Archive For The “Film Reviews” Category
Written & Directed by Josef Fares
Cinematography by Aril Wretblad
Starring Imad Creidi, Antoinette Turk, Elias Gergi
Josef Fares is the quintessential foreign director. He wears designer tees and faded jeans, has slicked back hair and a neat five o’clock shadow. He crosses his legs when he talks and stuffs concentrated nicotine patches (available only in Sweden) under his lip and on his gums. His latest film, Zozo, is a personal story of Fares, who was, like the main character, born in Lebanon before relocating to Sweden. Zozo is incredibly emotional and surprisingly uplifting, a tale of survival of the fittest with a kid barely old enough to ride a bike.
Zozo is the story of a young Lebanese boy who dreams of escaping to Sweden, away from the war torn country he calls home, longing to meet his grandparents across the border. Zozo is a very complex story with many ideas that could branch off into stories themselves.
One of these stories, maybe the event that fuels the entire film, is the tragic death of his loving mother, goodhearted father and teenage sister after a bomb hits their small house. Zozo and his brother escape as bombs tear apart the sidewalk and streets they traverse, a visually stunning scene, the sound of dropping bombs filling the increasingly silent theatre.
Shortly after the fleeing from his house, after seeing his mother’s leg nearly 10 feet from her body, Zozo hides in a garbage dumpster, while his brother goes for help. His brother is gunned done instantly, leaving Zozo alone with his only friend, a bright yellow chick he met earlier while saying goodbye to his best friends.
Zozo, hungry and alone, tries to use sympathy to retrieve a piece of bread. When his pathetic attempt fails, Zozo meets Rita, who buys the piece of bread and scornfully scolds the bread vendor, using her father’s position as head of the laundry mat to garner respect.
Together, Rita and Zozo plan to escape to Sweden. Their plans are spoiled when their cab across the border is stopped and searched. Rita’s abusive father is called and she is whisked away quick, never to be seen again by the cupid struck Zozo.
In Sweden, Zozo meets his grandparents and begins another chapter of his life.
The second part of the film is very ambiguous and slightly disappointing. Although I not only relate to Zozo as an adolescent looking for acceptance, but I also sympathize the war he’s already fighting, the war to start a new family.
Zozo’s grandfather is a no-nonsense old man with false teeth and a mean left hook. Zozo is instantly picked on at school, which leads to a flurry of punches and kicks from three older kids who leave Zozo’s face bloodied and bruised. Zozo’s grandfather repeatedly preaches self-defense, an act that the passive Zozo is reluctant to attempt.
Zozo quickly befriends half of his class after buying (eventually stealing) pencils and erasers from a local store. He is ratted out by his class, which leads to a sudden outburst of anger from Zozo, who throws his desk against the classroom wall. Once again, alone and confused, Zozo is confronted by the quiet and equally passive Leo, a young classmate who looks surprisingly like a young Mick Jagger.
Together, Zozo and Leo create a relationship based on sympathy for one another, a lasting friendship they both benefit from.
In order to preserve the turning points of the film, I’ll leave you with a few facts about Zozo and the effect it had at the 2nd Annual Bahamas International Film:
– Zozo won the Spirit of Freedom Award for Best Narrative Film.
– The film came close to winning the audience award after receiving a nearly unanimous standing ovation after the screening.
– Zozo was regarded as one of the strongest films at the festival.
Zozo is a very good film by a very talented director. The film is told in two sections, two very good sections, that can move the audience deeply or leave it begging for a little more. Josef Fares obviously knows how to make films, good films, and may soon have a larger impact on the direction and future of foreign filmmakers.
Written by George Nolfi
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Cinematography by Steven Soderbergh (as Peter Andrews)
Starring Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, George Clooney
Steven Soderbergh can make great movies. Check his resume, which goes from the Cannes-winning sex, lies and videotape, to the Oscar-winning Traffic, Soderbergh has the ability to put the audience into something more than a movie, something more than a 2-hour film that can leave the audience bored and depleted.
With his newest film, Ocean’s 12, Soderbergh has relied too much on the success of the original, Ocean’s 11. Unlike its sequel, Ocean’s 11 told a story, which made sense at the end and left the audience feeling proud of themselves that they figured out how the robbery was pulled off. In Ocean’s 12, there was no story, there was no plot.
Despite the lack of formulation that seemed to drag the film on for more than it’s apparent 2-hour running time, the dialogue in the film was masterful, picking up the quirky one-liners that made Ocean’s 11 an oft-quoted movie. All the acting is superb with basically the entire cast from the original movie returning, plus the addition of Catherine Zeta-Jones as a blood-thirsty detective who has the hots for Brad Pitt’s hilarious character Rusty Ryan.
The film, which is set three years after the gang pulled off the greatest casino robbery in Las Vegas history, shows an upset Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) personally addressing each member of the original crew and demanding his money back with interest, which adds up to roughly $97 million. Being “too hot” to work anywhere in America, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his team travel to Europe to pull off three separate heists with not only Benedict on their tails, but Europol’s top agent Isabelle Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a thief known only as Nightfox close on their tails.
