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Avicii: True Stories (2017)
A good film which has become a must-watch now. (Spoilers, but this is all in the news)
I watched this film 2 days after the announcement of Avicii's death, but we still don't know what the cause of death is. Avicii was 28 years old - way too young to die.
It is a story of too much too soon, but there is no way the filmmaker could've predicted this - Avicii wanted out, he wanted to quit touring, music, alcohol, the party-life, everything. We see it in the film, how little he cared for fame and fortune, how he lacked the maturity to understand the consequences of his actions (cancelling tours and concerts) and that he wasn't just a musician, but an employer whose employees depended on for their income.
This film is ominous without the benefit of foresight, it's a warning without being preachy, it is what it is because they did not know what was to happen next. It ends on a happy note, an optimistic one of Avicii finally getting his way. Shots of beautiful beaches where Avicii can relax and play in the sand, where he can make music and be himself and vacation, not work to make the music for someone else's vacation. The film was released in late October (2017) and six months later, while on vacation in sunny Oman, he passed away.
It is rare that real events (news) would elevate the rating of a film, but in this case it has. The death of Avicii shows that what was shown in this film was real, the stress experienced was real, not exaggerated by the film-maker, that the health consequences were real, not made up or exaggerated by either side (not Avicii trying to get out of obligations or by the director wanting to make the film better.)
The thing that this film has that other films (made after Avicii's death) won't have is that it wanted to capture the life of Avicii and tell a story, not a money-grab by people trying to capitalize on his death. There will be more documentaries about Avicii, surely, but their motives and the timing will be suspect.
I recommend this film for everyone, not just fans of Avicii/EDM.
Big budget flop (no plot spoilers)
This is not a good movie. It's not even okay. It's a bad film and it's not really a subjective issue.
Some background: Nicky is considered a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church and his depiction in this film, doing unsaintly things, was highly controversial in Russia. Not really boycotts and a hashtag campaign, but terrorism and bomb threats, which only succeeded in delaying the premiere.
Some of the low scores it gets is from people who are against this film. Most other votes are from people who thought it was a bad movie. And they're completely right.
I don't have any qualms with how historically accurate the film is, or I would have none, if it were good. It's inaccurate, but gets no minus points for inaccuracy, just for being boring.
The palaces, interiors, dresses, etc. are all very pretty, but the story is really boring. A lot of things are quite amateurish - when the empress told her son that the affair with the dancer must end and that the dancer must disappear, she said "promise me" (that that will happen). Nicky says "no" and walks away. So the empress talks to herself and says "Then I'll have to do it myself" - this kind of weak acting, weak script, where a person reveals their evil masterplan to the viewers is something of theater or really low quality TV, not of cinema.
The sex scenes, while well shot and performed, are too long and don't advance the story. It reminds me of The Room or Samurai Cop. Between the sex scenes, the bedroom/pillow talk scenes, the Mathilde getting dressed scenes, kissing scenes, bathtub scenes and the many, many dance scenes (dance and rehearsal) a lot of this film is just "look at this pretty stuff."
There's really not much left to say without going over the plot other than it's really light on story and heavy on aesthetic.
A good corruption/crime thriller
This film is based on the 2008-09 carbon-quota scandal that occurred in France, but it's not a white-collar crime film like Wolf of Wall Street or anything of that sort that takes place mostly in offices, banks, courtrooms, etc.
It's more of a street crime film, where the world of street gangs intersects with financial crimes and fraud, along with legitimate businesses, dirty cops and clean ones.
It's an interesting film, but it tackles a subject too big and flies by too fast, making you doubt that some events took place during a week or a month. The sense of time is lost in editing. There's enough material here to make a mini-series (like Les Beaux Mecs, 2011... there are actually a lot of similarities with Les Beaux Mecs) but TV shows are not for everyone.
The production values are high, casting, etc. The only flaw I have with this movie is the editing. There was a scene at the start of the film that should not have been there. The passage of time was also not well shown.
Other than that, I'd give it a 6.5 rounded up to a 7/10.
Marg Yazdgerd (1982)
More theater than film
This film is shot in a particular style that I would be hesitant to call low-budget. It is based on a stage-play and the film is more like theater than cinema.
Although the story is very good, the film could've been a lot better, maybe if Beyzai didn't attempt to do everything. He is the producer of the film and he directs the film that he had adapted from his own stage play. He doesn't do the soundtrack or cinematography, (there are others credited), these are weak points in the film.
