February 2, 2007

Film Movement: Films reviewed

filmmovement.jpg Jim Van Maanen's reviews and ratings (out of 5 stars)

Agata and The Storm (2004) *** 1/2
The Italian character defined, via the writer/director of Bread and Tulips (same lead actress, too). Funny, quirky, sexy, spiritual and extraordinarily non-judgmental, this one's all over the place but-finally--quite worthwhile.

Alexandra's Project (2003) ****
Thought-provoking and probably argument-provoking, this video-revenge tale explores man/woman marriage roles in an original, scary manner. From Dutch-Australian writer/director Rolf de Heer and anchored by masterful performances from Gary Sweet and Helen Buday.

Ali Zaoua (2000) **** 1/2
One of the jewels in the Film Movement crown, this tale of street kids in Casablanca glows with a special beauty that comes from honestly facing poverty, sorrow and loss but tempering them with a soaring imagination.

Antares (2004) ****
Modern life as lived in cold climes, inner and outer. Written and directed with care and intelligence by Gotz Spielmann and splendidly acted by its ensemble cast, the movie seamlessly incorporates hardcore sex into its highly sophisticated sense of storytelling.

Anytown, USA (2005) *** 1/2
What almost appears like a Christopher Guest mockumentary is apparently a real documentary about a recent and very bizarre mayoral election in a New Jersey town. Unlike anything you have most probably witnessed, "Whew!" may be the most appropriate response.

Buddy (2003) *** 1/2
Brimming with lively wit and characters who grow on you, this Norwegian slacker comedy is inventive, amusing, sometimes moving and almost always fun.

Campfire (2004) *** 1/2
Another interesting, grating, problematic Israeli movie in which the characters grow and change, fight and adapt, question, rebel and accept. A fascinating look into that country, the citizens of which appear able to appraise themselves and their homeland with remarkable honesty.

Carol's Journey (2002) ** 1/2
Civil War-torn Spain (again) in a movie that offers interesting characters, history, narrative, location and more but never quite coalesces into the meaningful. Adequate, but not nearly as vital or important as many other Spanish films on this same subject.

Celebrating the Art of Short Film (2005): Not yet seen.

Drifters (2005): Not yet seen.

Falling Angels (2003) *** 1/2
The dysfunctional family, Canadian perspective, and a good one it is: thoughtful, different, funny and sad. Miranda Richardson, Callum Keith Rennie and the whole cast shine, and the sense of time & place is spectacularly on target.

Ginger and Cinnamon (2003) *** 1/2
Like taking a vacation in a gorgeous place with a group of characters who, silly as they often are, remain a delight to get to know. Director/co-writer Daniele Luchetti does wonderful stuff with the "generation gap."

Le Grand Voyage (2004) *** 1/2
How fine to find a film that honors (and explains) Muslims and their traditions, while letting us see the contradictions and problems within. This father-son road trip is subtle and caring and real.

Hawaii, Oslo (2004): Not yet seen.

He Died With a Felafel in His Hand (2001). *** 1/2
Who could resist a title like this? Not me, and the movie proves every bit as bizarre and intriguing. This bunch of quirky characters is worth your time and interest, and director/novel-adaptor Richard Lowenstein provides a nifty visual style to accompany the weird goings-on.

Hop (2004) ***.
Tackling the plight of illegal immigrants in a generally uncaring country at the same time as it conflates sports mania with power--political, social, economic---this heady mix hits a roadblock one hour in, from which it has trouble recovering. The fine Belgian actor Jan Decleir (Antonia's Line, Character) is a big help to the recovery.

Inch'Allah Dimanche (2001) *** 1/2
Algerian wife struggles to assimilate in her new home in France. Forget the problems with the French; it's her hubby and his mom who give her the most trouble in this unlikely but compelling feminist film. Look for the wonderful Jalil Lespert (Human Resources, Sade) as a local bus driver.

Let the Church Say Amen! (1973): Not yet seen.