Ocean’s 12 will more than likely be a box office success thanks to its twelve big name superstars and a few cameo appearances from their friends. The script is very funny and the directing, as any other Soderbergh film would be, is superb. But, a film can’t run without legs and that seems to be the only thing that Ocean’s 12 is lacking.
Written & Directed by Paul Haggis
Story by Paul Haggis & mark Boal
Cinematography by Roger Deakins
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Jonathan Tucker
The best way to teach filmmakers how to make films is by giving them examples of how to master the craft, how to perfect every aspect of the filmmaking process. I find myself carrying a laptop to nearly every screening to take down scrupulous notes in order to learn the structure of film by, well, watching films.
Aside from Woody Allen’s 2005 sleeper hit Match Point and the Coen Brother’s No Country for Old Men, very few movies are able to convey a message and captivate an audience using the basic principles of filmmaking: character, plot and conflict.
But, in Paul Haggis’s emotional powerhouse, In The Valley of Elah, the 2-time Academy-Award winner proves that he’s becoming an important writer-slash-director in Hollywood without relying on lucrative special effects or raunchy sex scenes. In fact, “Valley” has no overt sensuality, no unnecessary profanity, no unexplained plot twists; it is filmmaking in the most minimal form.
Tommy Lee Jones gives an Oscar caliber performance as Hank Deerfield, a no nonsense retired military policeman searching for his youngest son, Mike (Jonathan Tucker), who has been listed as AWOL following his deployment from Iraq.
As the search for his son becomes more rigorous and less hopeful, Hank finds himself clashing with two forms of the law: the clueless local police and the headstrong military brass. With the help of a determined detective, Emily Sanders (played painstakingly by Charlize Theron), Hank delves into an investigation that he may not want to solve, asking questions he may not want answered, discovering that learning the truth is sometimes easier than facing it.
In The Valley of Elah also boasts noteworthy performances by Susan Sarandon, James Franco, Jason Patric, Josh Brolin, Wes Chatham and Jake McLaughlin; all of whom bring life and dimension to generally listless characters. The entire cast of “Valley” performs as if they all have secrets, refusing to give other characters the satisfaction of knowing what’s on their mind.
Winner of this year’s Spirit of Freedom: Dramatic Award at the 4th Annual Bahamas International Film Festival, In The Valley of Elah is easily one of the top films of 2007 and is sure to garner even more gold come Oscar time.
It’s a shame that the screening for this film was so poorly attended at the festival; up-and-coming filmmakers could have learned a thing or two from Haggis and his brilliance.
Maybe next time I won’t be the only person taking notes.
Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Cinematography by Robert Richardson
Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Laurent
There’s something utterly sublime about Quentin Tarantino.
He’s an icon, a legend, a cinematic guru – the definitive writer-director that deftly defines his generation while aggressively inspiring the one that follows. He leaves movie-goers perplexed – confused – scratching their heads as if they paid admission to see a question mark.
Don’t believe me? Go see it.
But don’t bring your kids. Or your parents. Or your grandparents. Or anyone squeamish when it comes to blood, scalping, skin-branding with a blade or sitting for almost three hours. This movie is brutal.
Inglorious Basterds is Tarantino’s latest visual symphony – his magnum opus – an elaborately-fictional fantasy that makes Kill Bill look like a late night re-run of La Femme Nakita. Brad Pitt is at his smoldering best as Aldo “The Apache” Raine, a straight-to-the-point Tennessee lieutenant hell-bent on killing and collecting the scalps of Nazi soldiers. “I’m in the killin’ Notzi bin’iss,” Pitt delivers in a Slingblade-like Southern drawl. “And bin’iss is-a boomin’.”
Joining him in his recession-proof crusade is his crew of “Basterds”- a small band of wildly savage Jewish-American soldiers. Like Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth), better known as “The Bear Jew”: a scowling slab of Hebrew muscle that uses Nazi skulls as tee-balls. Or Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger): a former German soldier that went postal on his commanding officers.
To juxtapose the story of the Basterds, Tarantino weaves together an emotional subplot surrounding Shosanna Dryfus (Melanie Laurent), a Jewish refugee that survives the heinous massacre of her family. Her assumed life is turned upside down when the cinema she operates is ordered to play host to Hitler and his regime – including Col. Hanz Landa (Cristoph Waltz), the man who murdered her family – for the premiere of a Nazi propaganda film
As a director, Quentin Tarantino reminds me of a modern-day Orson Welles -a creative mad man – displaying fundamentally-sound film techniques while refusing to shy away from the story, the suspense, the discomfort and the violence that makes everyone in the audience cringe in their seat, refusing to look away.
As a writer, Tarantino’s script is a pitch-perfect, big-budget, summer-blockbuster that reads like a art-house/comic book film. He has an innate ability of introducing characters in such an exciting way that you almost forget about the storyline. So if you’re expecting to see flat characters and overtly revealing dialogue and happy endings, then don’t see this movie.