The story deserves a lot better and I hope that one day someone adapts it to modern cinema techniques.
I'm not sure that I would recommend this movie to anyone who is not a already a fan of Iranian culture. Being a fan of Iranian cinema is not enough, because the drop in cinematic quality is huge. Perhaps if this film is remastered and released in a higher resolution/color. The currently available film is very dark and has a low dynamic range. The images you see on IMDb are not stills from the movie, but promo photos. The film was also shot on film, but it needs to be rescanned to get that kind of quality.
If you are interested in Iranian history, this film could be for you. If you are interested in Iranian theater, this is a good way of seeing it. If you want to learn Persian and hear non-colloquial pronunciations in dialogue, this could be one of the few places where you could hear it.
It is a good film, but it's not for everyone.
Mostly a musical: Not interesting for non-Dalida fans
This is not a "rare" film, but for a movie that has been out for over a year, it still has fewer than ten reviews on IMDb. This is the tenth review.
I won't spoil the film, but this is not really worth watching as a standalone film. If you don't like Dalida's music, this film is not for you. Most of the film is music. Not "about music" but just music. Sveva Alviti standing in front of a microphone and singing. Sometimes on stage, sometimes in a studio, sometimes on TV, on the radio, and sometimes in montages where other things happen.
If you enjoy her music and want to listen to whole songs, this movie is for you. If you don't want to listen to whole songs and want to see a movie, maybe skip this one. It's closer to "Pink Floyd The Wall" (the movie) than to a biopic.
Casting, editing, sound, cinematography, etc. where all excellent, but this film is heavy on the music and light on the story.
A very generous 6/10.
In the Absence of Good Men (2017)
A jumbled mess - first paragraph has no spoilers, just a warning to save your time/money
This movie is a jumbled mess. I thought of what went wrong in the film and how it could've been fixed, but in reality, this film should not have been made. This is the very definition of genre fatigue. Before you consider watching this film, I suggest to you reading the filmographies of the director and the writer. The director's films average around 3.5/10. Don't say you weren't warned.
The mistakes are plenty - anachronisms, the dialects/language is off, the lighting is abysmal, i.e. daytime TV quality, the story is essentially bad, the acting is bad in two ways - unnatural movement (dying, shooting a gun, falling, etc. reminds me of teenage films on Youtube) and poor line delivery (the breaks between... phrases should be somewhere else), I could go on, but should I?
The film also tries to do many things at once and fails at everything. What was the point of the boxing? It then advocates a pro-gov, but anti-big business agenda for the prohibition, but then shows the government, or in this case, the cops, as corrupt and racist, with the mafias as the good guys who just want to serve the working man a cold brew at the end of a hard day of work. The cops use slurs more often than real racists, in a kick-the-dog trope, to establish that they are the bad guys in this film. I'm not sure how the film justifies it though - bootleggers/moonshiners/smugglers are innocent people subverting the system, drinkers are innocent, the gov is free of guilt (it's the Rockefellers that pushed the state to prohibition, according to this film), but the cops, who are part alcohol-consumers, part of the bootleg industry and part of the blameless state are given 100% of the blame.
I don't know who this message is for, if the film draws a (imaginary) parallel of gas-vs-ethanol with modern day fossil fuel vs renewables, but there's also a bit of feminism sprinkled in, which is not actually a flaw, but adds to the jumbled mess this film is. The issues are brushed upon and not explored, and the film itself is done in a noir manner, making the issues seem out of place in what is a cheesy revenge flick.
I don't know who could survive 3 seconds of two automatic machine-guns firing at him from close range, but our friend the boxer here can, although he was a "still a bit sore" after.
This movie appears to be made by someone who is a fan of gangsters, but whose point of reference is gangster movies. It is a cover of a cover of real life.
Khoroshiy malchik (2016)
Boring teen movie
I'm not sure who liked this film other than teenagers in Russia. It does not deserve a 6/10 rating it currently has here, but considering that I'm the first (and only) reviewer of this film a year after it came out, it shows you how limited the interest for this film is.
I won't spoil the film, but let's say that it has a lot of dancing. A lot of it. Dance rehearsals, dance-offs, dance lessons. It's not really a dance film, it's more of a love story, a highly contrived, highly improbable one at that.
The acting is okay for a teen film, but it's on the level of TV shows where actors speak to the camera than one where you really believe these people exist.
The film has a fluffy, TV show-like quality to it. It doesn't feel cinematic. It is a popsa film for teens. Calling this pop culture is a compliment. It's more like bubble-gum pop culture.
