason the script would have worked better as a stage play. Certainly the lead actress, Tamar Alkin, has proved herself on the stage as well as on the screen, and the challenges that the film takes upon itself-- a small set, and scene- long camera shots-- are typical of the stage.

Some scenes are built around visitors less interesting than the policeman, and they don't manage to strike sparks. But when the mystery that runs through the movie is solved, the solution is a good one, sufficiently foreshadowed and sufficiently hard to guess, without being artificially neat.
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Azimuth (2017)
Good work, if you suspend disbelief a little
7 September 2017
For Azimuth, the obvious comparison is 1968's Hell in the Pacific, which was about an American soldier and a Japanese soldier stranded together in the context of World War II. The big difference is that the conflict that frames Azimuth-- the Arab–Israeli conflict-- is still going on, so that a certain tether keeps the story from taking up full residence in the realm of fable. Some distancing is achieved, though, by the use of music that carries the sound of a previous cinematic generation. The credits mentioned Rachmaninoff.

Unlike the opposing soldiers of Hell in the Pacific, those of Azimuth quickly discover that they can communicate well in English. It could happen, but it's a little unlikely. More unlikely is their almost cartoon-like ability to weather hostile fire and endure pain through much of the movie. But if you suspend disbelief, you can enjoy some fine acting, especially by Sammy Sheik, and a suspenseful time. (How much time the events take is uncertain, but apparently it's intended to be not much more than the screen time.) Although the message is a familiar one, the audience is kept guessing as to how it will be punctuated.
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Hadereh lean (2016)
Looking back on it all, Michal Bat-Adam at her eccentric best
7 September 2017
Looking at Michal Bat-Adam over the years, you'd think she had stopped time. But she's in her seventies now, and she's brought us a movie about the big questions. How is it that the past is dead, and in a way we're dead along with it, while at the same time the past seems like only yesterday? What is the purpose of all that? Is it the pursuit of some transcendent love, a love that hides itself as we approach?

The framework for Bat-Adam's reflections is a multi-generational story set in Jaffa, made of physically beautiful images, and-- not surprisingly in a Bat-Adam movie-- difficult to piece together. I wouldn't mind seeing the movie another one or two times just to focus on which character is who and how the characters are connected with one another. Not only does Bat-Adam disdain spoon-feeding the exposition to the audience, but in this movie she breaks another convention and does not make sure that all the important female characters draw our attention by looking beautiful.

If you're in it just for the experience, though, the confusion doesn't matter. It's like a lovely song with lyrics that half the time you can't quite catch. I hope Michal Bat-Adam never retires, but if she does retire tomorrow, she'll be going out at her best.
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Antenna (I) (2016)
Excellent work, but whom are we supposed to like?
26 August 2017
Israel isn't the socialist country that it once was, but it still has something of a collectivist spirit and there are still Israeli movie makers who-- as one critic complained maybe a decade ago-- eschew the traditional central character in favor of a movie about "the guys." In "Antenna," there's no central character we can identify with. But in this case we can't even identify with "the guys" very enthusiastically. The movie revolves around three brothers who are all leading messed-up lives. We see them all falling short of their personal goals, and not because they stand up for principle or are just too eccentric in some lovable way. Maybe (the dialogue hints) they're all indirectly scarred because their father is a Holocaust survivor.

Some of Israel's best actors are in the movie-- a couple even in surprisingly small roles-- and they hold attention every moment, while the story plays out believably. Maybe too believably for a movie that's marketed as partly comical. Or maybe I'm just too old to look at matters like backaches and diabetes and forgetfulness at a sufficient remove. But I didn't see much to charm, entice, or amuse the audience, and I kind of fear for the movie's fate because while it holds up a mirror to society in a constructive and artistically skillful way, I don't envision crowds taking it to their hearts. I hope I'm wrong. It deserves to be seen, and it has enough plot for a whole TV season packed into it.

