hannah brown 88.
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There were 180 films at the Haifa International Film Festival but, oddly, few that anyone was really excited about. With duds for the opening and closing films (Amos Gitai's Disengagement and Michael Winterbottom's disappointing A Mighty Heart), there were still many gems in the lineup, but you had to dig deep to find them. Because of scheduling conflicts, I missed Yuval Granot's Julia Mia, which won in the most-anticipated category, Best Israeli Feature (it was up against five other films). Granot, his producer and some cast members were appropriately effusive at the closing ceremony and Granot thanked his mother, among others, who he admitted was one of the film's producers. Julia Mia tells the story of a director of schlocky films who meets a Julia Roberts lookalike and decides to remake Pretty Woman in Israel. Many who attended the film festival were taken aback by the win, since most expected one of the more serious-sounding movies to triumph. But the jury, which was chaired by Danish director Bille August, wrote in its summation that the film was "personal and warm."
The one film I heard people raving about at the festival was the Russian movie, Euphoria, by Ivan Vyrypaev, about an adulterous couple in a small town on the banks of the River Don. It picked up a Fipresci (Foreign Critics) Prize, which should help it find an Israeli distributor.
Some of the highlights among the films I managed to catch (a small fraction out of the vast numbers shown), included , directed by Joachim Trier, about a group of young men, two of whom become critically acclaimed novelists; The Trap, which basically told the story of how awful it is to live in Serbia today; festival Achievement Award winner Jiri Menzel's chronicle of an ambitious Czech waiter between the two world wars, I Served the King of England; and actress Sandrine Bonnaire's depressing but edifying look at her adult autistic sister, Elle s'appelle Sabine.
IF ANYONE needed further proof that Hollywood studios have run out of inspiration, here comes a remake of the Neil Simon comedy, The Heartbreak Kid, directed by the Farrelly brothers. The original film, in which a groom (Charles Grodin) on his honeymoon dumps his nice-Jewish-girl bride (Jeannie Berlin, director Elaine May's daughter) for a WASP goddess (Cybill Shepherd, still dripping supermodel confidence), was no masterpiece, but it was entertaining. Perhaps all you need to know is that it's now seen as fitting for the gross-out humor of the Farrellys (There's Something About Mary, Dumb & Dumber) to replace the far-from-flawless but much more gentle and sophisticated comedy of Neil Simon to understand how far things have deteriorated in the world of big-budget filmmaking. The twist in the new version is that the groom (played by Ben Stiller, who else?) actually marries the blonde cutie, who turns out to be a wacko. He then falls for a nice girl with dark hair. In any case, the critics weren't buying this attempt at originality (which opens here in a few weeks). A.O. Scott said that anyone who hasn't seen the original film is "missing a minor, if somewhat dated, classic. ... If you haven't seen the ...new update of that earlier picture, I'm jealous" and also calls it "a long, lame ugly joke of a movie."
It's because of movies like this that I so often find myself stumped these days when people ask me to recommend a movie for them. I enjoyed the thrill ride of The Bourne Ultimatum and the humor of The Simpsons Moviethis summer, but there are almost no memorable films out there these days, as most people discover when they flip through the listings, looking for a movie to see.
One movie that has generated a lot of critical buzz (and won the coveted prize at the Toronto Film Festival) is David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises starring Viggo Mortensen. The two last teamed up for the similarly acclaimed A History of Violence a few years ago. In this one, Mortensen plays a Russian mobster, while Naomi Watts is a woman who inadvertently learns something that makes her the mobsters' target. Jack Mathews of the New York Daily News described Eastern Promises as "the first must-see adult film of the young fall" and most critics agreed. Unfortunately, audiences have not turned the film into a hit.