The story is not really interesting or deep in any way. The scenes have too much lighting that it's insane. You can see heavy shadows everywhere. As much as I hate this Hollywood obsession with making everything dark that you could barely see (Game of Thrones), Russian TV and cinema go the other way. Actors cannot have 3 or 4 shadows in different directions. People don't have floodlights at home. Most homes are quite dark. Some scenes do the opposite, where everything is so lit that there are no shadows anywhere. Houses that just have light coming from every direction.
The lighting does not make or break this film. It's just an objective thing I could demonstrate to tell you what kind of film this is. It is not a great story marred by poor production values, it is a 4/10 script with 4/10 production.
If you are Russian, you probably already know of this film. If you are not, well, don't expect one of those masterpieces of Russian cinema. It's the Russian equivalent of Can't Hardly Wait (1998) but less entertaining and with more dancing.
Un homme idéal (2015)
A good thriller in the vein of The Talented Mr. Ripley
This film was quite enjoyable and very thrilling, but I'm somewhat disappointed by its unfulfilled potential.
Let's just say that the acting, directing, visuals, sound, everything was perfect, not standing ovation material (I don't believe people give standing ovations for editing or sound), but it was transparent. I saw the story and I was completely immersed. I did not notice any of the ingredients but that's the point, to get you in the story. Film is not a competition between visual artists, editors, cinematographers in seeing who can stand out. It's a team effort and in this case, it works very well.
I have a tiny issue to nitpick with the editing - the passage of time is not shown. We don't know how much time has passed between events. Sometimes it's months, sometimes it's years. We have to wait for someone to say "It's been 3 years now" but that's not a great way of telling the story. "Show not tell" is the oft-repeated rule and as tiring as it is to hear and read, it needs to be repeated. There are many ways to show the passing of time. Montages, time-lapses, season changes, changes in hair or appearance. The flaw is that they showed Mathieu ask Alice on a date and then he meets her parents in their home. One would think that it's a few months into the relationship (meeting the parents for the first time) but it is later revealed that it is 3 years later. If the confusion of time were part of the story, that would be good, but it isn't.
That tiny flaw is not something I would deduce points for, however.
My real disappointment is that the start of this film, the plagiarist's road to fame was 10/10 and I wanted more. If it had continued down that road, I would put this film as one of my top 20 of all time. However, sadly, the film went another direction and made it a story of blackmail, extortion and a murder investigation.
We already have tons of films about blackmail and extortion. People have a tape, a USB key, a photo, a witness, and someone has to find a way to buy silence and bury the truth. There are so many films about this topic. So many films about someone burying a body, faking a disappearance, worrying about the body resurfacing, day-dreaming and hallucinating of blood, seeing cops everywhere.
I enjoyed the first part of the film so much, the hopeful artist, the plagiarist, his meteoric rise, the creating a persona from interviews and quotes. I wanted that to continue. I wanted him to double down on that, to go the route of Catch Me If You Can. He plagiarized his first novel with zero money, now he should be able to do it again and again, using his wealth to dig for the next novel, to scour writers workshops for ideas, to travel the world in search of another unpublished gem to steal.
I wanted to see a film where a plagiarist realizes that a career of plagiarism is a full-time job. He has to keep publishing to keep up his lifestyle or people would call him a one-hit wonder. Instead, we have a film about a rich person trying to bury a secret. What the secret was (affair, real name, identity, criminal record) is irrelevant in this film.
He is just a rich person struggling with debts, a secret, extortion and all he wants is to keep living in luxury.
An enjoyable film nonetheless, even though I wished for more originality.
Farewell Baghdad (2013)
An interesting concept let down by a poor script
This film deals with an interesting topic in an interesting time period, but it feels like a soap opera, has TV-like production values and a weak script.
I give this film major kudos for resurrecting this rare dialect or bringing it to the big screen, and the although I don't understand it, the actors seemed very convincing with it, as far as I can tell.
It's not the fault of the actors that the script is really weak. Love stories, jealousy, lots and lots of talk but not enough action. I don't mean car chases, but everything in this film is conveyed by dialogue, like in theater, as opposed to visually. It is dialogue heavy and light on events.
The director had not directed a feature film in almost 30 years, having been mostly active in the 80's. That my explain why the film is not that entertaining.
A film about a serious topic can still be engaging and entertaining, even if it's tragic. Here, I just felt like I was watching a soap or a low-quality TV show.
It has higher production values than Hatufim but it much less entertaining. The film is both long and uneventful.
