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Entries in Yossi (3)

Monday
Mar112013

Capsules: 28 Hotel Rooms, Yossi, Caesar Must Die

In an effort to review every new film I see this year --  a task I have never accomplished but there's a first time for everything -- I will resort to capsules like these when I haven't reviewed properly. (I realize that my "Oscar" section of reviews implies that all films should be seen through this prism. This implication is not literal or an endorsement -- it's just something that's fun for me and some of you to think about.)

YOSSI
We're ten years on from Yossi & Jagger and Yossi is now a doctor, who buries himself in work to avoid living life or moving beyond that love cut short. When a chance encounter with Jagger's mother shakes him from his stupor, he ends up on holiday. Some of the notes are beautifully played -- the early tearful scene with Jagger's mother is super -- but Yossi is a maddeningly passive protagonist. The film happens to him rather than with hi, or even with his permission. He stubbornly refuses to participate in his own story which makes the redemptive new romance a really tough pill to swallow. Why would this vivacious younger man be interested in Yossi when Yossi himself isn't interested... in anything!? 

Yossi & Jagger & Tom

Grade(I would have loved to heartily endorse this movie because Yossi & Jagger was such a perfectly pitched mini-gem but it frustrated me despite a few really strong moments. So if you haven't seen Yossi & Jagger, please do rent it.)
Best in Show: Oz Zehavi almost sells you on the unfortunately lopsided romance as the young soldier Tom but I have to hand this one (emphatically) to Orly Silbersatz Banai as Varda, Jagger's mother who packs a surprising amount of drama into her two scenes. The rug is pulled out from under her but since she kept pretending the rug didn't even exist for ten-plus years...
Oscar Chances: Writer/director Eytan Fox has made 4 feature-length films prior to this one, and most of them have received international release, but he has yet to be selected for submission to represent Israel at the Oscars.

28 HOTEL ROOMS
A novelist (Chris Messina) and an accountant (Marin Ireland) have a fling in a hotel room on a business trip. She tells him it's one and done but they keep meeting on subsequent trips and a confusing, passionate relationship develops. It lasts for years. This is undoubtedly a 'one for the reel' project for both actors and sometimes plays like an acting exercize albeit a good one. Though it never quite transcends its gimmick (the title is the structure), it's affecting despite or maybe even because of the limitations of scope; their lives outside of these rooms begin to feel like fantasy or, in the inverse, like intrusions of reality on fantasy. (But honestly, for a drama that hinges on sexual compatability, it could've used a couple more sex scenes, or longer ones that developed the relationship. This is possible to do in sex scenes. See the great Israeli drama Late Marriage (2001) which is the film I always think of when I think of sex scenes that function as integral narrative and character development, like a great song in a musical or a perfect setpiece in an action film.

GradeB
Best in Show: It's a complete duet so it'd be rude to pick one!
Oscar Chances?: This was from 2012 and got a teensy-teensy release. Now available on DVD.

CAESAR MUST DIE
This Berlinale winner from the Taviani brothers recreate an art therapy program of sorts in which inmates perform plays. By filming at a prison where they saw a play performed by inmates (a different play) with some real inmates and some actors, some play scenes and some scripted discussion of play scenes the movie effectively walks a line between documentary and drama. The line is no highwire though. The reality and fiction of the program and this particular production is blurred enough that the film never has the knife's edge of real danger that you'd think you'd feel watching real prisoners acting out murder plots, politics and betrayals. As we crosscut between auditions, production, and both formal and informal rehearsals we see the art begin to bleed into life for the inmates. The end result is intermittently moving as most productions of great work tend to be but it feels strangely abitrary; why wasn't it just a documentary?
Grade: B
Best in Show: Salvatore Striano as Brutus. There's a reason he became a professional actor after prison.
Oscar Chances?: Italy submitted this Cannes winner for Oscar consideration last season. It was one of the highest profile titles to not make the 9-wide finalist list.

