Saturday, January 24, 2009

Munich

This film really had the potential to make Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan) being branded by Israelis and Sionists as a traitor. Without sparing too much viewers, Munich tells the story of the relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians at the time when the terrorist organization Black September killed eleven Israeli athletes in 1972 at the Olympic Games of Munich. Just like a film like L'ennemi intime, Munich is in its own rights an effective account of the loss of innocence and the unconscious rooting of violence into one's mind.

Based on the book Vengeance, written by Canadian journalist George Jonas, the story takes place in Munich (Germany) in 1972. When the Olympic Games are taking place, eleven Palestinian terrorists from the organization Black September take eleven Israeli athletes as hostages. Afterwards, these Israeli athletes get savagely murdered. A few days later, Golda Meir, the Prime Minister of Israel, gives her authorization to the Mossad, Israel's secret services, to hunt down and kill the eleven Palestinian terrorists of Black September.

With a movie length nearly reaching three hours, Spielberg probably had so many things to say in this touching story about humanity and insanity. The main flaw of Munich is certainly its length. In fact, the movie often suffers from a slow pace at certain moments, because some scenes are just so useless since they don’t help us to understand Munich’s very simple story. Add to that the slow moments in his movie in which the characters are just doing nothing important or saying nothing. All in all, it’s possible, in my opinion, to get through the movie even though its appreciation is a little bit marred by annoying long periods.

As the film progresses, it proposes an understanding of the loss of innocence and humanity in the characters, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians. For instance, Avner Kaufman, the Israeli secret agent and head of the assassination team sent by the Mossad, is apparently going down into his inner hell as time goes by during his mission. In fact, all the five members of the assassination team that we follow loses their humanity by feeling animated by the vengeance that they want to strike the eleven Palestinian terrorists of Black September with. However, the movie goes even deeper by trying to explore what really is the point of the violence made on both sides. Moreover, does violence leave anybody cold or psychologically scarred?

Obviously, the movie’s depth lies in Spielberg’s ability to explain how the Israeli government, since the end of the Second World War, have gradually transformed some Palestinian nationalists into bloodthirsty killers. As opposed to what we might believe, Munich doesn’t try to say who’s right or who’s wrong. Behind some Palestinians’ resentment for Israelis, there's also sadness and a visceral fury caused by the loss of their country, in a land where’s there’s no future for them. Despite being graphically hard to watch, Munich is a movie that shows empathy for both Israelis and Palestinians by showing them as what they truly are: human beings animated by feelings and desires, depending of the sides that they belong to without glorifying their respective endeavours, naturally.

It's also hard not to talk about the performance that illustrates the appearance of inner demons at the contact of violence and anger. The characters’ psychological nuances don’t necessarily lie in what the characters explicitly show on the screen, but rather in their subtle feelings. Some will have the feelings that the leading characters are clearly one-dimensional, but that concealment of psychological multiplicity probably reveals the questions that are being raised in their mind and it also shows how each character is psychologically torn (to kill for Israel or not to kill for Israel). Without revealing too much of the movie, you will certainly appreciate the performance of Eric Bana (Black Hawk Down), as Avner Kaufman, and Daniel Craig (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), as Steve, in their respective role of Israeli secret agents.

Finally, even though Munich is, at the first look, full of riveting action sequences, it is nonetheless a movie that obliges us to think about human condition and personal fate depending of the sides that we belong to. No heroism, no glorification, no minimization. These are great assets that makes Munich a movie that you must see in order to understand impartially the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Rating: 4.5/5


Munich
USA (2005)
Length: 164 minutes
Genre: Espionage
Screenplay: Tony Kushner and Eric Roth
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciarán Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Ayelet Zurer, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Lonsdale and Mathieu Amalric

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Partition

This film has potential, but it fails either as a historical film and a romantic one. Of course, Partition looks full of promises at the beginning, but as the story unfolds before your eyes, you may think with reason that Partition is over-rated. Although the love story is quite well played by Kristin Kreuk and Jimi Mistry, the film, as a whole, is an ineffective drama because the premise of religious intolerance is too thinly exploited.

In 1947, India gains independence from British colonial rule and a partition is imposed. From this partition, two countries will be created, which are India and Pakistan. Because of this, many people, depending of their religion, migrated either to what is now Pakistan or the area of Punjab. Unfortunately, on the road of the migration, many Sikhs or Muslims are killed. Hence the intolerance. After she escaped a massacre committed by Gian's (Jimi Mistry) fellow villagers, Naseem (Kristin Kreuk) is taken to Gian's home. Moreover, even though most villagers don't approve Gian's union with Naseem (same thing about her family), they end up falling in love for each other despite their religion.

First of all, the film enters very quickly into its topic, that is inter-faith tension between Sikhs and Muslims. Nevertheless, as the film advances, there are a few problems that we see. Partition relies more on its imageries rather than the dialogues. Speaking about the intolerance of some Sikhs toward Muslims (or the other way around), we don't need to have it spelled out to us to understand the supporting characters who live in the same village with Gian. After all, this is where the historical context comes to develop - albeit in a slightly caricatured and simplistic way - their perception of Muslims (the same thing can be said about Naseem's family). Honestly, the real problem comes when it comes to canvassing the relation between Gian and Naseem. In fact, the script does look like a corny and predictable love story in which you know that sooner or later, the two leading characters will fall in love in spite of the atrocious dialogues that don't tell you that much why Naseem and Gian are willing to forget the religious barriers between them.

Although the script is not that great and overrated, the movie has a few good things. The first thing is obviously the relatively nice cinematography. The second one is the enthusiasm that the cast (especially Kreuk and Mistry) puts at work despite the film's flaws. In fact, even though the dialogues are not inspiring, what makes this film still watchable for a certain category of people is that the chemistry between the two leading actors can really be felt.

