You are here:  Ronen Recommends

Ronen's Rating System:

***** A must watch
**** Worth seeing
*** If you must watch a movie and there is nothing else out there
** Don’t bother
* It’s so bad its almost good... not... These are films I walked out on, or just fell asleep
(K: stars) Rating by my children. As they are easy to please, would typically be higher than mine...


Movie Review: Taking Woodstock (2009) ****

Interestingly enough, when I finished watching this film I was thinking of dropping it from 4 stars, which is what I felt would be its rating almost till the end, to 3 stars, given the diluted ending. But by the time I sat down to write this review, the ending grew on me and felt appropriate, even if initially somewhat disappointing. So 4 stars it is.
I feel many of those who critiqued this film badly, had unanswered expectations – that this film will revive the Woodstock experience for them (even if they’ve never been there). But it seems to me that this film, directed by the capable Ang Lee, very consciously chosen to focus on anything but the center stage. And even when the center stage is shown from afar, it is through the mist of a drug illusion, a choice I believe Lee made consciously.
Woodstock, the swan song of a generation that would shortly after turn into anything but hippies, will remain a symbol. And the film, much like the real event, has no fireworks at the end, just a fading away. Yet the film is about transformation. And once it happens, Lee underplays it which gives it a somewhat dissatisfaction ending, appropriate in retrospective.
The casting is terrific. The plot mostly works until 2/3 into the movie, when it loses steam. One sore point is the mother’s character, a holocaust survivor whose acts are somewhat overplayed. This can be wrongly read by many of the viewers, a generation who doesn’t know that such people did really exist and therefore will either take it as a joke or as Jewish stereotype, a message I do not think was the filmmakers intention. Yet the film does capture the era by using colorful characters, music, atmosphere and even timely TV news reports, and so long as you know what you are stepping into, is a worthy journey in time which may also reflect on current events (“$1 for a bottle of water?!”).

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Movie Review: (500) Days of Summer (2009) ***

I can credit this film for being honest about love and relationships, that its sort of a mystery and that ‘boy loves girl’ for being the “one” does not mean girl will love boy back, even not at the film’s end. But that’s about it. Decent acting and directing do not save this film from becoming tiresome after a while. There are funny moments and there are some interesting moments. But neither the going back and forth in time nor the out of context jump to documentary-like black and white footage late in the film, save it from having nothing left to say that was not already said in the first 20 minutes or so of the movie. And for heaven’s sake, adding God voice (the narrator, that is) to a movie is a big no-no and needs a real good justification. If you need someone to read to you what the character is thinking then it means something is wrong with the movie or that the filmmaker is not trusting your intelligence to get it yourself...

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Movie Review: Ikiru (1952) *****

I am tempted to be corny and state that they don’t make films like this anymore… and that would probably be true. Gone are Akira Kurosawa, Bergman and Hitchcock; and mostly gone are subtleties in filmmaking, where every sound was used scarcely and only when needed, when silence had a meaning, when the camera moved to reveal and hide, and not just to satisfy some whims of a freshman filmmaker with a shot-them-all budget.
Kurosawa takes his time to build the story and tell it to its finest detail. Yes, it would seem to lengthy today. But like good wine, (or so I am told as I am not a wine fanatic), it takes its time and you can’t really speed it up without losing something in the flavor. So if you were born past the 60s, wait a few more years before taking it out on DVD.
Some quotes that stuck from the film:
“I can't afford to hate people. I don't have that kind of time.”
“You're not supposed to do anything there. Doing anything but nothing is radical.”

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Movie Review: District 9 (2009) ****

This film curiously combines so many different styles and genres in a manner that almost works. It is a fictional documentary-style sci-fi, with traces of horror, Kafkaesque characters, fugitive plot, corporate conspiracy theme, socio-political agenda, some shreds of romance, and even a final, Western-inspired, standoff/shot-them-all…
Did I miss anything else?
Yet, unlike so many of the films being made these days, this one does actually have something to say. Actually not so much to say as to attempt and create an experience of transformation – transforming the audience’s perspective of the less privileged. Not for nothing it is taking place in South Africa of all places. Sci-fi is just used as means to an end. The less privileged, in this case, is an alien race captured in fenced guarded slams apartheid-style.  The aliens, resembling the insect from Kafka’s Metamorphosis, are indeed disgusting to the human eye, both in appearance and habits. It is the filmmakers task to transform this disgust into sympathy. And the vehicle is the main character -- a human caught in between these two races. Gambling it all on that main character is a risky business. And despite excellent performance on the part of Sharlto Copley, the sympathy and related transformation only partially take place.
I give this film 5 stars for what it attempts to do but only 3 stars for what it achieves, resulting in a total of 4 stars.

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Movie Review: Julie & Julia (2009) ****

One Yum too many… This film could have been even better if it was not a Nora Ephron smothered movie… Like Tarantino to violence, is Ephron to kitschy romance. Yes – your second husband left you for another chick, we get it. We got it already several films ago – right with Heartburn. Now move on! Okay, maybe its only me, but whenever an Ephron movie comes out, it always seems to have the same style of chewy romance, of how she would have liked things to be. And judging by her success, I guess she has her following… Oh well…
What saves this movie and actually grace it with a 4-star level for me is definitely Meryl Streep. Just can’t get enough of her. A lot was already said about her brilliance as a performer. The joy of watching her makes it all worth it. She flirts with her role and it shows. She doesn’t need to prove anything anymore to anyone and can just have fun. Unfortunately for Adams, who is also a delight and a very promising rising star, Streep unintentionally overshadows everyone around her as a sun would even the brightest star. Julie Powell’s story is a sweet Cinderella-style tale with a few twists (e.g. the prince being her web audience), making it fresh. And as a fellow writer I complement her style and am glad at her success. I do detest though the Lobster cooking scene. Funny as it may have seen in the film, cooking lobsters by throwing them alive into boiling water, despite the known disclaimer of “no animals were harmed….” is simply disgusting.
Now where is that chocolate desert?

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Movie Review: Witness for the Prosecution (1957) *****

Agatha Christie, Billy Wilder, Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power -- need I say more?... A classic courtroom drama based on a short story by Agatha Christie. Witty and delightful. Today’s generation of Txt & Twitter may lose patience over the first 30 minutes or so in which Wilder slowly and skillfully builds the elements to be ripped out later. But for movie lovers with appreciation for a good story, the cast alone, which includes above talent and more, every moment is enjoyable. Just listening to Charles Laughton rumbling voice is enough... Take note Tarantino, it takes more than butchering bodies on right and left, and self-loathing dialogues to make a good movie.

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Latest Comments

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