Another way in which the movie could have increased audience identification, at least in Israel, would have been to provide a sense of geography. I'm pretty sure I glimpsed Rothschild Boulevard, in Tel Aviv, at one point, but the characters live in various places and we don't ever get a clear sense of where. Maybe I've been spoiled because so many Israeli films these days are partly sponsored by municipal budgets and make sure to identify their settings, but I've come to like the grounding that a known setting affords to a movie.
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Saving Neta (2016)
Artsy, but crowd-pleasing
26 July 2017
A standard sentence of advice to short-story writers is "Throw away your first sentence." An audience could be forgiven for thinking that as he assembled the four episodes of Saving Neta, Nir Bergman decided art would be best served if he threw away the last minute of each. But abruptly though each episode might conclude, the audience is quickly caught up in the next. Only the first one starts off slowly, and I suppose Bergman can afford that because it features Rotem Abuhav, a TV star popular enough to carry leading roles in two sitcoms as well as a humorous panel show all broadcast on the same weekly schedule. Her popularity serves her well here, because she plays a snappish figure and we have to believe in her underlying humanity. The only touch that the audience rebelled at came later in the movie, when a singing duo pops up in the middle of nowhere for an interlude. The surrealism broke the mood and the audience laughed at it, not with it. The rest of the movie arouses empathy for the characters as it juxtaposes a flood of everyday practical problems against the larger problems of family and self that the characters face.
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Not pointless
24 June 2017
"Keeping up" in this case means that an everyday couple finds that the situation calls upon them to try to be as brave, sophisticated, and resourceful as the secret agents who are their neighbors. But the movie wants us to understand that the story isn't merely about obviously extraordinary people and about ordinary people who rise to the occasion. The ordinary guy has talents too. He's in human resources, and it's not a job that gets him much respect but he knows how to connect and communicate with people. His people skills are something the undercover neighbors are lacking, and so each pair of neighbors can learn from the other. That's a nice point for a movie to make-- that they also serve who never leave their desks, and that everyone's approach to life can use some rounding out.
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Ithaca (2015)
Maybe this will open the way for better Saroyan adaptations
7 June 2017
After World War II, William Saroyan gambled away all his money but he preferred to resort to hack work rather than sell movie rights to any of his novels. Not after his disappointment with the original movie of The Human Comedy. Part of it was vanity. He'd wanted to direct the movie, and MGM wouldn't let him. But it's also true that Hollywood has its own point of view and it doesn't always match Saroyan's.

In Ithaca, which is a remake of the Human Comedy (now that Saroyan is dead), the main story and characters are preserved, but to me it doesn't look like Saroyan. In the book's classic illustrations by Don Freeman, Mrs. Macauley is older-looking and certainly not an attractive but obvious plastic-surgery veteran like Meg Ryan. Grogan is older-looking too. The character brought most successfully to the screen is Ulysses, although he shouldn't be losing his baby teeth if, as the dialog says, he's four. He's remarkable.

The visuals are, to my taste, too expressionistic. The telegraph office is huge, the roads are wide, and things are too big in general except where Marcus the faraway soldier is involved. All the scenes with Marcus are crowded. That does emphasize the contrast between Ithaca and where Marcus is, but Marcus is not remote enough. Because there are continual voice-overs from his letters, I think the audience doesn't appreciate his absence as a factor. Even the dead father isn't completely absent, and although he adds a sorrowful note, this unkillable family togetherness diminishes the philosophical message that our human condition is one of loneliness and we must actively reach out.

On the one hand, I expected a dustier, less prosperous-looking Ithaca. On the other hand, I was surprised that the choice of music verged on primitivity. More Appalachian than Californian.

I think that a more realistic movie might have worked better, because of the need to carry some dialogue that can, if not handled right, sound unrealistically divorced from what everyday people really say. People declaiming unrealistic-sounding dialogue amidst unrealistic-looking scenery may be fine for the stage but it's difficult to sell on the screen.

Still, the movie tries to be respectful of the original. It even includes some salutes to matters that only readers of the book will fully appreciate-- such a mention of unripe apples, referencing a whole episode involving unripe apricots in the book. I hope that since Saroyan is no longer alive to object, Hollywood will continue to mine his canon.
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Nina (I) (2016)
The problem is, she seems to be tortured but not struggling
5 June 2017
First of all, I don't go to see movies for the makeup. I don't care about that controversy. The accent was a bit of a problem; sometimes I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to be hearing Nina Simone or Eartha Kitt. The singing, I'd say, was handled well, given the choice not to use Nina Simone's voice (and that choice can be argued with). The first song dispelled any expectation that we were going to get a Nina Simone imitation, and so when later songs recalled her more strongly, what caught our attention was the positive side of the salute rather than the mismatch.

The big problem was the story. Nina in the movie has two problems. She's suffering as a black woman, and she isn't mentally stable. We get a hint at the very beginning that maybe discrimination is what undermined her sanity (although in reality the Curtis Institute still denies it rejected her on racial grounds, and the fact is the Institute was not closed to black women). But despite reminders of the political situation, she seems to embrace her neuroses rather than struggle against them, so an opportunity for drama is lost. She's a law unto herself, either she takes her medication or she doesn't, and there isn't a lot of cause-and-effect for the audience to cling to.