Light of My Eyes (2001) ****
How the social contract works (sort of) in present-day Italy, this ethereal movie from Giuseppe Piccioni (the great Not of This World) features Luigi Lo Cascio (The Best of Youth), Sandra Ceccarelli, and perhaps the dreamiest gangster scene (with Silvio Orlando) you may ever encounter.

Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity (2002) ** 1/2
Chinese-Canadians, led by Sandra Oh, engage in family dysfunction, love, destiny, magic and gobs of coincidence. This film isn't as well-realized as Mina Shum's earlier Double Happiness but it's passably entertaining.

The Man of the Year (2003) ***
Do blondes really have more fun? Find out in this Brazilian boomerang that comes back to haunt its characters (and you) in odd ways. Violent and crazy, but, of its type, well made.

Manito (2002) **½
Franky G. is so mesmerizing, sexy and full of life (as is the rest of the cast) that Eric Eason's take on Dominican life in Washington Heights, NY, almost works--until silly plot contrivances sink it.

Marion Bridge (2003) *** 1/2
Canadian family drama of three sisters that is exceedingly well written, directed and acted by Molly Parker, Ellen Page (before Hard Candy) and others. Old-fashioned perhaps, but convincing and appealing.

Middle of the World (2003): Not seen yet.

Monster Thursday (2004): Not seen yet.

Morlang (2001) ****
The artist as egotist, womanizer, talent, and perhaps something more. Under-seen, underrated actor Paul Freeman is stellar in the lead, and the look of the film is as artistic and beautifully composed as befits the subject at hand.

OT: Our Town (2002) ****
This compelling documentary about producing the famous Thornton Wilder play in an inner city school in Los Angeles manages to honor the kids, the teachers and theatre--all at once. Wonderful.

The Party's Over (2001): Not seen yet.

The Rage in Placid Lake (2003) ****
A very funny, twisty social comedy about the need to be normal when your family is not. Ben Lee leads a fine, mostly Australian, cast in this quirky little "find."

Raja (2003) ****
Colonialism comes home to roost in all sorts of ways in this French film starring one of the world's most interesting actors, Pascal Greggory (Those Who Love Me Will Take the Train).

The Republic of Love (2003) ****
The smart 'n' sexy Bruce Greenwood finds the role of his life in this romantic comedy by Deepa Mehta from the Carol Shields novel. The ace cast includes Emilia Fox, Claire Bloom and Edward Fox. This is so much better than Mehta's overrated, ham-handed Water.

Roads To Koktebel (2005) *** 1/2
While this father and son road movie from Russia features the expected gloom and frustration, it also offers a rare strength of vision in its tone, situation and characters.

Spare Parts (2005): Not yet seen.

Viva Laldjerie (2004) ****
One of my favorites from FM, this eye-opening movie offers a look at--among other things--the place of women, artists and gays in modern-day Algeria. Though it's not pretty, it is enormously compelling and offers at least a shred of hope.

Who's Camus Anyway? (2005) *** 1/2
So unusual is this look at a Japanese university and the film students and professor who are making a movie about a young murderer. While many things are delightfully understandable, so many more are culturally strange that the experience becomes utterly bracing.

Wilby Wonderful (2004) ****
From Canada, via the multi-talented Daniel McIvor (writer, director, actor), this ensemble dramedy about the island community of Wilby, the denizens of which must come to grips with their own little private demons, is--simply put--wonderful.

Witnesses (2003) ****
A dark (hello, it's from Croatia) fable about family vs. friends/townspeople in wartime is structured so interestingly that only slowly does it give up its secrets and allow us to, all too sadly, comprehend.

Wolves in the Snow (2002) ** 1/2
An attempt at noir (which is not, perhaps, innately built into the French-Canadian character) that is heavier on existential angst than on sense or logistics. It does manage to combine crime and a lousy marriage, while offering up an unusual romantic tip for the gals: for really meaningful sex, shoot him first.

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Posted by cphillips at February 2, 2007 1:11 PM