Even the love stories are not that captivating. I never felt for a second that the actors really felt in love or felt attracted to the girls. The jealousy felt forced rather than uncontainable and overwhelming. I think the director bet too much on the love stories to carry this film and the bet did not pay off.
There was only one cinematic moment - the breaking of the pigeon cages near the end. The film needed more of that.
The cinematography was unremarkable. There was none of that film magic of colors, depth of field, angles and camera movement. It was filmed as if it were a documentary.
All that could be overlooked if the story were entertaining. The pacing was slow, the events just felt like a series of unrelated events rather than escalation of hostility or consequence. The film also lacks focus as to what is the main story, who are the main characters. It shows the lives of many characters, like a TV show, but without any focus or flow.
I'm not sure if this could even work as a film to begin with. Maybe if it had focused on fewer characters it would've been better, but there are simply not enough events to make this story interesting.
That is sad because not many people will make a film about this community, this time and place, so we are unlikely to see another attempt at this topic anytime soon.
I can't really recommend this film to people other than ones interested in the Judeo-Iraqi dialect.
An interesting story about forbidden love
On the face of it, this looks like a story about forbidden love, but as you examine more closely, you see the many, many layers of this story, something that very few countries could do well. Here, it is done very well, almost perfectly.
Filip, a Serb, is called up to the Serbian army in WW1. He leaves his pretty Slovenian wife alone at home in a hostile Serbia seething with religious and ethnic intolerance towards Germans and Austrians on one hand and by extension Croats and Slovenes, regardless of their individual loyalties.
Filip entrusts the safety of his wife, Lea, with Azem, an Albanian highlander. Azem gives him his word, or more than that, he gives him his "besa" (honor), which is way more than word of honor. For those who don't know - "besa" is the same word used for a promise of ceasefire between warring families engaged in a blood feud. If your enemies give you a besa and see you on the street, they cannot harm you. This goes way beyond bro-code.
Azem, is a rural, illiterate man who at first doesn't seem to speak the language (Serbian) compared to the multilingual (Slovene, Serbian, German, that we know of), talented (piano, dancing) school-teacher, but Azem is street smart and lives in the real world and knows people better than Lea, who, at first, lives in a fantasy world where people would not harm her.
At first, Lea feels like a prisoner in her own home and Azem treats her as such. She tries to escape, only to run into serious trouble and needing Azem to come to her aid.
She doesn't understand the danger she is in from people who saw her as a German and erroneously thought her biggest issue is Azem.
Eventually, the antagonistic relationship becomes friendship and a sort of romantic love. They are both prisoners in a way, Lea in some sort of house arrest (for her own safety) and Azem is a prisoner of his own promise. They are in an island all alone, among hostile and nosy neighbors on one hand and an arrogant and violent (Serbian) military presence on the other.
The background or the outside world is bleak to apocalyptic levels. The Serbian army's initial wins ran out as reality caught up with them. The Serbian army, unable to face or defend themselves (or their families) from the wrath of Austria-Hungary and Germany, had to leave to the mountains of Albania. At the same time, a typhus epidemic was killing civilians and soldiers en mass.
Azem and Lea were in an island of relative peace and Lea, not knowing if her husband is dead or alive, develops feelings for Azem, her only friend and protector.
The two of them are, in a way, from different worlds, yet they are two faces of the same coin that is the (future) Yugoslavia, the west and the east, the town dweller and the highlander, the modern and the traditional, the shepherd and the teacher, the minstrel and the pianist.
There are many themes here - forbidden love of a married woman, a man caught between his promise and his feelings, hate turning into love, a hostage-captor relationship of sorts, an adult student-teacher one too and more.
Most films could only do one, simplifying a theme and repeating it over and over, (think 50 Shades of Grey) but this film has so much subtlety and depth.
My issue with the film is that it's very slow and not very entertaining. It takes its time telling the story and the build up is very slow. The run-time isn't long (1h 46m) but there are not that many events in the film. The production is good, but not great. Music is underutilized as well.
I give it a 7, but this is not a film for everyone.
One of the best films of all time
I considered using a summary of "One of the best war films of all time" but this is beyond that.
I usually only review under-reviewed (ones with less than 15 reviews) but for this I'll make an exception. I wouldn't say that this film is underrated, it is rated 8.3/10, although I'd give it 9.5/10, this film is still an unknown gem. 60% of voters on IMDb gave it 9 or 10. It is only a matter of time until it enters the IMDb top 250.