We do see a bit of cause-and-effect when Dr. King is assassinated and she appears to respond by writing "Why? (The King of Love Is Dead." Unfortunately, Nina Simone in reality didn't write that song.

At what sounds like a crucial moment, her career has bottomed out and someone says "She has to deliver truth again. If she does, she can do whatever she wants." But the remark raises your eyebrows because we hadn't seen a stage at which she delivers something other than truth. And when she agrees to start living clean, on her way to a comeback, it seems like a whim triggered by nothing in particular.

If I could go back in time with the scriptwriter, I'd tell her to rebuild the story around that "She has to deliver truth again" crisis and to give it a clearer before-and-after with more sense of a changed attitude. But maybe that would be an even less accurate movie.
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A beautiful album
4 May 2017
At one point the heroine asks an actor to sign her album, and he remarks that it's a beautiful album-- which is an apt way to describe this movie. The movie is based on the true memories of one woman, from the hard days of pre-state Israel. It originated as a monodrama, and the story is very much from the woman's point of view. She wants to marry a member of a kibbutz-- a community where everyone votes on everyone else's budget, housing, and so on-- and she complains that she wants to be with him but not with everybody else. The movie too pushes everybody else a bit to the side; the performance of the lead actress, who had already played the part on the stage for years, compensates for the sketchiness of the other characters. And there is also a continual, appealing picture-album of period settings in 1940s Galilee, with pleasant music that provides relief from the sometimes grim happenings. Even in Israel (as the original author remarked at a pre-release screening) young people don't connect with this history of blood, sweat, and tears; and here we have an effective reminder, or an attractive introduction for those who need one.
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Zaytoun (2012)
Fine, but carries its message a little heavily
26 April 2017
Eran Riklis likes stories in which a long, picturesque trip is paralleled by an inner journey of discovering the past, or the self. In Zeytoun, the trip is from Beirut across the border into Israel, and although I'm an Israeli who's never been to Lebanon, an aerial stock shot or two of Beirut was enough to sell me on the Lebaneseness of the locations seen in the first part of the movie, which were actually well-chosen sites in Israel. Unlike another viewer here on IMDb, I had little trouble accepting Stephen Dorff as an Israeli. Israelis come in all colors and sizes. Granted, his English was too good, but so was the Arab kid's. A brief sequence showing kids learning English verbs at school didn't really solve the problem. One makes allowances, though, when the visuals look realistic and the situation depicted is compelling, as here. My problem, and perhaps the problem of the Israeli public (which did not flock to see this movie), was that the audience is invited, a bit heavy-handedly, to sympathize with the Arab family's desire for repatriation to Israel without any balanced mention of the context in which such families found themselves outside Israel in the first place.
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Revealing, although not a confession
15 April 2017
"Confession" in the English title represents the Hebrew word "vidui," which the dictionary says means either an admission of what you've done or a revelation of your private thoughts and feelings. Though in English we tend to assume the first meaning for "confession," in this documentary Caspi reveals his private thoughts and feelings without admitting any guilt. I'm reminded of Donovan-- like Caspi, a curly-headed eclectic singer-songwriter who suffered from polio in childhood and who burst onto the scene as a coruscating genius and then lost his hitmaking touch. Between the lines of Donovan's autobiography you sometimes get an impression of insensitivity to others. Caspi, for his part, can't forgive his father for being emotionally distant. He realizes he's inherited his father's outward impassivity to an extent, but while he says it's something he eventually overcame, he doesn't stop to think that maybe his father would rather have overcome it too.

So here's a documentary with more than a little pain in it, and as one of the interviewees notes, it's in contrast to a lot of Mati Caspi's music and public persona-- which is often rich in fun and humor. What the film is missing is the fun side. I suppose it is intended primarily for an audience who knows Caspi's work and who takes the fun for granted. There is somber coverage of the death of Ehud Manor, a soulmate and a talented lyricist (although seldom profound) who worked with Caspi a great deal, and the implication is that Caspi without Manor has been at a loss, although Caspi in the past produced brilliant work with other lyricists as well.

The points of view of Caspi's three wives are missing-- not only the vexatiously remembered first two, but even the last one, whom he warmly praises. But as the many tight close-ups of Caspi's face imply as he is interviewed, the movie is about his own point of view. It presents that point of view well. A broader documentary would be welcome, but in such a small country, with little funding available, we should be thankful that this film exists.
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