A Good Yarn

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

So Many Movies, so little time

OK, I've been overdosing on the M-SPIFF so I have a ton of movies to review. I know most of these are obscure and while I've gotten some great comments and I appreciate it, I know not everyone cares about a documentary about David Lynch, so I'm going to break this up into several posts and try to make them short reviews. If movies aren't your thing, check back next week and maybe I'll have some pretty knitting pictures!

I guess I'll start with some foreign films. I mentioned last time I saw one of the films nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. I saw three more of them. The last Talk Cinema for this season was:

This is a bio-pic of Ghengis Khan. It's the first in what is intended to be a trilogy, so it covers the period of when he was 9 years old until he united all of the parts of Mongolia and became "Ghengis Khan". (Khan means leader) This is one of those big, sprawling movies that you need to see on the big screen. There's gorgeous scenery of Mongolia and huge armies fighting each other. I really think it would lose some of its power on television, so if you have a chance to see it on the big screen, take it. I think it may get a more wide release in the art houses later. I really enjoyed the film. I didn't know much about Ghengis Khan and I was just fascinated with his early life. It's very bloody, with those big battle scenes with swords and blood flying everywhere. But it's also a love story about the man and his wife. I was somewhat skeptical about the authenticity of the story because he seemed like such a modern guy, but it appears that a lot of it is probably based on historical facts. Since it was so long ago, some of the details are hard to verify, but the speculation does suggest this story is close to what really happened. Ghengis Khan was a pretty remarkable man and this is a flattering portrait. If you like big, historical epics, this is a film you'd enjoy.

Katyn is another historical film, this one about the massacre of thousands of Polish Army officers in the Katyn forest during World War II. Poland was being invaded by Germany on one side and Russia on the other. Russia was looking down the road to after the war and wanted to neutralize any dissent from Poland (most of the intellectuals in the country were army officers during the war), so they secretly massacred the entire group and blamed it on Germany. Of course Germany claimed innocense and blamed it on Russia, but since Poland became part of the U.S.S.R., the truth of what happened didn't really come out until Gorbachev came into power. It's another part of the war that I didn't know anything about until I saw this film and it was really interesting. There were some parts of the film that I thought were a little disjointed and I had trouble following. Sometimes I had trouble keeping track of who different characters were and sometimes characters seemed to just appear out of nowhere. But the end of the movie is so strong and so powerful that I forgave any of the weaknesses.

This last film is also based on a true story. This time it's about an Israeli military post in Lebanon on the Beaufort Mountain. The Israeli army captured the mountain during the Lebanon War in 1982 and maintained its presence there until 2000, when it decided to withdraw. The film is about the Army troops stationed at the post in the last days before the withdrawal. Hezbollah constantly attacked Beaufort and right before the withdrawal, they stepped up their attacks to try to make it look like the Israelis were retreating due to weakness rather than voluntarily withdrawing. If I had a vote for the Oscars, this would be my choice as best Foreign Language film (although I didn't see the last nominee, 12). It was a really powerful film about war and the futility of some military action and the way the soldiers get caught up in the middle of decisions made far, far away. If I had one criticism, it would be that a lot of war movie cliches are used in this film. When a guy starts waxing poetically about his girl back home and how he's going to ship back home in a couple of days, you kind of know what is coming next. Other than that, though the acting was excellent and the pacing was excellent. I felt like I was right there in that outpost with them, under attack. I just really found this one so moving and would highly recommend it.

More foreign films and lots more documentaries next time. The documentary I posted about before, "At the Death House Door" is playing again at Oak Street Cinema (as is Katyn) as part of the Best of Fest series.