This film reminds me a lot of No Man's Land, but this one lacks that absurdist Balkan element. Balkan films have strong threads of absurdism, comedy and tragedy coming together, but this film doesn't have that. It's a darker, more somber piece.
This film is not a moralizing sermon that's against war. It is not a contrived Lifetime/Oxygen movie that plays like a public service announcement or some educational film shown in schools.
It's a real film, cinematic and subtle. It has the perfect balance of dialogue, action/events, space/pacing and music. It is not an action film with a moral message between battles. It is not a sermon interrupted with events. It is not a music video showing the beauty of the country. It is a film, it is what cinema everywhere should be.
This film is also not tragic porn. A lot of films just add tragedy after tragedy to pull at our heartstrings. It doesn't use sad music to manipulate you, doesn't have this pile-on of tragedies to make things sad. No orphanage for mentally handicapped cancer kids getting hit with artillery strikes.
It's a simple, yet very powerful story. It is a snapshot of time.
People criticize films like this for not being encyclopedias of a conflict. They want all sides of the story to be represented and given equal time and weight. "Why didn't they This is pointless. This film is not an encyclopedia of all sides, it's just a single chapter in the life of a man, or three men, when all their lives intersected.
Perhaps the target audience for this film is limited. Not many people know where Estonia is, forget them knowing of Abkhazia and what all these things mean. I see that the highest rated bad review talks about "cardboard villain characters of Russian soldiers", even though there are no Russian characters in this film.
I highly recommend this film. Watch it with someone who knows a bit about the Caucasus if possible or brush up a bit on the history of that conflict post USSR. You don't need a history degree to understand it. It's a clear cut conflict, it's just that for many, it's an unknown conflict from an unknown part of the world.
No rounding up. This is 10/10.
Very funny situational comedy with no slapstick
This is one of the funniest comedies I've seen.
Let's get this part out of the way: There is no reliance on slapstick, no people slipping on carpets or banana peels, no falling, pies thrown on people's faces, etc. There is no disgusting stuff, such as someone eating something dirty, having a condom on their hair, etc. No toiler humor.
The jokes are universal, even with subtitles and being distant from that era, it's still really funny. There is no reliance on pop culture references, current events, etc. which often leads to films losing their humor over time. Yes, Tom Cruise going crazy over Oprah's sofa was funny, but it won't be funny when people don't get the reference 30 years from now. This film doesn't rely on reference, it's funny on its own.
One thing thing that makes this film even funnier is that it's just a comedy. There is no drama, no bigger story. Many modern comedies are dramas with lots of jokes. An example is Knocked Up, which is at the end of the day the story of an unlikely couple getting together to raise a baby. Then there are comedies like 22 Jump Street that have a lot of action.
There is no action here, no drama, just laughs from start to end.
It has a Seinfeldian quality to it, not just that they both look old now, but I could compare this film to Seinfeld's air-conditioner/parking lot episode or the Chinese restaurant episode. There is an absurdist element to it too. It also has that Larry David style of intertwining events. Some comedies, especially road trip formats, offer a series of events, one after the other, but they have no consequence on each other. This one, in Larry David style, has a domino effect. Every event has a consequence on the next, every character interacts with every character and furthers the story.
Finally, this film does remind me of Le Diner de Cons in its style.
I give this film 8.6, rounding up to 9/10 for IMDb. Highly recommended as a comedy.
The President (2014)
A great little gem
This is an interesting film about a deposed president of a fictional country. The fact that the country is fictional does not devalue the film, it moves it away from historical documentary and toward a humanist commentary, away from politics and towards philosophy.
This could've been any country, really. The world is filled with dictators and tyrants. What this film didn't need is people saying "Actually, the opposition turned out to be worse" or "This particular president did not order that" or any sort of political bickering, whataboutery and bias.
All the facts here are on the table. There is no "half the story is in the film, the other half is in reality."
The film shows how terrible people can be to each other, by they can't always blame their superiors or say they were just following orders. The film shows how this dictator can be horrible as a dictator and a poor refugee, how power did not corrupt him because he was just as bad without it, just as many others in the ensuing chaos of the power vacuum.
We see how people behave with and without power, under orders and on their own volition, when desperate and when not, as individuals and in groups, all in the course of 2 hours.
The cinematography is brilliant and there is a particular scene, the riot scene at the start of the film, is one of the greatest moments in cinema. It is that well done and it must be seen. It is worth watching the whole film for.
Not a perfect film but highly recommended.