All in all, if we look on a bright side, Partition can be taken as a film about the tender side of human nature when it comes to breaking racial/religious/ethnic barriers. However, the script needed to be re-worked and the part about the Second World War could have been taken out. Indeed, it wouldn't affect our comprehension if we were only told that Gian used to be in the British colonial army.

Rating: 2/5


Partition
Canada/UK (2007)
Length: 116 minutes
Genre: Drama
Screenplay: Patricia Finn and Vic Sarin
Director: Vic Sarin
Starring: Jimi Mistry, Kristin Kreuk, Neve Campbell, John Light and Irrfan Khan

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Life Without Me

The story of this independent film might sound cheesy, but this film one of the most beautiful films ever made. In fact, just like a good TV series, My Life Without Me is a character-driven film. As a result of that, the movie's effectiveness mostly comes from the well-chosen cast's performance. Nonetheless, while this film about the very signification of life is appreciable, it has some irksome flaws in the storyline.

Based on Nanci Kincaid's short story Pretending the Bed Is a Raft, the story follows Ann (Sarah Polley), a young mother in her twenties who has two daughters. Ann also lives in a trailer (located behind her mother's house) with her unemployed husband (Scott Speedman) and has no aspirations. On one day, Ann is diagnosed with endometrial cancer and told that she's only got two months left to live. Deciding not to tell anyone about her condition and under the cover of anaemia, Ann strives to live her life with a passion she never had before based on what she wrote down on a to-do list.

Although My Life Without Me is a must-see film, it's biggest flaw is its slow pace in the middle of the story. After we learn about Ann's diagnosis, the film often explores insignificant aspects of her life. Moreover, director/scriptwriter Isabel Coixet gives attention to some characters who are not useful for the exploration of the film's premise in the likes of a waitress who wants to have a plastic surgery. Had this character not been given a line to say, the film could have been trimmed for the audience's sake.

Hopefully, as the film advances, Coixet's script proposes a rather interesting character study through Ann. We're left with a character (Ann) who ultimately discovers how insignificant her life has been up until she learns that she's left with a short time to live. As the movie unfolds not only does Coixet's script manages to show how Ann injects passion in the last moments of her life, but also how she wants her relatives to live happily. Hence, the reasons why she never mentions to her relatives that she's going to die and also why she still want her relatives to feel her presence after she passes away.

Such nuances make the characters so interesting and the cast credible. However, of all the members of the cast, Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter) dominates. Besides, not only she proves that she's not just one of the best Canadian actresses (both official languages put together), but also one of the best actresses in the world. Without being too explicit in her display of emotions at times, Polley is skillful in showing subtlety.

Rating: 4/5


My Life Without me
Canada/Spain (2003)
Length: 106 minutes
Genre: Drama
Screenplay: Isabel Coixet
Director: Isabel Coixet
Starring: Sarah Polley, Scott Speedman, Mark Ruffalo and Deborah Harry

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Proudly Canadian: IIHF World Under-20

To all the players of the junior team, I, as a fellow Canadian, am proud of what you guys did to get the gold for a fifth consecutive time! We're proud, from coast to coast, that you showed to the world that hockey is our game.

Highlights

Singing the national anthem

Thank you, Tracy, for the two videos from YouTube.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

This is the best martial arts film and also the first film of that genre that could be taken seriously. By the way, who cares if the fight scenes were so unrealistic; the only things that matter is that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has a well-written script. Also, add to that the hidden depth that can be interpreted in many ways. This film is a feminist - in its own rights - film pitting female protagonists against old Chinese values (each one of them deal with it with their way).

Li Mu-Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) decides to give away his Green Destiny sword in order to live a peaceful life. However, when the sword is stolen and that Jade Fox, the woman who killed Mu-Bai's master, is alive, he decides to recover it for a last mission. To that matter, he calls for the help of Shu-Lien, his "sister in arms".

Adapted from a novel by Wang Du-Lu, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's script would have been fit to be a TV series. Nevertheless, it's surprising how the trio of scriptwriters manage to condense the three stories (Li Mu-Bai's search for a disciple, his relation with Shu-Lien, the desire of Tia-Long to become a warrior, etc.) into one beautiful story about heroes all in research of something.

However, while the story combines some sub-plots that may not be original (hypocrisy, avenging a dead master, etc.) it's the themes that give to this film its hidden depth. In fact, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of the few martial arts films that avoids clichés as much as possible. For instance, Li's search for vengeance by killing Jade Fox is not used as a pretext to mindlessly pile up fight scenes, but rather as a study of Li's second way to find inner peace. Needless to remind you that this desire to avenge his master's death arrives as Tia-Long's arrival shatters, so to speak, Mu-Bai's and Shu-Lien's world.

Secondly, although Chow Yun-Fat (The Killer) is far to be the best choice to play in a martial arts film, he sure can make his presence being felt. In other words, his ability to play a character with a hidden depth makes up for his passable skills in martial arts. While this movie made me discover Michelle Yeoh's (Tomorrow Never Dies) thespian talent, it also brought to my attention, back in 2000, such a talented actress in the likes of Zhang Ziyi (The Road Home).

Finally, if you only watch martial arts movies for the fights (with your brain turned off), you better skip this one. This is rather the sort of film that suits people who, back in 2000, were waiting for a film that shows to people that martial arts films can be taken seriously. Obviously, there's so much things to say about this film, but I'll limit myself to what I wrote.

Rating: 4.5/5


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Taiwan/Hong Kong/USA/China (2000)
Length: 120 minutes
Genre: Drama
Screenplay: James Schamus, Wang Hui-Ling and Tsai Kuo-Jung
Directed by: Ang Lee
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Pei-Pei and Chang Chen

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