DVD Review – The Colors of the Mountain


(special thanks to Film Movement for providing me with a screener!)

Growing up anywhere isn’t really easy, especially once you hit the age of nine or so. At that age, you’re starting to understand that there’s a greater adult world that you don’t have access to, and that doesn’t intersect with your own, except for certain horrible times. Hard though being at that age is anywhere, I can only imagine how much worse it must be to be a child and grow up in a war zone. That’s the situation in which young Manuel finds himself in The Colors of the Mountain.

The story centers around a picturesque mountain village in Colombia. It’s a place where families scrape by, earning what they can by farming. You know, the standard salt-of-the-earth kind of people. They ask nothing from life and get even less.

Manuel lives there with his mother, farther and little baby brother. His biggest passion in life is soccer, though he also enjoys drawing and loves hanging out with his friends Julian and Poca Luz. He even loves going to school, though at least in part that seems to be due to him developing a crush on a girl there and on his teacher.

Not all is well in Manuel’s world, though he’s not really aware of that fact. His village is in an area where rebels are fighting the national military; each of whom seem to be worse than the other. Manuel’s father walks a narrow line of not supporting either, and, well, you know what happens with people like that in wars like this.

Manuel is vaguely aware of these things happening, but not really. The war is something that doesn’t matter to him. Or at least it doesn’t matter until his birthday rolls around and he gets a soccer ball which winds up in the middle of a minefield…

This really is a wonderful movie. It’s very touching and at times very funny. The performances all around are excellent, especially by Hernan Maurico Ocampo, who plays Manuel.

Also, the film is flat-out beautiful, showing the lush countryside of the Colombian mountains. Like most Americans, those mountains are something I’m really only accustomed to seeing in news reports about the ongoing drug war. It’s nice to see them in a somewhat more pleasant way.

And I must say, I found myself really caring about the characters. There’s at least a couple whose fate is left up in the air at the end of the movie, and I’d really like to learn what became of them (though I suspect the answer is “nothing good”).

This isn’t always an easy movie to watch, and it’s one that I’d have a tough time recommending for younger children. But it is a beautiful, well-acted and generally wonderful film and for any adult audience, I highly recommend it.

=== Short Film ===

This month’s short film is a Cuban film called “The Swimmers”. It’s about a determined swim coach who wants his young charges to be the best swimmers around. The fact that their pool is currently devoid of water is something he seems to view as merely a minor setback.

This was a good film, and quite funny in parts, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the main feature. It’s worth seeing, but it’s not worth picking up the disc just for this movie.

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DVD Review – Helena From the Wedding


(special thanks to Film Movement for providing me with a screener!)

According to many movies there’s nothing worse than being upper-middle class, white and trapped in a loving marriage.That very situation was explored recently in Hall Pass, a decent, if forgettable, movie. It’s also explored in an even more forgettable way in Helena From the Wedding, the latest offering from Film Movement.

The movie centers around one of those couples who live in that very special kind of hell where they’re happy with their lives. Oh, how my heart bleeds for them. We follow them through a weekend at a “cabin” in the mountains (one of those sorts of “cabins” bought by the very wealthy that you know is rustic cause it’s built from genuine Wood ™!). While there they have a few friends join them, including the titular Helena. Our main character has a crush on her, but doesn’t bother to make more than a token effort at following through on it.

During the course of this weekend we learn that, shockingly, not all is happiness and roses for their friends. One of them is getting divorced. One of the other couples fights constantly. Everyone smokes weed and snorts coke and winges on about how horrible their lives are until you want to reach through the screen and smack all of them. None of this is even remotely interesting.

I’m not sure what the point of this movie is. The characters are dull, the setup is boring and the dialogue is flat. These people are whinny and insufferable and I wouldn’t want to spend another minute, much less a whole weekend, with any of them. I have no idea what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish with this movie, but unless it was putting me into a sort of torpor, they failed.

This is the kind of film I would have expected to see back in the 1980’s. You know, one of those The Big Chill kind of films. It might have been daring and original then, but now it’s just boring and flat. This movie is really just not worth bothering with.

