Sunday, February 23, 2014


     This is the new foreign thriller from director Hany Abu-Assad ( Paradise Now ). Omar is a  Palestinian baker who becomes an informant for the Israeli military, jeopardizing his relationships with his two oldest friends, and his romance with the woman he plans to marry.  

      The story is more complicated than it sounds as the film balances a delicate love story with a political thriller taking place in contemporary Palestine.

      Adam Bakri  plays Omar and he is full of screen magnetism. He is an exciting actor to watch whether it's his tender scenes with his love, Nadia or scaling walls and jumping across rooftops being chased by the police. There are twists and red herrings and plenty of harrowing moments. The entire cast is very good in a topical inflammatory situation that has no easy answers. 

       Be warned there are a few violent sequences including a torture scene but they reflect the everyday potential for violence living in the West Bank. Despite the violent moments, the film is smart and exciting and worth your time. 
      "Omar" is nominated for Best Foreign Language film at this year's Oscars. It's a well deserved nomination.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Monuments Men

   Co-written for the screen, directed by and starring George Clooney, this is a really interesting true story of World War II unfortunately made into a bland, boring movie. Mr. Clooney's script is episodic at best and lackluster throughout. As for his acting, he basically plays himself narrating a History Channel special.

     To his credit, he assembles a first rate cast including Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and Jean Dujardin. The actors all play art specialists of one sort or another assembled to help retrieve stolen art by the Nazi's towards the end of the war. Cate Blanchett plays a French patriot who has the key to finding much of the lost art. Mr. Clooney's direction of this terrific cast, however is the real crime here. I can't remember such top rate talent boring me beyond words. 

      The war torn European scenery looks authentic, the story is really fascinating but the cast plod through a poorly edited patchwork of a film. It does an injustice to all the real men and women who risked their lives saving thousands of works of art. I'm sure Mr. Clooney had the best intentions for telling the story but he got lost in the material and the film probably would have been better served with a different director.

      The only suspense comes very late in the film when the Americans race to get to some of the lost works before the Russian army does. For real suspense rent the 1964 film, "The Train" starring Burt Lancaster. It narrows the same story down to a single Nazi train of stolen art leaving Paris, headed to Germany that must be stopped without damaging it's precious cargo. A terrific film and one of Mr. Lancaster's best.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Big Bad Wolves

          An Israeli crime thriller that is equal parts Hitchcock and Tarantino, suspenseful and definitely not for the squeamish. 

           A missing girl sets in motion the story of three men who's lives become forever changed by the crime. A grieving father, a relentless cop and a suspected pedophile end up in a situation that pushes a thriller to the edge of horror. Despite flashes of graphic violence, the film is filled with really dark humor relieving the tension at just the right moment and fascinating twists you just don't see coming.

           The claustrophobic second half of the film heightens the suspense as does the terrific score which brings to mind the work of Bernard Herrmann. Be prepared for an ending that will haunt you for some time.

            To say anymore would ruin the fun.


        Inspired by true events, this Oscar nominated drama is at times quite charming, humorous, quirky and yet filled with moments of sadness. It's a fascinating story but some of it's sharp turns seem to come at the wrong time. Stephen Frears's direction embraces the story and gives his stars plenty of freedom to play off each other but somehow the emotional impact of the story is diminished, due in part to these characters themselves. 

        Judi Dench plays Philomena Lee, a woman who is forced by the nuns where she lives to give up her young son born out of wedlock. Some 50 years later she decides to try to locate him with the help of a British journalist played by Steve Coogan. Ms. Dench is wonderful as always, here playing a woman with a difficult personality. And in that lies the conundrum, she's just too warm and intelligent an actress to play a woman like Philomena. Mr. Coogan, who co-wrote the screenplay gives a low key but strong performance and saves some of the film's best lines for himself. 

        If you are unfamiliar with the story, the film will take you on an unexpected journey that will amuse you, anger you and may ultimately warm your heart but a Best Picture nomination seems forced by the subject matter rather than the merit of the film itself.

        Seek out a 2002 Irish film called "The Magdalene Sisters" for a honest and compelling look at the origins of Philomena's story.