Sunday
Feb102013

Melissa McCarthy Robs the Box Office Blind

It was a big big weekend for Melissa McCarthy, who capitalized on that big Bridesmaids breakthrough with her first huge headliner opening of the year in Identity Thief. I use the word "first" because clearly there'll be a second. Her buddy comedy with Sandra Bullock The Heat opens in just two months time. Here's why I knew Identity Thief would be big: three of my friends -- two of whom are rarely seen inside movie theaters (the last thing they saw was Skyfall) -- both told me they wanted to see it. 

box office chart repurposed and photoshopped from boxoffice.com

Critics were not kind to the comedy. And that's before we even get to the subject of Rex Reed who notoriously called McCarthy a "female hippo" in his review prompting outrage 'round the web (i.e. more name-calling only this time directed at Reed and his age instead of McCarthy and her weight). But I liked Gawker's take. If the movie is seriously as bad as people are saying, shouldn't McCarthy who is obviously talented and truly funny, bare some responsibility? Why do reliably funny actors so rarely star in actually hilarious movies? (I remember being shocked while watching Date Night and Baby Mama that the movies were not half as funny as Tina Fey is as Tina Fey.) Is the problem that funny people are asked to be the entire joke?

Other Box Office Stories...

  • Side Effects opened to a non-stellar non-embarrassing $10 million
  • Argo went wide again to capitalize on Oscar buzz and rejoined the top ten
  • Top Gun got a 3D conversion earning just under $2 million (and a new limited edition 3D Blu-Ray)
  • Silver Linings Playbook continues to inch toward the $100 million Best Picture Nominee club which is very crowded this year.

What did you see this weekend? I finally watched Yossi but otherwise it wasn't a movie weekend for me.

Tuesday
Feb052013

Burning Questions: What Kind of Sequels Should Be Made?

I've hijacked Michael C's column this week because I have a burning question of my own to ask. 

With that hot buzz for Before Midnight from Sundance warming the expectant hearts of even the coldest cinephiles this winter (it'll win more fans in warmer temperatures next month at SXSW), I've been thinking about movie sequels. Why do we get them, how we receive them, and whether or not we need them.

The first and usually sole reason of "why" is money. Humans are creatures of habit so it's an organic reality that nearly every artform indulges in sequels (whether they're named as such or not) and has since long before "branding" was a term people without business acumen understood. Branding is so common and catch-phrasey now that even non-sequels feel like sequels. What is, for instance, each new Johnny Depp and Tim Burton collaboration but an endless series of sequels Johnny & Tim: Now...Vampiric. Johnny & Tim: Now... Caloric... Now... Johnny & Tim: in Garish 3D. Usually sequels make enough money to suggest that Hollywood should make them forever and preferrably split each sequel up into two parts to double investment. And, if they can control costs, make them for everything that was successful. 

But what kind of sequels should be made?

Maybe it's the edge-of-my-seat expectant bliss/wracked nerves regarding Before Midnight (dare I trust the critics who've already seen it? Critics are least trustworthy, I find, during the heat of festival mania and during the heat of awards season when constant conversation/groupthink and jetlag/movie-binging are most likely to affect them.) Maybe it's my now comical tries at seeing Yossi (things keep going wrong and I still haven't seen it!) which is the ten-years later sequel to the charming Israeli gay drama Yossi & Jagger (2003). The point being that I've decided that my absolute favorite kind of sequel is the "let's drop in on these characters again for no particular reason" When these films are done right it feels like they're done for the art of it, to illustrate what changes and insights the passage of time brings. And because we love spending the time with the characters. Now of course this doesn't always work out. The Evening Star was a big letdown for anyone expecting Terms of Endearment 2. But in concept, why not revisit one of the most indelible characters of 1980s cinema?

Terminator 2: The Return of Sarah Connor

Come to think of it this stance also helps explains my super-intense abiding love for Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) which is a sequel of the traditional kind (i.e. this will make TONS of money!) but which I would rank -- easily -- near the tippity top of a list of the greatest sequels ever made. And that's largely because of the authentically shocking evolution of character. The Sarah Connor therein is nothing like the one we met in 1984 but once you're past the 'what the hell!?'reveal the new one feels like a natural progression nonetheless to traumatic events from the first film. And it immediately shows how lazily written most characters are in sequels where nothing between films has ever affected them. Big blockbusters so rarely feel that deeply rooted in actual human drama. 

What kind of sequels do you long for?
Which film characters would you love to drop in on again?