DVD Review – Jaffa


(special thanks to Film Movement for providing me with a screener!)

I can’t help but think that Israel must be a very unpleasant place to live. I wouldn’t mind visiting there sometime (I’m a sucker for history), but I certainly wouldn’t want to live there. This movie, a 2009 Israeli film, does nothing to change my mind about that.

Jaffa tells the story of a young Jewish woman who is in love with a Palestinian man who works in her father’s garage. She’s hiding her relationship with him from her parents and the two have plans to elope. She’s also not yet told her parents that she’s pregnant. Meantime her boyfriend has to put up with lots of crap from her brother, who seems to resent the fact that his sister’s boyfriend is much better at his job than he is. The day before the wedding, the two come to blows and the brother is accidentally killed. Things go downhill from there.

I never really connected with any of the characters in this movie. The Palestinian man seems like the only really good one in the bunch. The girl’s parents and brother all seem to dislike Palestinians in general to greater and lesser degrees. As for the girl herself, if she could bother to tell the truth at just about any point in the film, most of what happens wouldn’t have happened. Instead she’s constantly lying and creating more and more problems for herself and everyone around her.

On a technical level this is a decent enough film. It’s well shot and looks good, but the story is basically a retred of Romeo and Juliet without that play’s sense of fun and happiness. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in this movie, with these characters, it really does not work.

DVD Review – A Call Girl


(special thanks to Film Movement for providing me with a screener!)

Prostitution is often described as the world’s oldest profession. At various points in history its been banned, praised and made into a form of worship. These days it simply is what it is, and for at least some people, it’s a viable way to make money.

One of those people is featured in this latest release from Film Movement. The film is a drama about a young woman, Alexandra (Nina Ivanisin), who has escaped small town life and is now a student living in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. She wants to have a certain kind of lifestyle and that lifestyle requires more money than a student might normally have. So like many attractive people before her, she figures that she might as well start selling sex to get the life she wants.

At first things seem to be going quite well for her, and she’s soon raking in enough money to buy a small condo. But right at the beginning of the film things take a dark turn as a German member of the European Parliament, and would-be customer, dies of a heart attack. She’s got the presence of mind to call for medical help and then scoots out of the hotel. Soon the hunt is on for her, which doesn’t stop her from continuing to work, something which eventually captures the eyes of a couple local pimps. Things go downhill from there.

I liked this movie, but didn’t love it. It wasn’t anything terribly spectacular. The main character isn’t that sympathetic or as interesting as the story wants you to think she is, though her father, a former rock musician trying to get back into the game was quite interesting. I’d actually rather like to see a movie just about him, since I think that could be really fascinating.

I did get some vague feelings about the sense of quiet desperation with which she leads her life, but there were many times when I wanted to smack her upside the head and say, “Hey, wake up and join reality!” I was pleased at the outcome of the film, which seemed to me to be fairly realistic and well-suited to the story. I was also quite fascinated to see Slovenia, a country about which I know a little, but not much. Ljubljana itself looks like a very nice city and the small town she comes from seems quite lovely as well. I also really liked the fact that the film didn’t seem to take any position one way or the other about the morality of prostitution. It just presents it as a fact of life and then deals with it. That was nice to see.

Ultimately I can’t really give a recommendation on this one. It was interesting enough, and not bad, but it’s not one that I’m likely to watch again.

== Short Subject ==

This month’s short subject is called Honor, and it centers around a woman (Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss), who recently lost her husband in Iraq. A former friend of his comes to visit her one day with a stack of letters and as the two people talk a dark secret is soon revealed.

Again as with the main feature, I liked this short, but I didn’t love it. Neither of the two characters really got or held my attention, and the central story didn’t really interest me. The secret that’s revealed and some of the emotional toll it’s clearly taken on Moss’ character was fairly interesting, but in a movie this brief there’s not that much that could be done with it. It’s not a bad short, but not anything worth taking a lot of effort to see.

DVD Review – Troubled Water


Troubled indeed.