You’ll criticize the lengthy stretches of dialogue and the not-so-factual storyline. You look for answers and explanations and all you’ll find is more questions and a headache.
Had Quentin Tarantino been a foreign director – or had he made films during Hollywood’s Golden Era – he’d be revered as a pioneer, a innovative genius, America’s version of Federico Fellini. With his newest film, Tarantino proves to be the most entertaining writer-director of his time, the best Return-on-Investment filmmaker money can buy.
And Inglorious Basterds is worth every single penny.
Written by Bima Stagg
Directed by Bronwen Hughes
Cinematography by Jess Hall
Starring Thomas Jane, Dexter Fletcher, Deborah Kara Unger
Stander is not only a visual masterpiece, but an emotional journey to the heart of a good cop, who turns into a great thief.
Thomas Jane gives an intriguing and heartbreaking performance as Andre Stander, a straight-laced cop who has a terrific way of expressing himself through shark grins and seductive smiles. Although I thought Jane was impressive as “Todd… Parker!” in Boogie Nights, he brings a uniquely mesmerizing confidence to his role as Stander.
Inspired by a true story and set in Johannesburg, South Africa, during the late 70s and early 80s, Stander is a film about finding yourself, despite the barriers of age, social class and the law. It’s a film about trust, loyalty and the irony in doing what’s right by doing what’s wrong.
But, most importantly, it’s a film about having fun.
At any costs.
Andre Stander is a young white police captain in South Africa, actually the youngest captain in the Johannesburg Police Force. He is happily married to his lovely wife Bekkie and the two seem to fit right into the middle-class society they have grown accustomed to.
While on Riot Patrol, Stander’s life changes drastically with the pull of a shotgun trigger. Due to the growing racial problem sparked by apartheid, Stander becomes so greatly affected by the killings of blacks during a rally (in which he both watched and participated in), he finds himself on the polar opposite of the law, robbing his first bank while wearing large Aviators and hiding his small pistol behind his fashionable (but somewhat tacky) plaid suit coat.
Although he gives the stack of stolen cash to a young black child selling newspapers on the street, Stander has become completely transformed, robbing a flurry of banks in the morning then heading the team of investigators sent to crack the case in the afternoon. Not only does this represent the continuous irony apparent throughout the whole movie, it’s hilarious to see one of the bank clerks claim that Stander, the police officer, looks like Stander, the bank robber.
After an innocent grin, Stander turns to the police chief and offers to be taken in. And everyone starts laughing.
Stander eventually does get caught, arrested by his colleagues and is sentenced to 32 years in prison. His wife wants a divorce. His father won’t talk to him.
When Andre Stander’s story looks completed, his life is merely beginning.
While in prison, Stander befriends two convicts Allan Heyl (David O’Hara) and Lee McCall (Dexter Fletcher). Stander and McCall make a daring escape, involving a fake injury after a prison rugby game, then come back to the prison and bail Heyl out. Together the three form “The Stander Gang” (a name that brought light criticism from both McCall and Heyl) and proceed to rob dozens of banks across South Africa.
One of my favorite scenes is after The Stander Gang has robbed a bank, they hear on the radio that the bank’s manager is boasting that the gang didn’t hit a safe loaded with cash. So, Stander and his crew make a quick U-turn, return to the bank and calmly rob the safe.
Never have I been so sentimental for criminals but, as the movie progresses, this gang acts less and less like “real” criminals. While reassuring his gang to keep their robbery streak intact, Stander reminds his partners that “this is supposed to be fun.” And it sure looks like fun as the boys are the lead story every night on the evening news and the headlines in every paper. The Stander Gang becomes so notorious that an Andre Stander look alike, named Mark Jennings, repeatedly gets arrested merely for resembling the famous bank robber.
At a majority of the banks they rob, The Stander Gang admires their wanted posters, three ratty mug shots taped to every bank door in South Africa. In addition to their swift skills used to rob the banks, the gang wears different costumes, most of which are too good to be true. Stander wears a dark afro wig with large sunglasses for one heist. He dresses up like a Muslim for another. Stander and his crew makes bank robberies look easy and effortless, the same way great athletes make slam dunks and home runs seem almost second nature.
To me, Stander was the best film of the Second Annual Bahamas International Film Festival. Although the theatre I saw it in way barely a quarter full, Stander went on to win the Audience Award at the festival. The film offers plenty of plot twists and an unbelievable supporting cast that backs up Thomas Jane beautifully. David O’Hara and Dexter Fletcher are the perfect partners for a fun-loving thief like Stander. Deborah Kara Unger gives a heartbreaking performance as Stander’s beautiful wife Bekkie, who seems as confused with her life as Stander is with his.
Overall, this film has hints of Fernando Meirelle’s City of God with characters reminiscent of the thieves in Reservoir Dogs. Although this film bombed at the box office, I feel with the right exposure, Stander has the potential to build up an underground fan base of loyal viewers like myself. Stander is a must-see film that shows a soon-to-be great Thomas Jane at his criminally-minded best.