(special thanks to Film Movement for providing me a screener!)

Troubled Water is a masterpiece of sad, vaguely depressing, film making where in the end there’s no real uplifting message and not a lot of resolution and very few answers. Will it surprise you if I tell you it’s a Scandinavian movie?

The movie tells the tale of Jan Thomas Hansen, recently released from prison after being convicted of the murder of a young boy. He’s always maintained his innocence and blamed a cohort, of whom we see basically nothing.

Out of prison he gets a job working as an organist at a church. He’s quite good and starts a shy, tentative relationship with Anna, the church priest. He also becomes quite fond of her young son, Jens and starts spending time around him…

Meanwhile, Agnes, the mother of the murdered boy, has a parallel story where we see her and her husband and two adopted daughters getting ready to move to Denmark. She’s on what appears to be a school field trip to a church and while there notices a suspiciously familiar organist.

Soon all her memories of the events surrounding the death of her child come up to the front of her mind (“I can’t drink hot chocolate anymore,” she confesses at one point, remembering that she’d been buying hot chocolate for her son when the boy was taken). Initially she just notices the man, makes some vague platitudes about him and wants to move on, but quickly becomes obsessed, especially once she seems him hanging around a young boy…

The movie is about several things. It’s about crime and punishment. It’s about guilt and how it can consume you from within. It’s about a lonely woman and a shy man finding each other. It’s about shattered parents trying to move on.

It’s also about forgiveness, and how you should forgive people who have wronged you not for their sake, but for your own, so that you can move on with your life.

It’s also a movie that is, at times, quite literally soaked in symbolism. Baptism, rivers, swimming pools and all things wet play a huge role in the film (ironically as I type that, I’m being spattered with water from a leak in the roof).

Certain plot elements of the movie were predictable, but the events that followed after took some directions I didn’t expect, and at no point did the film feel forced or unreal. It pulls at the heartstrings, true, but it earns those pulls and does not get them through cheap manipulation, and that’s a mark of a good film.

== SHORT SUBJECT ==

This month’s short subject is The Kolaborator, a jolly romp through recent Serbian/Bosnian history. It centers around Goran, a soccer player who winds up being on a Serbian death squad, traveling the countryside, helping to murder innocent civilians, including children. As he goes about his missions he eventually runs into the soccer coach and things get a little tense.

The movie is nicely filmed, though the washed out colors in the murder scenes are a bit schmaltzy. Also, there doesn’t seem to be much the movie is saying other than, “Genocide! Boy, that sucks, eh?” Still, it was interesting and worth seeing.

DVD Review – Somers Town


(special thanks to Film Movement for providing me with an advance copy of this movie!)

Tomo (Thomas Turgoose) is a boy from Notingham, running away from unspecified problems at home. Marek (Piotr Jagiello) is a Polish boy, now living in London. The two boys meet and become friends, bonding together through their infautation with a beautiful French woman.

That’s the basic synopsis of the movie Somers Town. Pretty simple, nothing special. Ah, but then you see the movie!

I found a lot of pleasant surprises in the film. Marek’s father, for example, is a hard-working immigrant man and, almost astonishingly for modern fiction, it NOT abusive towards his son! In fact the two seem to have a fairly healthy relationship, and, while it’s not a perfect one, it is one of the more realistic father/son relationships I’ve seen on film.

Also, there’s Tomo, a rather unlikable boy at first, who everytime someone gives him something out of the goodness of their hearts, has the attitude of, “What, is that all?” He puts me in mind of a young David Brent. Making him rather an unpleasant little oik, and one of the two main characters, took guts, and it pays off. Perhaps this is due to the balance provided by Marek, an all-around charming, friendly boy.

The movie is a little shorter than some might like, but it packs a lot of story into 70 minutes. There’s great performances and nice, if subtle, cinematography. It’s the first one I’ve seen from Film Movement, and it encourages me to get more!

Also included on the disc is the 10 minute short, Odd Shoe, about a very strange looking boy, his infatuation for a girl, and a pair of shoes. It’s a surprisingly effective little movie and well-worth watching.